AMERICAN FORK Although his faithful LDS parents in East Germany expected it would happen "some day," President Dieter F. Uchtdorf says it was "a great surprise" when the Berlin Wall came down in November 1989.
The comment from the second counselor in the First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints comes from one of hundreds of interviews filmmaker Ken Cromar conducted over the past two years for "Saints at War: Faithful Heroes." Vivid footage of the Berlin Wall and other key places and events is interspersed with commentary to demonstrate how the gospel of Jesus Christ is spreading even as conflicts rage.
Cromar showed excerpts from the "rough cut" of the three-hour documentary Friday evening in American Fork as part of a fundraising effort to put finishing touches, including an orchestral score, on the film.
The documentary is part of Brigham Young University's Saints at War Project, which produced two previous films, one highlighting World War II veterans and the other the Korean War. Cromar directed the second film and is producing and directing "Faithful Heroes" himself. And he's casting a broader net that encompasses history from the Revolutionary War through present-day conflicts in the Middle East.
"There is nothing we can do to repay what they've done for the cause of freedom, but we can at least try to honor them by keeping their stories of faith and sacrifice alive to bless today's youth and future generations," Cromar says.
"The battle between good and evil has been escalating for years," says an opening sequence showing shaky video images of planes flying into the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001. The narrator explains how a "Mormon perspective" can help people deal with the realities of the world.
"Jesus Christ is the greatest hero," the narrator declares.
The film mixes comments from LDS Church leaders, BYU professors and war veterans with powerful images of soldiers praying on battlefields, fathers giving their sons blessings and flowers being placed on soldiers' graves. The late Elder Neal A. Maxwell of the Quorum of the Twelve gives a touching account of feeling that his mother's prayer saved his life when he was in battle.
Some of the most powerful stories are those from the 222nd Utah National Guard artillery unit, from the St. George area, which served in Iraq for 12 months in 2005 and 2006. Cromar and crew filmed interviews while the unit nicknamed the "Triple Deuce" was at Camp Virginia in Kuwait.
The segment is a tender telling of peace that came from blessings given by fathers, bishops and patriarchs; warnings that came from the Holy Ghost and obedience that brought protection; and blessings that came from being attentive to the spirit.
"Of all the times I've needed blessings, I need it now, because I want to come back alive and in one piece," says one young soldier in the film.
Says another: "I'm learning the language of the spirit. It was foreign to me (when I was called up), but I learned it while I was out there, through prayer and study. I drew close to my Father in heaven."
"We saw miracles," Chaplain Gaylan Springer says. "Some people might say 'What a coincidence!' I don't think so. I think God's hand was involved in so many lives and in so many situations over here that everyone walked away with a confirmation of God's hand being involved."
The reigning Miss Utah, Sgt. Jill Stevens, attended the screenings dressed in fatigues. She also appears in the film, telling of her experiences in Afghanistan as a medic. She concludes her segment by saying, "What better way to serve your country than to live righteously. Then you bless your nation."
Cromar plans to divide the three-hour film into segments that can be shown to a broad audience.
"Sharing faith-filled stories of soldiers' trust in God throughout Latter-day Saint history will inspire friendships with those who don't really know or understand us," he says. "Who knows? A welcome side benefit may be doors opening to missionaries."
"Saints at War: Faithful Heroes" is a BYU production in association with the National Center for Constitutional Studies and Blue Moon Productions. Tax-deductible donations toward finishing the film may be made by contacting Cromar at email@example.com.