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Book review: 'All Enlisted' an endearing 1970s Austrian missionary memoir

By Brooke Porter

For the Deseret News

Published: Saturday, May 24 2014 5:00 a.m. MDT

"ALL ENLISTED: A Mormon Missionary in Austria During the Vietnam Era," by Roderick Saxey, Haus Sachse Enterprises, $17.95, e-book $5.50, 308 pages (nf)

As it turns out, many aspects and quirks of Mormon missionary work are the same — regardless of the area or time served — and "All Enlisted: A Mormon Missionary in Austria During the Vietnam Era" is evidence of that.

Author and Washington resident Roderick Saxey crafted his self-published memoir in a way to let people inside the life of a missionary serving in 1970. The book — some 300 pages — bounces back between journal entries, factual tidbits and letters to and from family and friends, notably his brother, Edward, who was serving in the Navy in various places in Asia and Australia.

For a 19-year-old boy, Roderick Saxey's writing was quite mature — and quite endearing. With references to J.R.R. Tolkien's "The Hobbit" (as well as letters to a friend he called Frodo), Saxey draws you in with beautiful Austrian landscape and food imagery coupled with raw entries about the lack of missionary success and the all-too-often slammed door.

Saxey begins the book with a background of his family, helping readers understand where he came from, which proves helpful when reading the back-and-forth missionary letters. He was born into a part-member family — a father who was a less-active member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and a mother who was a Protestant. He took the Mormon missionary lessons at age 11 and was baptized, but quickly joined his family in inactivity.

That is until his faithful home teacher, Clair Cantwell, invited him to attend seminary in 1965. Soon after, Saxey became strong in his LDS faith. After receiving his mission call to Austria and delivering his missionary farewell, his mother surprised the whole family by being baptized.

She literally surprised them.

Saxey received a phone call from the bishop asking him to perform a baptism. "I thought nothing of it since our leaders often gave opportunity to priests and new elders to perform ordinances whenever possible," he said. "Unknown to me, similar calls to attend the stake baptismal service went out to Dad and (my brother) Wayne, without explanations why." His first, and only, baptism was of his dear mother.

It's hard not to fall in love with Saxey's family as well as Austria. The letters to and from his brother, Edward, are quite sweet and playful, and it's difficult not to worry that Edward may not survive his tour in Vietnam.

Some journal highlights include a visit from then-Elder Thomas. S. Monson.

Just a handful of months before completing his mission, Saxey was sent home due to what doctors thought was a faulty liver — "hepatomegaly." Only later when Saxey became a doctor in the Air Force did he discover that he never had hepatitis, but rather a condition called Gilbert's Syndrome.

"All Enlisted" includes a helpful glossary of German words used throughout the book, as well as updates on the mission companions and family members, as well as black-and-white pictures. The book is self-published and the format could use a bit of polish, but overall this is an endearing look into the life of one man's mission.

It's free of any foul language and there was one reference where sex is implied as the elders encounter a prostitute and a man at a cafe.

EMAIL: bporter@deseretdigital.com

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