Most of us are sensitive to the ruthlessness and cost of war, wherever it is being waged. The lives sacrificed, the human agony, the loss of hope inflicted by such confrontations are impossible to calculate.
I am particularly concerned as to the fate of the prisoners of war in Vietnam. These are men who have become silent pawns in a tragic and devilish contest. They are the victims of cruel and tortured minds who have kept them muzzled these months and years, hoping thereby to use them as chips at the bargaining table. In my prayers I have pleaded with the Lord that the hearts of their captors might be softened, to deal with them kindly and generously.
Wives and children are also the victims of this evil scheme, which denies every element of humanity. Through their minds may pass a parade of a thousand haunting pictures of what might be. Their days are days of loneliness and fear. Their nights are nights of longing and prayer. How can one endure such a crucible?
I was reminded of the terrible inequality of sacrifice in this war some months ago when I was with the father of one of these prisoners of war. The father told me of his son, who had not been heard from in more than four years, and of the loyal wife who waits for him. While we were talking that evening, she phoned her father-in-law to say that she had just taken one of the children to the hospital for an emergency operation. Then the father asked if I would talk with his own youngest daughter. This beautiful girl told me, with tears falling down her cheeks, of the young man she loved and of their planned marriage. She had prepared to meet him in Hawaii when he came there on a rest and recuperation leave. Then, just one week before he was to leave for that dreamed-of meeting, he was killed in action.
To those of us today who live in the shelter and comfort of our homes, far from the hot and deadly jungles of Vietnam and with assurance concerning our loved ones who also live in comfort, the least we can do is that which the wives of servicemen would have us do: that is, add our names to the many who are asking Hanoi to return these men to their families. And to this we should add our prayers. It was said of old that “the … fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much.” (James 5:16.)
I believe that the fervent prayers of many righteous men can bring to pass miracles.
I deeply appreciate those who have sacrificed their lives for the cause of human liberty. I hate war, with all its mocking panoply. It is a grim and living testimony that Satan, the father of lies, the enemy of God, lives. War is earth’s greatest cause of human misery. It is the destroyer of life, the promoter of hate, the waster of treasure. It is man’s costliest folly, his most tragic misadventure.
American statesman Charles Sumner, commenting on the cost of war, once said: “Give me the money that has been spent on war, and I will clothe every man, woman, and child in an attire of which kings and queens would be proud. I will build a schoolhouse in every valley over the whole earth. I will crown every hillside with a place of worship, consecrated to the gospel of peace.”
But since the day that Cain slew Abel, there has been contention among men. There always have been—and until the Prince of Peace comes to reign, there always will be—tyrants and bullies, empire builders, slave seekers, and despots who would destroy every shred of human liberty if they were not opposed by force of arms. Their names too often read as the names of heroes. Their conquests might more truly be told in the terrible suffering they have imposed as they have marched with their legions to enslave the weak. Beginning with Sargon, who conquered Sumeria in the third millennium B.C., on through the empire builders who followed him—Hammurabi, Nebuchadnezzar, Cyrus, Alexander of Greece, the Roman Caesars, Genghis Khan, the Goths who came over the walls of Rome, and so on down to the Kaiser; then Hitler and Mussolini, and those of this day—they are all of the same ilk.
Can anyone doubt that Hitler would have quenched the candle of freedom in every nation of Europe had he not been stopped? Can anyone believe that Tojo would have been satisfied with anything less than an empire reaching at least from Hawaii to Singapore? Can anyone in a free land be less than grateful for those who have given their lives that liberty might flourish?
I have stood at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington National Cemetery, where are remembered those who have died for the freedom of the United States. I have stood by the Cenotaph at Whitehall in London, where are remembered the dead of Britain. I have seen the flame that always burns beneath the Arch of Triumph in Paris, in remembrance of the men of France who died in the cause of freedom. At each of these sacred places I have felt a deep and moving sense of gratitude to those there remembered. I have stood beside my own brother’s grave in the U.S. military cemetery in Suresnes, France, and thanked the Lord for the liberty preserved by the sacrifices of those who gave their lives in the cause of human liberty. I have walked reverently on that quiet ground known as the Punch Bowl in Hawaii, where lie the remains of thousands who made the ultimate sacrifice.
When we opened the work of the Church in the Philippines, we had no place to meet for our sacred services, so we asked the American embassy for the privilege of meeting in the cemetery at Fort McKinley, on the outskirts of Manila. To me, that quiet, green, and beautiful ground is hallowed. There, row on row in perfect symmetry, stand more than fifteen thousand marble crosses and many of the Stars of David, each marking the final resting place of a man who gave his life. Encircling that sacred ground are two marble colonnades, extending from either side of a beautiful chapel. These stone colonnades are inscribed with the names of thirty-five thousand men who died in the battles of the Pacific but whose remains were never found: “Comrades in arms whose resting place is known only to God.”
I walked one of those silent corridors and there saw the name of a boy who grew up not far from where I lived, who laughed and danced and played ball and on the Sabbath administered the sacrament in the meetinghouse. Then he went away to war, and his plane was last seen spiraling in flames into a distant sea. His mother received a telegram. Her dark hair turned gray and then white as she mourned the loss of her son. In such places, hallowed by the blood of patriots, I have thought of a scene in the Maxwell Anderson play Valley Forge. The scene depicts soldiers of the American Revolution, cold, hungry, and filled with despair, burying a dead comrade in the frozen earth. General Washington says with a touch of bitterness: “This liberty will look easy by and by, when nobody dies to get it.”
When I was a boy in school, each Armistice Day at eleven o’clock we all stood with bowed heads for a minute of silent and grateful remembrance. I am sorry we have forgotten that practice in the rush of our lives.
I know many of our brethren who are in the service of their country today, and I have been with them in many lands. I have heard their expressions of faith. I have wept with them as they have stood and borne testimony of their knowledge of the gospel of Jesus Christ. There are no better Latter-day Saints anywhere on earth than many of those in uniform, and there are faithful representatives of this church in the armed forces of many nations.
I have been in inspirational meetings in numerous places, but I think that I have never been in a more inspirational meeting than the one that I attended in Korea a few years ago at the Eighth Army Retreat Center on the outskirts of Seoul. The bread of the sacrament was administered that morning by a tall captain of the infantry on whose chest were many campaign ribbons. He had been ordained a priest only that morning. He had joined the Church while serving in Korea as a result of the actions of his associates.
As he knelt at the sacrament table, he gave, with a quiver in his voice, that solemnly beautiful and simple prayer. Somehow the Spirit of the Lord went through that old quonset-hut chapel in a marvelous and touching manner. I am frank to confess I was weeping, too.
After that, as each of the sixty-one persons present bore his testimony, there was an outpouring of the Spirit that was wonderful to experience. These were men of war who spoke the gospel of peace—colonels, majors, captains, lieutenants, sergeants, and privates—faithful men and, among them, a handful of investigators who had come to learn and who were marvelously taught.
On another occasion in Korea we had a service in which the music was furnished by a chorus of orphan children with names such as Kim, Lee, Rhee, and Ho. Their mothers were Korean, their fathers were American soldiers. They had been abandoned by both their mothers and their fathers—the miserable, forsaken flotsam of a terrible tide of immorality. The chorus was led by a tall young man from southern Utah who had left school to serve his country. In his off-duty hours he had gathered these children together and taught them music. They sang, as I have never heard it sung, “Give, Said the Little Stream,” first in English and then in Hangue Korean:
“I’m small I know but where’er I go,
The fields grow greener still.”
As I looked at the man who was leading them, Daddy Big Boots, as they called him, I thought, He’s not small I know, but where’er he goes, the world grows better still.
Today we have thousands of Church members in Korea, a harvest from efforts commenced initially by faithful Latter-day Saint servicemen who fought there in a war described as “one that we could not win, we could not lose, we could not end.”
In Japan we have more than fourteen thousand faithful Latter-day Saints—again the sweet fruit grown from seed planted years ago by dedicated members of this Church who, while wearing the uniform of their country or as full-time missionaries, walked in the dignity of the priesthood of God. It is so elsewhere.
It was my privilege to dedicate a beautiful chapel in Okinawa within the shadow of the tragic Shuri Line, where there were more than twelve thousand casualties. I have seen of fruits of the labors of our brethren in the Philippines. I have been up and down Vietnam, again and again, and felt the spirit of our brethren there who, while serving their nation, have served their God.
I was privileged to dedicate South Vietnam for the preaching of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ. I am satisfied that the day for missionary service there will come because of the sacrifice of faithful and good men. Already the decision has been made to look for a piece of property in Saigon on which to build a chapel. Most of the money on hand, which practically guarantees the construction of that chapel, was raised a few years ago under the leadership of a great serviceman, a major in the United States Air Force. This leader of our work in South Vietnam went among his brethren and asked them to give their combat differential pay for the construction of a chapel. Can you think of a greater expression of Christian goodness than for men to give the money paid them for the dangers of combat to the construction of a house of worship dedicated in the name of the Prince of Peace?
May the Lord bless our brethren in the service, wherever they may be, for their faithfulness. May the Lord remind us of the debt of gratitude we owe them, and may he awaken within us a resolution to live worthy of their sacrifice.