"During the final phases of World War II, I turned 18 and was ordained an elder — one week before I departed for active duty with the Navy. A member of my ward bishopric was at the train station to bid me farewell. Just before train time, he placed in my hand a book which I hold before you tonight. Its title, the Missionary Handbook. I laughed and commented, 'I'm not going on a mission.' He answered, 'Take it anyway. It may come in handy'

"It did. During basic training our company commander instructed us concerning how we might best pack our clothing in a large sea bag. He advised, 'If you have a hard, rectangular object you can place in the bottom of the bag, your clothes will stay more firm.' I suddenly remembered just the right rectangular object — the Missionary Handbook. Thus it served for 12 weeks.

"The night preceding our Christmas leave our thoughts were, as always, on home. The barracks were quiet. Suddenly I became aware that my buddy in the adjoining bunk — a Mormon boy, Leland Merrill — was moaning with pain. I asked, 'What's the matter, Merrill?'

"He replied, 'I'm sick. I'm really sick.'

"I advised him to go to the base dispensary, but he answered knowingly that such a course would prevent him from being home for Christmas.

"The hours lengthened; his groans grew louder. Then, in desperation, he whispered, 'Monson, Monson, aren't you an elder?' I acknowledged this to be so; whereupon he asked, 'Give me a blessing.'

"I became very much aware that I had never given a blessing. I had never received such a blessing; I had never witnessed a blessing being given. My prayer to God was a plea for help. The answer came: 'Look in the bottom of the sea bag.' Thus, at 2 a.m. I emptied on the deck the contents of the bag. I then took to the night light that hard, rectangular object, the Missionary Handbook, and read how one blesses the sick. With about 60 curious sailors looking on, I proceeded with the blessing. Before I could stow my gear, Leland Merrill was sleeping like a child.

"The next morning Merrill smilingly turned to me and said, 'Monson, I'm glad you hold the priesthood.' His gladness was only surpassed by my gratitude."

April 1978 general conference