Mormons in the Military

April 11, 2008 | 42 comments
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About 15 years ago I wrote a short piece for a Sunstone Symposium panel on the topic of Mormons in the Military. It was focused on my personal experiences as a Latter-day Saint dealing with the armed forces rules on religion and the chaplains specifically. A number of things have developed since then, so it seems worthwhile to revisit the topic and elicit readers’ own experiences.

Mormons are odd birds in the military chapel system, since we don’t depend on having a professional clergyman to lead our worship. Any group of Mormons in the military, if meeting for the first time, can put together a Sacrament Meeting, a Sunday School, and a Priesthood Meeting on the spot. Any settled location with Mormons will have at least a servicemembers’ group (such as a ship at sea), if not a formal branch or even ward. There are a lot of wards that look ordinary on paper, but most of the LDS in that location are military families. That’s the case, for example, in Bellevue, Nebraska, where the majority of ward members live in military housing for Offutt Air force Base and work at Strategic Command for the Air Force and Navy. At Yokota Air Base outside Tokyo, we had a large branch that met in one of the base chapels, so we had no building expenses. In fact, because the Air Force chaplain service bases the number of chaplains assigned to a base and the budget for chapel activities on the attendance, and Mormons have so many meetings and higher levels of participation, we were actually contributing half the justification for the manning of Yokota with (non0Mormon) chaplains.

Chaplains are assigned on a random basis, based mostly on rank and experience rather than any correlation with the number of soldiers of that faith in a given location, which changes anyway. The number of chaplains each denomination can have is based on that denomination’s population in the US. As the LDS population has grown, the number of chaplain slots has expanded.

What does an LDS chaplain do? They are generally classified with the Christians and specifically Protestants. they get in rotation to conduct the generic Protestant services on base or in the field. They also perform the counseling function of any chaplain, the kind of help soldiers can have a lot more need for than civilians. They are commissioned officers and compete with other chaplains for promotions in rank. They get the same pay as other officers (though Catholic priests can have their salaries donated consistent with a vow of poverty).

The other chaplains can be standoffish toward Mormons and Mormon chaplains. LDS Chaplains have to get a master’s degree in some related field, like counseling or biblical studies, but they don’t necessarily have the conventional education that many professional clergy get, so there are examples of the other chaplains intentionally trying to talk over the head of the LDS chaplains.

When we met in the base chapel at Yokota Air Base, even though we had more people attending church, the head chaplain casually insisted we get leftover time in the building, and causally bumped us without coordination for special programs, like a guest speaker. My understanding is that it did not happen like that when the base commander was LDS.

When I was a missionary in Japan, Chitose Air Base was closing, so we went out to pick up some materials from the branch president. While we were in the chapel picking up the supplies, one of the chaplains walked in and was introduced to us by the branch president, a master sergeant. Rather than walk up and shake our hands, the guy backed ut of the chapel, saying “Well, I know this has been a lay ministry for a long time so I am glad to see your ministers finally taking an interest.” When he was gone we broke out laughing. The branch president was far more experienced than we were at church leadership and preaching the gospel, having served his own mission in Alabama.

One of the tings I found in the Air Force was that I kept running into the same LDS people, even as we were all shuffled around the world. There is a limited universe of LDS wards and branches near Air Force bases, even more true now, as dozens of bases have been closed.

I have known LDS people in all the services, including a law school classmate on law review at Utah who was being sponsored by the Marines the same way I was sponsored by the Air Force. One neighbor in California was captain of a Coast Guard cutter. There is obviously a concentration of LDS in the National Guard and Reserve units for the Air Force and Army in Utah, especially in the linguist battalion that relies on the language skills of returned missionaries. Mormons like to get assigned to Hill Air Force Base.

Another large military LDS community is in Colorado Springs, with Air Force Space Command, thousands of Army at Fort Carson, and the Air Force Academy. Some years ago, the Academy noted that it had a lot of LDS cadets who resigned their appointments (you have to have competitive grades and sponsorship by a member of Congress) in order to serve LDS misisons. Then they succeeded in getting readmitted in the same competition so they could complete their degrees and be commissioned officers. The Academy found that these former missionaries were more mature and often the leaders among the cadets (as well as conversant in foreign languages). So they adopted a policy to let any cadet in good standing take one or two years off for voluntary or educational experiences, such as the Peace Corps, or missionary service. The Naval Academy at Annapolis, Maryland, has adopted the same policy. About a year ago, the cadet corps commanders at both academies were returned missionaries. Between programs like that and then huge Air Force ROTC program at BYU, Mormons are pretty well accepted in the Air Force. We have even had a few general officers (such as Elder Oaks of the Seventy).

As is pointed out whenever Air force plays BYU, they are the two most cleancut, well behaved teams in the conference. While some military folks indulge with alcohol in the usual way, in general the Air Force (I can’t speak for the other services) is pretty strict about alcohol abuse. Some twenty years ago, the Air Force decided to ban all smoking in buildings, which makes being a Mormon less obvious. Military members are subjec to criminal penalties for things that would merely get you a slap on the wrist in a civilian job, so it can be a very compatible environment for the LDS lifestyle. I was hugely popular as a guest at dinner parties because I never drank my share of the booze and was alwasy available to serve as designated driver.

A fair number of people have joined the church through the example and teaching of their LDS associates. as any missionary can tell you, when people are facing serious danger, and have been displaced from their usual enviornment, they are more open to listening to the gospel. One of my experiences in Colorado Springs was helping to teach a black Army paratrooper who had promised God, in the seconds as he headed toward the ground with two dead parachutes, that he would look for a church to attend if he lived. He told us that, after getting out of the hospital, he had gone to a lot of different churches in the city, but that it was the Mormons who really welcomed him. And that was in 1974.

Historically, LDS service members have been a vanguard for the church in many nations. It was former servicemen like my Dad who reopened the mission to Japan, which had been closed in 1924 as relations worsened between the US and Japan. LDS servicemen were instrumental in opening Korea to the gospel. The commander of my AFROTC unit at the University of Utah, Colonel Nixon, was a Spanish language specialist who earned a PhD at Seville and then served as liaison to the Spanish air Force. As that nation’s government was liberalized, he was able to help secure recognition for the Church, and later was called as one of teh first mission presidents in Madrid. The tithing of LDS service members stationed overseas has gone to help fund operation of church activities, including building chapels, in the host nations. It is going to be a while before normal LDS missionaries are able to proselyte in Yemen and Iraq, but the LDS service members stationed in the Middle East are laying a foundation for a future when the gospel can be taught even in those nations.

The LDS emphasis on education can be fulfilled in the armed forces, which are willing to provide training in all sorts of skills (including piloting jets), and subisidze education, not only through various versions of the GI Bill, but also through tuition payments and even full time assignment to graduate schools (I spent 3 years on my JD and 1 year on an LLM, tuition and books paid,while receiving full pay, and not incurring any debt).

The armed forces’ emphais on youth means on the flip side that you can retire after as few as 20 years service. Retired military members and their wives can then be well positioned to serve as missionaries.

Being separated from home for months or a year at a time is a great trial, and LDS members depend on the support they get from each other in their servicemen’s groups in forward bases.

I think one advantage that LDS soldiers have is that, in the Book of Mormon, we have an explicit example of Christians who were also great warriors. We can of course draw on the stories of the Old Testament, and some of the figurative speech in the New Testament, but a lot of people are not sure how to reconcile what seems to be the warlie message of the Old with the peaceful message of the New. The fact that Mormon and Moroni, the editors, were warriors themselves helped them select lessons for us from the lives of Captain Moroni and Helaman and the example of the Ammonite warriors whose fathers and older brothers had promised God they would never again take up weapons. The propriety of war in defense of our families, religion and country is made clear, as well as the need for restraint and the willingness to agree to peace with an enemy. They also emphasize the need for the warriors and the nation they defend to live righteously.

And of course, there is the fact that the Book of Mormon emphasizes the special responsibility of nations in the Americas to live righteously. Whatever the judgment on a particular war or campaign, the LDS members in the military see themselves as defending not just their own nation but also the freedom of religion that it ensures for the Church. America has been instrumental in defeating the Axis tyrannies of World War II, and then the Soviet Union, leading to the opening of an opportunity for hundreds of millions to hear the gospel. LDS service members see America’s work in supporting freedom and peace as also supporting the fulfillment of the responsibility of the church to roll forward and “fill the earth.”

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42 Responses to Mormons in the Military

  1. Bill MacKinnon on April 11, 2008 at 9:05 pm

    Raymond, a first-rate post from which I learned a lot. From a USAF-NYANG veteran, many thanks for providing this.

  2. Ray on April 11, 2008 at 9:52 pm

    As someone who has never served but has many family members who have and do, thanks for this post. It was highly instructive.

    Do you have current connections at Hill AFB? I wonder if you know my brother, a National Guard officer there.

  3. Jared on April 11, 2008 at 9:53 pm

    Thanks for the post, I enjoyed reading it. If I am not mistaken there are accounts of General Authorities visiting service members in war zones during WWII, have any of them visited the middle east or other parts? This would be a big boost for morale.

    The LDS chaplains that I have met in the Army are outstanding examples and are doing a great job.

  4. Keri Brooks on April 11, 2008 at 10:18 pm

    Thanks for this; it was interesting. Did you have any experience with LDS women in the military? I find that they’re the often forgotten about group. i.e. at church, people will often pray for the “men serving in the military”, etc.

    I considered joining the Air Force, even going so far as to complete 2 years in the ROTC when I was in college. I decided that it wasn’t right for me, but I greatly respect anyone who does serve.

  5. Ardis Parshall on April 11, 2008 at 10:37 pm

    My father’s work involved military contracts, so my childhood was spent moving, not from Salt Lake to Susanville to Grandview to Las Vegas, but from Dugway Army Depot to Herlong Army Depot to Richards-Gebauer AFB to Nellis AFB. Always there were active duty military men and women in our wards. Subject to transfer at any moment, they seldom held leadership positions but were leaders nonetheless. I remember in particular one young woman who taught Primary at Richards-Gebauer, where we met in the base chapel and taught children named Hyrum and Emmeline and Willard to sing “Book of Mormon Stories” in a room decorated with Protestant banners, pretending not to see or hear the Catholic kneelers going up and down and up and down.

    Now one of my favorite weeks is one near October Conference when the LDS chaplains come to Salt Lake for training. The lobby and cafeteria of the Church Office Building are filled with men in every possible American uniform, and you know what they say about women falling for men in uniform! (It’s either that, or the way they carry themselves.) I saw one inadvertently knock the lunch tray from the hands of a tiny missionary sister, and I think the chaplain’s knees hit the floor before the soup did, while other men in blue and khaki rushed to the rescue to clean up the mess and get the sister a new tray and flatware.

    Thanks for this post. I’ve never seen one remotely like it in the ‘nacle.

  6. Terina on April 11, 2008 at 11:10 pm

    i am the wife of a military man. we are at fort bragg, and we have our own ward. in germany, there is a military stake, comprised of wards and branches of members that are miliatary. occasionally there are DoD civilians, or teachers of the schools, but mostly just military families. we usually share buildings with the germans. there are a ton of LDS people in the military. i really had no idea how many before we joined. i have had friends tell me that i’m lucky when we move, because we have our church already there, and that people will come and help us without even knowing us. the FRG (aka soldier and family readiness group) is supposed to function like that, but doesn’t even come close.

  7. Bob on April 11, 2008 at 11:29 pm

    I remember my fears as I walked though the Marine barrackes in my one piece Temple Garments. No one ever said a word, except some questions in private.
    Having been in the military, on my mission, I was placed near the SAC bases in Montana and North Dakota. We spent a lot of time with the young officers in their BQs ( Bachelors Quarters), mostly LDS guys. The ‘worked’ in the underground missile silos, A-bomb and all that stuff…fun.

  8. Raymond Takashi Swenson on April 12, 2008 at 1:22 am

    #2-Ray: I used to know some of the civilian attorneys at Hill AFB, where I interned during the two summers I was in law school at Utah, but they are pretty much retired now. I have met some of the Judge Advocate General officers on those occasions when I was able to attend a meeting of the Utah State Bar Military Law Section.

    #3-Jared: I assume the area presidency responsible for the Middle East would do the main visiting with members stationed in the area. At one time that was in one of the Europe areas, but I’m not sure now. There is a Church committee that liaisons with the armed forces on such visits and on chaplian selection and training. They also prepare the materials military members get, including the special pocket edition of the Book of Mormon and the Gospel Principles handbook which has hymns, First Presidency statements to members in the armed forces, guidance on conducting ordinances, and other things. They are small enough to carry in the pockets of the field uniform. It’s just such a Book of Mormon that is a focus of the story in the movie Saints and Soldiers, which I thought was excellent. Back in the days before flak jackets, we’d hear stories about how one of those little books stopped a bullet. The Church military committee also sends packages with essential church supplies, such as sacrament cups, and sacrament trays, copies of Sunday School manuals, hymn books, etc. The cheap music keyboard used by small units can be used in the small military group situation.

    #7 Terina: When I was stationed in Japan (1980-83), we had a Servicemens District that had branches at Misawa (northern Japan), Yokota Air Base (Air Force), Camp Zama (Army, which also served the Marines at Atsugi), and Yokosuka Naval Base. There was also an English-speaking civilian branch in Tokyo, mostly of returned missionaries and their families then working in Japan. There was a separate District in Okinawa. At one point the District President was Paul Beckstrand, who was an Air Force officer. He had been president of the Servicement’s Stake in Germany, and was later called as mission president in Sapporo. Both he and his wife had been missionaries in Japan, so they were pretty close friends. Paul is retired and lives near Hill AFB.

    I understand that sometime after I left Japan, a new ward meetinghouse was built in Fussa, the city next to Yokota, and the base branch started meeting there.

    The civilian branch had not existed in 1970, but I think the expansion in the number of returned missionaries working in Japan added something close to a hundred people with their families. I believe there are at least a couple of civilian English speaking branches or wards in Tokyo now, but I believe they are now assigned to one of the local Japanese stakes (usually at least one adult in each family is fluent in Japanese). One of the civilians in 1980 was my former missionary companion, Gary George. A civilian working for the Navy at Yokosuka was my former Zone Leader, Roger Harris. One of the benefits to me of being in the Air Force was the opportunity to return to my mission field, and visit some of the cities and members I had known ten years before. Right after we arrived in 1980 it was the open house for the new Tokyo Temple, so we were there for the dedication, and there was an area conference that brought people down from Sapporo (site of the 1972 Winter Olympics) and Otaru in northern Japan, where I had proselyted.

    #4–Keri: There were a few LDS active duty women in the Air Force whom I knew, one whom I was a home teacher for at Andrews AFB, Maryland. The Air Force didn’t open up the Academy or ROTC to women until the mid 1970s. I think the number of women officers has grown exponentially since then. By the time I was in Japan, the legal office in Tokyo was half women attorneys. But I honestly did not meet many female LDS active duty service members. I do know that the daughter of my fellow Japan missionary, Mike Young, current University of Utah president, graduated from the Air Force Academy a few years ago. Becoming an Air Force officer through either route involves a four to six year service commitment after graduation, which can complicate finding a spouse who is willing to accommodate that. The armed forces try to accommodate married couples who are both on active duty (there was a couple in our legal office at Yokota), but there is no guarantee against being separated by short term assignments liike Iraq or Korea or for at least a year at more typical assignments.

    I agree about how much it helps military families in the Church to have a ready-made affiliation already there when you arrive. Families often arrive without their clothing, or furniture, and can be delayed in getting housing, so it is not unusual for another LDS military family to offer a bedroom in their home.

    One of my fellow Japan missionaries, Elder Armstrong from Manti, had joined the Army through its medical school program (he is back in Manti practicing medicine) and hopped a military flight to Japan to see our old mission.

    Incidentally, there are a LOT of LDS people who get their medical school and initial training through the armed forces program. They get paid normal officer pay and benefits during medical school, and incur no debts, have no malpractice insurance costs (the government indemnifies them), and no student loans. It is one of the few ways a married person can get through med school. One of the missionaries I worked with (Elder Dahle) was a pediatrician in the Air Force and lives in Sacramento. In our ward in Richland, Washington, where I worked as a civilian, all four members of an OB-GYN practice group who lived in our ward were Army veterans.

    A number of people join ROTC when they enter law school at BYU, which pays a scholarship plus a monthly stipend for the two year ROTC program, then essentially guarantees a job on graduation.

    There are challenges when then a military member has to deploy for weeks or moths at a time, and that is when the other ward members can be especially helpful to the spouse waiting at home. The Church acts as a buffer to mitigate a lot of the displacement and loneliness that can come from being a military family. It also adds to the adventure of foreign assignments, because the church is an entre into meeting local natives of the host nation. For a few months I was actually called to serve as a stake missionary in a Japanese stake.

    I think pretty uniformly LDS members in the military have a reputation for integrity and reliability. Frankly, I think military commanders are much more sensitive to the need to respect members of minority religions than are most supervisors in the civilian world.

  9. CS Eric on April 12, 2008 at 10:18 am

    One of the nice perks for me as a military member was being able to meet you, Raymond, back when you were still on active duty. You were teaching one of the environmental courses in the club at Maxwell, and the world being as small as it is, you had served your mission with my cousin, Jeff.

    Over the nearly 20 years I have been associated with the Air Force (I am currently civil service), it has not been unusual for there to be two of us LDS attorneys in an Air Force JAG office. I am always either the ward/branch organist or the primary pianist, while the other is in the bishopric, branch presidency, or high council.

  10. Eddie on April 12, 2008 at 10:45 am

    During my mission I was assigned to a branch at the nearby U.S. Naval Air Station (in Europe). I loved those members, their solid testimonies, and the leadership skills they possessed.

    One of my favorite memories was just after the baptism of a new convert. One of the sisters–a long term officer, though I don\’t recall her rank–walked up, shook his hand and said with a curt nod, \”Welcome aboard.\”

  11. Raymond Takashi Swenson on April 12, 2008 at 11:47 am

    #9 (CS Eric)–Since we were mostly “(something) Choro” to each other in the mission field, can you tell me Jeff’s last name, and where he is now?

    When I was one of the instructors for the annual week long environmental law introductory course at the Air Force Judge Advocate General School, at Maxwell AFB outside Montgomery, Alabama, I got assigned to do the hour on asbestos regulation, which was always in the hour after lunch when everyone was falling asleep in their seats. So I devoted the first five minutes to a shtick in which I would invite someone from the class up on stage, told them they were going to be my interpreter, gave them a kamikaze headband and an English script of five sentences, and then showed and narrated five slides in Japanese introducing the topic of asbestos and why it is regulated. It would take about half a minute to explain the first Japanese language slide in Japanese, and then the English translation would be “Asbestos is bad for your health.” We were teaching attorneys, military and civilian, from all the military services, and I recall that one time a Coast Guard attorney who had been on a mission in Japan affirmed to the audience that I had actually done a real Japanese language introduction to asbestos.

    The armed forces during my last years on active duty paid a monthly bonus to members who speak foreign languages to encourage them to maintain proficiency. When the program started, I went to Travis AFB to take the Japanese test, and the sergeant administering the computerized tests could not really believe that ANYONE spoke Japanese. The armed forces is one way to use any foreign language skills you’ve acquired on a mission. It came in handy when I was attending Japanese trials of US servicemen arrested for crimes against Japanese citizens; the US-Japan treaty requires a US “trial observer” be present to ensure the rights of the accused were respected. I have no idea how anyone who didn’t understand the language could do it, since we weren’t set up to have simultaneous translation inside the courtroom.

    One thing that was noted in a comment on my previous post about Church leadership is that the leadership in military branches of the Church is regardless of rank. The branch president can be a master sergeant with first counselor a Lt. Colonel and the second counselor a civilian DOD employee. In fact, we tried to mix it up so that there would be some representation from both officer and enlisted members.

  12. Mark B. on April 12, 2008 at 1:02 pm

    Re: Jared (#3).

    The only accounts I recall of Church leaders visiting war zones in WW2 relates to Hugh B. Brown’s visit to Europe shortly after the end of the war in 1945. My father, who was in southern France that summer, had the opportunity to meet with him then–the first contact with church leadership since he left the U.S. in fall 1944. (Bro. Brown was not a General Authority at that time–he had been the mission president in London in the late 1930′s, and traveled to Europe in 1945 on special assignment.)

    It seems unlikely that there would have been any travel by Church leaders prior to the end of the war–given the conditions in European countries after their liberation and the difficulty of finding transportation.

  13. AF on April 12, 2008 at 2:43 pm

    My dad was a chaplain’s assistant in VietNam. Unfortunately, his chaplain got addicted to heroin, so he tried his best to fill the counseling and spiritual advisor roles that the chaplain was unable to fulfill due to his addiction. Funny story: When my dad applied for the position (he was still in the States at the time), he went to be interviewed, and the two enlistedmen who served as the secretaries to the officer-interviewer started really razzing my dad about being Mormon. They started mocking him for garment wearing, his non-trinitarian view of God, etc., etc. My dad was really mad. After waiting 20 minutes they told him that the interview was cancelled and that they’d call him back to reschedule. My dad left the office thinking that he would in no way be called back. To his surprise, he received the call, and when he went back for the second time, one of the secretaries had a picture of David O. McKay on his desk and the other had a Book of Mormon. They were two LDS guys who got a kick out of giving unsuspecting Mormon applicants a hard time. Needless to say, my dad got the job.

  14. Bob on April 12, 2008 at 5:43 pm

    By default, I conducted meetings ‘in the field’ for LDS Marines. We never had the makings for a true Sacrament, so we just read the prayers and bowed heads.

  15. Kevin Barney on April 12, 2008 at 7:12 pm

    Raymond, thanks for this fascinating look into the world of Mormons in the military. I really enjoyed it.

  16. Jennifer in GA on April 13, 2008 at 4:28 pm

    *de-lurks*

    My maternal grandfather was stationed in Japan at Yokota Air Base with the Air Force in 1962 when they were introduced to gospel by another service member and joined the church. On their way back to US in 1965, their family was sealed in the Mesa Temple. He served in numerous branch presidencies on several air bases until he retired in 1972. My mom often told me that there home was often filled on Sunday afternoons with other service members invited over for dinner and a fireside, and then they\’d be back on Monday night for Family Home Evening.

    My father served in the Navy until his retirement in 1994. He joined the church shortly after meeting my mother, and then joined the Navy shortly before they married a year later. He was often the only member in his squadron, and felt the responsibility of being the \”face\” of Mormonism, especially in the deep south where our family was often stationed.

    My parents always reached out a hand to service members who were stationed in our ward, a long way from their families. Often these were young men or women barely out of high school, and they were often homesick. The local Bishop was often the first call they made when they got to town, even if they hadn\’t been to church in years. My mom served as Relief Society president several times, and I can remember her leaving in the middle of the night to go be with a RS sister who was in the hospital giving birth all alone, because her husband was gone on a six month deployment.

    My own husband was in the Navy when we met. He had been \”off the plan, so to speak, for several years, and choose to go into the military rather than serve a mission. It was in Basic Training that he began to realize just how much he missed the Gospel\’s influence in his life. (Although, I know it\’s not unusual for a new recruit to find religion after a few days in boot camp! ;D) We met at a church dance a few weeks after he arrived at his first duty station. Since I was in college, I was still considered a dependant, and had access to the base. I offered him a ride to church the next Sunday since he didn\’t have a car. He called Sunday morning at 6:30 am, after he got off duty to take me up on the offer. We didn\’t meet until 1:00 in the afternoon, so I wasn\’t too happy with the early morning phone call! ;)

    He called everyday after that, sometimes more than once a day, and we were married three months later in the Orlando Temple. I thank Heavenly Father everyday that he joined the Navy, because it gave him the discipline and focus he needed to look at his life and realize he hated where it was going. He stayed in the Navy for the first 3 1/2 years of our marriage. After a few years of job hopping, he used his GI Bill to go to college. He is now a DoD employee, working at a Marine Corps base here in Georgia.

    All three men have shared experiences of having \”Sabbath\” services under the most extreme conditions- my grandfather, while in Vietnam, my father in Saudi Arabia, and my husband on an aircraft carrier in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. Usually these services occurred on a week day, with just a handful of people. There was never more than enough time than to bless and pass the Sacrament, perhaps sing a hymn or share testimonies, and end with a prayer. And they were never in their \”Sunday Best\”- they were in grease and sweat stained uniforms. All three would tell you that, other than the temple, they have never felt as close to the Lord as they did in these conditions.

  17. herb gleason on April 13, 2008 at 8:09 pm

    memories! I was at Atsugi, group leader, 1945, got transferred after 3 weeks…a young pilot, named Boyd Packer took my place….Anyone remember Maurice Anderson, group leader in Tokyo? He ran a men’s store in Hotel Utah after the war…
    Great to hear of success of church in Japan and elsewhere..Wish I had done a better job while I was there!!

    Herb Gleason

  18. Raymond Takashi Swenson on April 14, 2008 at 1:53 am

    #16 (Jennifer): Thank you for the wonderful cumulative testimonies of the men in your family who lived as Latter-day Saints in the armed forces. Recruits in basic traiing and then in some of the introductory schools (including the Army Medic School at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio where my son was assigned) have to stay on base even on Sundays, so the Church runs small group meetings for them, often with support from retired military couples serving missions. We drove down with my parents to visit our son, and his wife’s parents also drove down and were there the same weekend. We attended the little meeting on the base with about 5 LDS trainees. It was a testimony meeting. After I bore my testimony, and then my Dad, our son’s father-in-law bore his testimony. Our daugher-in-law said later that it was the first time he had done so in years. It was a special meeting. It looms large in our memories because two weeks later, he drowned on a family outing.

    Just as the spirituality of the pioneers was enhanced by being in extremis, confronting the reality of death, worship among those who have placed their lives on the altar of the defense of freedom can also be an intense experience.

    #17 (Herb): Boyd Packer, soon after he arrived, was asked to come down to Nagoya to perform one of the first baptisms in Japan since the mission had been closed in 1924. He baptized Brother Tatsui Sato, a chemical engineer who spoke english fluently and had encountered three LDS servicement who refused his offer of tea, which led to a conversation about the Word of Wisdom and then the gospel in general. He had been a Christian before. Brother Sato went on to hold a Sunday School at his home for children in his neighborhood, which was taught by my Dad when he served his mission after being stationed there as a serviceman. Two of the soldiers who first met Brother Sato became missionaries in Japan. Brother Sato went on to become the principal translator of church publications, preparing new translations of the Book of Mormon, D&C and Pearl of Great Price. In the early 1960s he went to Hawaii to receive his temple blessings and completed a translation of the temple ordinances in preparation for the first temple trip from Japan. He later worked in Salt Lake translating Japanese family history records. I knew him growing up (I once backed into his car when he was visiting my parents). He returned to Japan on a temple mission in the new Tokyo Temple in 1980, when I was there with the Air Force. When he passed away, Elder Packer spoke at his funeral, and recalled the Japanese children’s song that Brother Sato’s son had taught him. Recently a biography of Brother Sato was published in English and Japanese.

  19. Marcus on April 14, 2008 at 10:55 am

    Though I respect your views and your admiration for the military as a profession I can not read this article without a feeling of sadness regarding the implication that the gospel walks hand in hand with a strong military.

    Your post is a pleasant read, and I see your well intentions. But it’s oh so clear to any LSD not living in the US that a military so spread out across the globe is contrary to the very core of what we believe in.

    I don’t want to offend, I can see you have given it a lot of thought, and personal feeling. But understand this also, that the majority of the members are not US citizens and they have quite the opposite views on the functions of the military.

    You write: “LDS service members see America’s work in supporting freedom and peace as also supporting the fulfillment of the responsibility of the church to roll forward and “fill the earth.”

    Yes, that may very well be the way they feel. But it’s a rare view in light of how the vast membership across the globe feel about the matter.

    I appreciate that this is “your” feelings regarding the matter and you state it quite clearly.

    With Kind Regards, Marcus

  20. Adam Greenwood on April 14, 2008 at 11:08 am

    Hoo-ah.

  21. Raymond Takashi Swenson on April 14, 2008 at 11:52 am

    #19 (Marcus): I have only lived in Japan outside the US, but it is not at all my perception that the US military is viewed in a uniformly negative fashion around the world. In Japan, I almost never encountered a negative reaction to US military personnel except from the Marxist press and parties. My grandfather in Japan had been a soldier, and when the announcement of the Pearl Harbor attack was made over the radio, he told his children that the US would win the war. I think that once the surrender was complete, most of the people were glad to be out from under the literally suicidal policies of the military government, and understood that the vast damage inflicted on them by the US armed forces was only a reaction to their own government’s actions. Several of them told me how thankful they were that the US won the war before the Soviets could take over more of Japan than the islands in the Kuriles.

    It is inevitable that some American soldiers will be jerks; joining the military does not transform people. But my job in the Judge Advocate General’s Corps was prosecuting the jerks and putting them away so they would not interfere with the good and important work of defending the USA and defending free nations.

    I once wrote an essay on why it was important that Abraham Lincoln won the US Civil War. At the time, it would have been much simpler to let the South secede and pursue slavery until its economy collapsed of its own accord. But once secession was established as an option, there would be ambitious men who would want to make California and Oregon into separate nations, and the national government would be weakened in the effort to placate the states. Instead of a strong United States, there would have been a smaller, weak nation and several small and weak neighbors.

    When World War II rolled around, there would have been no one able to roll back the Japanese Empire or rescue Europe. There would have been no one standing up to the Soviet Union. The current freedom of all of Europe, of Japan and South Korea, of the former Soviet states (to the extent it is there) would not exist but for a strong USA. And the ideology and policy of the US armed forces, always subject to Congress and the President and the rule of law, has constrained its actions to an extent that has seldom occurred in history. (You will note that the military has actually restrained and opposed some of the most aggressive tactics and practices of the Administration.) In the past, any nation with the dominant capacities of that level would simply have built an empire, as Japan and Germany were doing and as Britain had done. By contrast, the US has not treated the nations it defeated as colonies, but rather provided aid and protection to the extent that they have become its economic competitors. And they surely have political independence. As was noted in the novel and movie, “The Mouse that Roared”, one of the best things that can happen to a nation is to be defeated by the United States.

    There is another aspect of this. Unlike most nations, the US military is completely voluntary. People who join tend to be even more religious and concerned with honor than the average American. They are definitely NOT the bloodthirsty automatons that are portrayed in the products of Hollywood. The US military is more effective because it gives great initiative to unit commanders, because it can trust them to follow principles of restraint. They are husbands and fathers with children and see the people of other nations as human, too. Those in the armed forces understand the cost of war because they are the ones who pay the cost most directly.

    You might have some confidence that LDS members in the US armed forces will act morally. There are also Baptists and Presbyterians and Catholics who do the same. The Book of Mormon teaches that a military force that acts with constraint and mercy can be acceptable to God. The US Armed Forces in the Twentieth Century have, in my opinion, come the closest to that ideal of any historical armed force.

  22. ron on April 14, 2008 at 2:51 pm

    When I was in Afghanistan in 2004 a young marine was baptized in a hot tub at Bagram Airbase. We were told that this was the first baptism ever in Afghanistan.

  23. ron on April 14, 2008 at 3:01 pm

    General Conference audit reports used to include the number of members serving in the military. Does anyone know when or why this practice was discontinued?

  24. Kevinf on April 14, 2008 at 3:54 pm

    Raymond, one more in a long line of thought-provoking posts, and one that was, for the ‘nacle these days, refreshing and original.

    I have been a vocal critic of our involvement in Iraq, and on the other hand supportive of the war in Afghanistan. But I think a short anecdote about a lesson I learned is helpful here. A couple of years back, just as I was ending a couple of years as our ward’s YM president, we had some great experiences sending several of those young men that I had been closest to on missions. One of the boys, though, was committed to joining the Army, and becoming an Army ranger. His father was dead set against it, and while I was never anything other than supportive of the young man, privately his father and I shared a lot of concerns about his choice, which included among other things missing his mission. His choice of service in the Army included ROTC at a nearby college, so I have been able to keep in contact with him when he comes back on holidays and occasional weekends. When Jim (not his real name) returned from basic training during his second summer of school, suffice it to say that he literally beamed with accomplishment. He had not only done well, he had won a number of awards during his weeks of training, and had also introduced many of his fellow trainees to the church, inviting them to meetings. I remember specifically that at the time, I was reading in Jacob chapter 5, the Parable of the Olive Trees, and was suddenly hit with this passage, as the Lord of the Vineyard and his servant survey the spectacular results of a particularly poor spot of ground:

    21 And it came to pass that the servant said unto his master: How comest thou hither to plant this tree, or this branch of the tree? For behold, it was the poorest spot in all the land of thy vineyard.
    22 And the Lord of the vineyard said unto him: Counsel me not; I knew that it was a poor spot of ground; wherefore, I said unto thee, I have nourished it this long time, and thou beholdest that it hath brought forth much fruit.

    The line, “Counsel me not”, hit me like a load of bricks. This young man was flourishing both personally, and as a missionary example in an environment, that had he asked me for a direct opinion about, would have tried to discourage him.

    I have great respect for the members of our military who are putting their lives on the line under extremely difficult conditions, and also for the chaplain service of all faiths that support them. While I disagree on many occasions with our foreign policy, I am not critical in any way of the faithful members of our church who do serve and remember their covenants.

  25. Bob on April 14, 2008 at 11:00 pm

    #24: A line that “hit me like a load of bricks.” was about D-Day. ” A lot of good Mormon boys died taking that beach…Yes, and some Mormon boys died defending that beach.”

  26. Kevinf on April 15, 2008 at 12:14 pm

    Bob, # 25,

    I’ve often thought of that, too. I find myself more and more thinking about the Anti-Lehi-Nephites, and their covenant not to take up arms ever again. I find much to think about there.

  27. Raymond Takashi Swenson on April 15, 2008 at 1:57 pm

    #25 (Bob)–This recognition was the theme of the movie Saints and Soldiers, which I highly recommend. It drew from a real life incident recounted in the book and video Saints at War, in which a soldier from Arizona, nicknamed “Dead Eye Dick” for his accuracy with a rifle, saw a German soldier on the street, fired at him repeatedly, but was unable to hit him as he ran out of sight. Puzzled, he fired at and hit a street lamp, so his rifle was not faulty. A minute later a US patrol brought in the escaped German, whom they had found, kneeling in prayer to thank God for his life, and captured. They told the German “You are lucky you’re not dead. Dick is a Mormon cowboy from Arizona.” At that the German became excited and asked if he knew a man from Arizona who had been one of the missionaries who had converted his family to the Church. And Dick understood why he had not been able to shoot this man.

    At the beginning of World War II, there were more LDS in Germany than in any other country outside the US. And of course many who survived lived through the trial of being in communist East Germany, and the focus of efforts by President Monson to bring them a temple in Freiburg.

    I also recommend the book Sgt. Nibley, PhD, about Hugh Nibley’s wartime experiences, including his survival of being in the first wave on Utah Beach on D-Day and of being in a glider on the opening day of Operation Market Garden (the topic of the movie “A Bridge too Far”). He recounted visiting the places where he had served as a missionary. HIs mission president had told him to warn the people that if they did not repent, they would be destroyed by “fire from heaven.” Nibley thought it odd at the time, but he saw the fulfillment of it in some towns.

  28. Bob on April 15, 2008 at 2:51 pm

    #27: You could state it better than I can. But War is such an ‘odd’ thing. So much energy and wait, so much good and evil happening at the same time, in the same place. Men and events at their worst and best in the same moment…how?

  29. Marcus on April 16, 2008 at 11:41 am

    Dear Raymond

    Thank you for your reply. It is clear we come from different cultures with different values and backgrounds.

    The “noble reasons” you give for the existence of a strong US military is taken from the second world war or as aftermaths of the same. I agree with you there and I think most will, even Noam Chomsky. There are times like that when going to war is the only acceptable course to take. I’m from Sweden originally but live in London, and even though Sweden by some fluke fortune managed to escape the war in the military sense, I personally am eternally grateful for all the young men (and women?) that came from the US, who fought and died for our freedom. Some Swedes may forget that, but I hold these young people who barely began to live in great reverence.

    And yes you are right, I do have confidence that LDS members in the US armed forces will act morally.

    But there is a clear cleft and a divide between how the members view the military force in the US and outside the US. I’m deriving this from living in Europe and from the interaction with many members from especially South and middle America, Australia, New Zeeland and Africa.

    As an example. The members here would absolutely “riot” if anyone would stand up in church and in any way condone the present war. But to speak against it is accepted and it happens now and then (even though one may question if it’s the right forum).

    Alongside this there is a tendency in the US to use the Book of Mormon as some kind of confirmation that a military force can be acceptable to God. Over here :) the Book of Mormon is used in quite the opposite way. To oppose military force (except in very rare circumstances) and to confirm that; it is not acceptable to God, nor in compliance with the plan of salvation.

    You use some reference to the scriptures and I could do the same and I think they in some ways support us both. It’s important to be able to defend your family’s freedom but it’s not right to use force in any other way. Perhaps we can agree on that?

    You feel that the US military is close to the ideal as descibed in the scriptures and I disagree wholeheartedly. Perhaps we have to agree to disagree on this point. Though you seem to make the distinction between the “righteous” intentions of the military vs the administration, which I guess could have some soothing effect on our disagreement. In some ways you may be right, though in reality for the people who fall under the US sword there is no distinction. The commander in Chief is the head of the administration and does for the most part not share the same standard as you would “cherish” in the military, as he is not there with you, and does not have to view the people you engage in person.

    As a final note though I’d like to say Amen to “Kevinf” and reiterate what he said: While I disagree on many occasions with [the US] foreign policy, I am not critical in any way of the faithful members of our church who do serve and remember their covenants.

    Many regards, Marcus

  30. Raymond Takashi Swenson on April 16, 2008 at 1:16 pm

    #29 (Marcus) As you can tell from my name, my great-grandfather came from Scandinavia (Malmo, Sweden, though I was told by a Swede that all the people who live there–at least now–are really Danes).

    As you note, the circumstances of how a military force is engaged determines whether its actions are necessary to defend home, family, nation and religious freedom. An army is not evil per se; it depends on how and when it is used, and how it acts in performing its mission.

    I regard the participation by LDS and other religious people in the US armed forces as a leavening, that makes it better than it would be without us.

    It is also worth noting that, in the case of natural disasters, like hurricanes and the Indian Ocean tsunami, the organizations that are most responsive, organized and helpful are the Church and the US military. And if a disaster of that scope happened in your home town, both would be offering help.

  31. Marcus on April 16, 2008 at 2:36 pm

    Well my Viking brother! (why on earth we hold the Vikings in such high regards is beyond me, but I guess they looked cool)

    “An army is not evil per se; it depends on how and when it is used, and how it acts in performing its mission.”

    I’m definitely with you on that.

    But, hey, where that Swedish person got it from that “all the people who live there–at least now–are really Danes” I have no idea. It’s true the Danes and the Swedes a veeery long time ago fought over that part of the country, but it was for the most part Swedish since it is naturally incorporated in the “Swedish land mass” and easier to defend. Swedes, Danes, Norwegians and Icelanders are basically the same anyway, there’s just a more or less slight difference in the dialect of our languages (or quite a lot when it comes to Iceland).

    So head not such rumors. You’re Swede!

    Take care, Marcus

  32. KyleM on April 16, 2008 at 5:20 pm

    One thing I’ve found interesting from my brother’s experience is that the LDS faith had a disproportionally high representation in his regiment. He also talked about having an instant community everywhere he’s been.

  33. Bob on April 16, 2008 at 5:35 pm

    I can remember being on a college campus that ‘Kent State Day’, standing in the middle of a ‘peace riot’(?) I was a student, I was a Marine, I was a RM, I was confused!
    In my personal view, neither War, or the Military can be raised about the level of Necessary. As soon as you declare either as good or moral, you are on dangerous ground.

  34. Bob on April 16, 2008 at 5:47 pm

    #32: I think there is a fine line in the American Military between the patriot and the believer. Sometimes this is good, sometimes not.
    I saw the Pope in front of the White House today. I wondered what was going though is mind when the U.S. Army sang directly into his face, the “Battle Hymn of the Republic” ?

  35. KyleM on April 16, 2008 at 6:13 pm

    34: I wasn’t making any statement about what it means. Just noting my brother’s observations that I thought were atleast tangentialy related to the post.

  36. Paul S on April 19, 2008 at 6:42 am

    Just an additional fact about LDS military chaplains: it is (or at least used to be – is it still?) Church policy that, if possible, an LDS chaplain should be called to the High Council of his local Stake (in areas with Stakes, of course!) This posed an interesting challenge when my father was stationed in Germany: we had an LDS chaplain who had to be called to the Stake High Council, but was pretty much completely inactive! (i.e. he didn\’t come to church even when he didn\’t have other chaplaincy-related duties.) What do you do about an inactive High Councilman who you didn\’t really choose in the first place?

  37. Raymond Takashi Swenson on April 21, 2008 at 3:43 pm

    The Church has just added a Military Relations page to its lds.org web site, at http://www.lds.org/pa/display/0,17884,4701-1,00.html . It includes guidance for military families, for servicemen group leaders, and those interested in serving as chaplains.

  38. Raymond Takashi Swenson on April 21, 2008 at 4:15 pm

    #36 (Paul S): Any LDS chaplain who is not an active member in the Church should, I think, have his endorsement by the Church pulled so he can be discharged, and an active LDS person can fill the chaplain slot in his place. The slots are very limited in number, and one of the primary functions of the chaplains is to be an advocate for LDS Church members within the armed forces, especially in their relations with other chaplains. Having a hypocrite serve in one of those positions would harm the Church.

    #32 (Kyle M): Being the armed forces is often disorienting (intentionally so, in basic training). Having people there who share your values and understand your faith can help you have a stable place to stand in all of that chaos.

    I once heard a lecture by a man who had studied the soldiers who had best withstood, mentally, the trial of being a prisoner of war (POW) during the Korean War. He mentioned that one distinct group was the Catholics, who would make a cross out of sticks and thread and focus on it as they prayed to remind themselves of who they are. His experiences led him to look into religion, which he lacked at the time, which led him into the LDS Church.

    #33, 34 (Bob): I am glad we can agree that having military guardians for a nation is Necessary. As far as whether they are good or moral, I think that if we (Americans) as a nation adopt the belief that the armed forces are only a necessary evil, we will tolerate them having a lack of moral character, and it will be a self-fulfilling prophecy. I have a hard time believing that, for example, Helaman and his Ammonite warriors were evil or immoral. On the other hand, it is clear in Mormon’s narrative that toward the end of his nation, the Nephite armies had lost discipline and morality.

    The entire purpose of the Uniform Code of Military Justice, and the judicial system that enforces it, is to maintain standards of morality and law-abiding behavior among the members of the armed forces. By doing so, we reinforce the desire for goodness and morality among many of the Americans who are in the military, and encourage them to have the courage of those convictions. The congressional oversight of the armed forces constantly makes clear that the Federal government expects the armed forces to maintain standards of morality and good conduct. We get the character of armed forces that we expect.

    A few months ago, the New York Times ran a cover story about the number of homicides committed by service members who had served in Iraq and Afghanistan, implying that the experience was so traumatic that those “trained killers” had returned as a danger to their fellow citizens. But a basic analysis of the homocide rate for all Americans in the 20s and early 30s demonstrated that the recent combat veterans were only 20% as likely to commit homicide as their non-military peers. In other words, those serving in America’s military today are LESS criminally violent than their counterparts who do NOT volunteer. It is hard to classify a mass of a million people as “good” or “bad”, but at the very least, it seems to me that they are, on average, BETTER people than the average American. The military justice system has to be there to take care of those on the bottom end of the curve, but the vast majority of them are better neighbors than you would find by populating your street with random names out of the phone book.

    With respect to the Pope hearing The Battle Hymn of the Republic: He may have been remembering that it was American soldiers who rescued his native country of Germany from a nightmare of totalitarian atheism. The Battle Hymn was written during the American Civil War, and represented the motive for many Union soldiers, that as Christ had “died to make men holy, let us die to make men free.” It is the same spirit that animates Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address: that America’s legacy as a nation of free citizens needed to be preserved as a beacon to all nations, most of whom still were ruled in 1863 by hereditary kings.

    That spirit, of willingness to put their lives on the line to free nations, including the nations of their enemies, has been a theme that characterizes the self-image of the American service member. It has been the reason why America, despite being the dominant military force in the world for the last 50 years, has not sought to build an empire, but a community of free nations. And in doing so, America has made them more hospitable for the eventual spread of the Restored Gospel. Just as the First Century Church of Jesus Christ took advantage of the peaceful movement that the Roman Empire provided, the LDS Church has taken advantage of the freedom among nations that the United States has supported.

  39. Bob on April 25, 2008 at 7:49 pm

    Raymond, if you are still following this:
    1) The Pope is German.
    2) Yes, one must act morally during a war. I just feel war can never itself be moral. Mainly (IMO), most wars we know about could have been avoided had men acted “morally”, at an earlier date. But, I am not naive, men sometime are just evil, and their evil plans must be dealt with.

  40. David G. Walling on April 27, 2008 at 8:20 pm

    I remeber my first encounter with the LDS faith in basic training, Ft. Leonard Wood, MO in company D1-2 July-Oct 1985. Sunday service time came up and there 3 trainees that were LDS but there was no chaplain. The drill sergeants told them they could go to another faith but they said that they couldn\’t. I didn\’t understand at the time but it took them a few weeks then they were allowed to hold their own service in a receration hall but only for 1 hour not 3 like they did at home. I was invited to go but declined every time.

    Then I was in my Reserve unit C Co 321st Engineers in Northern Utah and 60% of the unit personnel were LDS. I remember the influence they had on me during training meetings. I was proud to be part of that unit.

    On active duty, I had 3 members of my platoon that were LDS and how dedicated to their religion and it\’s teachings. They tought me what it meant to be dedicated to a principle.

    Now I am out of the Army and have joined the LDS faith. I sitll look back on those individuals as being part of the reason I joined the LDS church. Through their examples and true faith

  41. Eric Boysen on April 27, 2008 at 11:28 pm

    Bob:

    The Pope has spoken of the Americans as liberators of his country, Germany. The Nazis not only enslaved other countries, they enslaved their own people.

  42. Raymond Takashi Swenson on April 28, 2008 at 3:09 pm

    #40 (David) Thank you for your statement. The good example of LDS servicemembers has been a significant part of missionary work for many years, especially skince World War II.

    #39 (Bob): Anyone who actually reads knows that Benedict XVI was Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger from Bavaria. A careful reading of my last post will show that I was referring to the liberation of his nation, Germany, by US forces, when he was a teenager.

    I was sort of hoping that President Uchtdorf would be the person the Church sent to meet him in New York. President U. is also German.

    Usually, at least one side in any given war is morally in the wrong. I certainly hold no brief for the US Army force that marched to Utah in 1857; one its members, a military veteran from Europe, was so disgusted with them he deserted and joined the Mormons. I have been speaking of the US armed forces as I have known them over the last half century or so. I certainly have no moral qualms about LDS members joining the US armed forces. I don’t think it is any more likely to engage them in immoral behavior than going away to college. And there are in fact a number of LDS around them, and a lot of other people of high character they can join with to uphold morality.