|Remarks to the American Legion
August 27, 2006
|By Elder Lance B. Wickman
Of the Seventy
It is an honor for me on behalf of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to extend a warm and cordial welcome to you, members and auxiliary members of the American Legion, at this your 88th National Convention. If I am not mistaken, this is the third time in the past 22 years that the Legion has held its annual convention in Salt Lake City. Each of the previous two times, President Gordon B. Hinckley, the President of the Church, has greeted you. He is not able to attend this year, but he has asked that I extend his greeting and warmest best wishes to you.
On a personal note, it truly is an honor to be able to do so. I feel a genuine kinship with you. During the Vietnam War, I was an infantry officer, serving there twiceonce as a combat platoon leader and once as an advisor to the Vietnamese Army. I know that some of you are comrades-in-arms from that war. Others of you served in earlier or later conflicts. Whenever we served and on whatever far-flung battle line, those of us who have served in America’s legions share a unique and special brotherhood. We are all comrades-in-armsa band of brothers. Most of us were “citizen soldiers,” laying aside civilian pursuits when the war trumpet sounded. So, for that reason it is a signal honor to be with you today and to have this opportunity to briefly address you.
But this sense of “citizen soldier” kinship extends beyond my own personal experiences. You may be interested to know that, according to estimates I have been able to obtain, some 6,000 Utah National Guardsmen have served, or are now serving, in Iraq or Afghanistan. Many of these have served more than one tour of duty in the combat zone. In addition, Utah has its share of young men and women on active dutyregulars and reservistswith the Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marine Corps. With Utah’s population significantly comprised of members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, it is evident that the Mormon people are very much engaged with other Americans in the defense of our nation. It has ever been thus. In every conflict of the 20th century and now into the 21st, Latter-day Saints have taken their place alongside Americans of all religious persuasions and from every walk of life upon the battlements, on the seas, and in the skies in defense of this land we all love so very much. Names like Guadalcanal, Iwo Jima, Omaha Beach, Inchon, the Chosin Reservoir, the Ia Drang Valley, the Iron Triangle, Baghdad, and Fallujah mean as much to us as they do to any of you. Our loved ones, also citizen soldiers, have foughtand some have diedin these and so many other such places, just as you, your family members, and your friends have done.
For us, such service is not only a patriotic duty; it can be a sacred duty. As a companion set of scripture to the Bible, our Book of Mormon: Another Testament of Jesus Christ teaches us of ancient inhabitants of this continent who took up arms in defense of all they held dear. It states that they “were inspired by a better cause, for they were not fighting for monarchy nor power but they were fighting for their homes and their liberties, their wives and their children, and their all, yea, for their rites of worship and their church” (Alma 43:45). I believe that this is the ultimate creed of the citizen soldierto take up arms in defense of family, cause, and country. I further believe that every one of us here today, regardless of our faith, resonates to those very principles because everyone here has lived his or her life in accordance with them. Citizen soldiers. So, for that reason, all of us who are Latter-day Saints feel a sense of kinship with you.
And if that kinship has its root in times of war, it has its flower in times of peace. The American Legion may draw its membership from among America’s warriors, past and present, but its missionat least as I understand itis largely one of peace and service and charity. And so that termcitizen soldierstakes on added meaning. For the families of those who are now serving in the armed forces, and especially for the loved ones of those who have fallen, you Legionnaires are there. You were there in the food lines and the reconstruction efforts when Katrina struck, as well as in a thousand other disasters. Your programs, especially athletic programs, to build character, teamwork, and sportsmanship in young men and women are almost legendaryor, we might say, legion-dary. Your championship of sound policy at all levels of government is earnest and unrelenting. To my understanding, the very name “American Legion” is synonymous with goodness and charity and a helping hand.
In those peaceful endeavors, we likewise feel a genuine kinship with you for we too are “citizen soldiers” in a peaceful army of mercy. We believe that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints can likewise be justifiably associated with those same principles of goodness, charity, and helping hands. In the aftermath of Katrina and the other hurricanes that devastated the Southeast last year and in previous years, our members were there beside youin forcecleaning away rubble, tending to the homeless, and lifting up the hands that hung down. When the devastating “Christmas tsunami” of 2004 struck across the vast reaches of South and Southeast Asia, Latter-day Saint relief efforts were some of the first on the ground. They are still there and ongoing. In communities large and small across this landindeed, across the earthLatter-day Saints are striving to serve their fellow men in need with food, with necessities, and with basic human kindnesslike you of the American Legion. “Like a mighty army, moves the Church of God; brothers, we are treading where the saints have trod.” Thus goes a stanza of that universally popular Christian hymn, “Onward, Christian Soldiers.” We hope that we are living worthy of that phrasecitizen soldiers on the march in the Lord’s service. While you are here in Salt Lake City, perhaps you will have the opportunity to visit our Humanitarian Center to gain a more penetrating insight into these efforts and an increased sense of our common purposes.
We live in perhaps the most self-absorbed of ages. But for the American Legion, as well as for the Church, service is what really matters. Service is what makes life satisfying and worthwhile. A commitment to service, whether in wartime or time of peace, is the hallmark of the citizen soldier. Not many days ago, I walked through a cemetery in Southern California gazing at the headstones and grave markers. I was struck by a common element in those belonging to the World War II generationwhat Tom Brokaw has referred to as the Greatest Generation. Though they may have passed beyond death’s veil in the 1960s, 70s, or 80sand therefore had lived decades beyond those war yearsalmost every marker made reference to the deceased’s wartime service. “Corporal, such-and-such tank battalion,” “hospitalman 1st class, USNR,” “private first class, 1st Infantry Division”these were among the many such gravestone epitaphs I saw. Service in wartime, service under difficult circumstancesthat was how they wished to be remembered. Their loved ones knew that and had engraved that memory. College degrees, civilian occupations, bank accountsthese were transitory to these veterans. It was their service that really mattered! Citizen soldiers.
And so it is, I believe, for you and me, for Legionnaire and Latter-day Saintcitizen soldiers in a service rendered whether in war or in peace. It is in sacrifices made or in a helping hand extended that each of us records his richest memories. It is in service that the eternal bonds of kinshipof being brothers-in-armsare forged. In his play Henry V, Shakespeare immortalized the victory of a small English army over a much larger French host at the Battle of Agincourt. In the play, Shakespeare has young King Henry gather his small army together on the morn of the great battle. Through Henry’s lips, Shakespeare utters words that have been made famous in recent years by that great chronicler of World War II, Stephen Ambrose: “We few, we happy few, we band of brothers; for he today that sheds his blood with me shall be my brother. . . . And gentlemen in England now abed shall think themselves accurs’d they were not here, and hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks that fought with us upon Saint Crispin’s day” (Act IV, Scene 3; emphasis added).
And so, we of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints extend our welcome and our hands and our hearts to you in warmth and friendship. We welcome you as fellow citizen soldiers. A band of brothers! May your meetings and activities here this week bring a genuine renewal of your commitment to God and country. Thank you, and God bless you. . . .