Mormon Prisoner of War Tells of Experiences During 7-Year Captivity
Among the first prisoners of war released by the North Vietnamese following the ceasefire in Indochina was Captain Larry J. Chesley, a Latter-day Saint from Burley, Idaho.
Captain Chesley, 34, was a prisoner for almost seven years. He has been in the United States Air Force for more than thirteen years, and had been in Vietnam for four months when his aircraft was shot down and he was captured. He was stationed at Ybon where he served as a Sunday School teacher.
On his return to the United States, Captain Chesley underwent a period of recuperation at Travis Air Force Base in California. He was joined there by members of his family, and it was from there that he spoke to the Ensign.
“I was a prisoner for 2,498 days, almost six years and ten months. The thing that really kept me going was my family, knowing that they loved me and that they cared for me.
“It was also a great comfort to reflect on the patriarchal blessing I received when I was fourteen. I was promised then that should I be called into the service, no matter what may come or what may go, I would be returned to my family.
“I was sustained also by the memories of the leaders I had had in priesthood and in Scouting. Among those who meant a great deal to me are Lee Gamble, Jimmy Page, Robert Ramsey, and, of course, my father. I could recall those days as the most enjoyable of my life as a young man.”
Captain Chesley said that he was on an early evening mission over southern North Vietnam when his aircraft was hit.
“I was captured immediately, but it took 21 days for the North Vietnamese to get me to Hanoi. I remained in that area all the time I was a prisoner. It took a long time to get to Hanoi because we only traveled at night, in trucks over bad roads.
“At the beginning I was in a room by myself, but later, as more prisoners moved into the camp, we began sharing prison space. Even when we were individually confined we would hold church services together. With the person on the other side of the wall, I would kneel and we would say the Lord’s Prayer or the Twenty-third Psalm together, and then the pledge of allegiance to the United States.
“As more prisoners came into the camp, we were able to get together as a group for church services. We had a mixture of faiths there—Jews, Protestants, Catholics, and Mormons—and we took turns in presenting sermons. They were some of the most inspiring services I have ever heard.
“We shared something in common; we had a belief in God, and we had a belief in our country and in our leaders. When these boys come back and give thanks for their country, they really mean it. It was a sustaining influence in our lives.
“When I first arrived at the camp, I was the only Mormon, but later I did get to meet others. One of the greatest men I have ever met was Major J. Criddle Hess, a member from Bountiful, Utah. Every POW I spoke to said that Major Hess was the only person whom they had met in their entire life that they couldn’t make angry. He was always calm, no matter what happened.”
[At press time, Major Hess was not listed among those prisoners released by the North Vietnamese.]
Captain Chesley said that he prayed night and morning, and observed the Word of Wisdom “as far as possible. We were given tea to drink so it was a matter of having to, but otherwise I kept the Word of Wisdom.”
Captain Chesley said that for use in the nondenominational church services the prisoners held, he made a cross out of a towel and some handkerchiefs sewn together using a homemade needle and thread pulled from a blanket.
“That cross was uplifting for some of the men, and we would hang it up every time we met together for our church services. It has been turned over for possible display in the Air Force Historical Museum.”
Being out of touch with the world, Captain Chesley said he had a lot to catch up on. “I knew from my parents’ letters that President David O. McKay had died, and that made me feel very sorrowful, but it wasn’t until I got home that I learned that President Smith had died.
“The temples at Ogden and Provo will be new to me too, as well as the Church Office Building.”
Captain Chesley said that if there was one thing that sustained him during his seven-year ordeal, it was his family.
“Just to know that they loved me was a great strength. And I never questioned my patriarchal blessing. Even though it took almost seven years, I knew I would be back with my family some day.”
Of the reception that he and his colleagues received on their return to United States soil, Captain Chesley said, “This homecoming that we have received is almost beyond description. The love and care that we are receiving is just wonderful, and I can’t help thinking how much greater that love and care are going to be when we return to our Heavenly Father.”
U.S. Dollar Devaluation Raises Costs of Some Church Programs
Devaluation of the United States dollar in February will mean a cost of living increase for many missionaries, as well as an increase in expenditures for some Church programs.
J. Alan Blodgett, comptroller and director of the Church’s Financial Department, reports that where U.S. dollars are used to augment local funds for such programs as building projects, the costs to the Church will be increased by approximately ten percent.
The devaluation, introduced to correct the balance of trade between the United States and other nations by making U.S. goods less expensive on the world market, has already caused some missionaries to check their budgets. According to a Salt Lake City bank official, as a general rule the American missionary dollar is worth ten percent less than it was prior to devaluation.
In some Central and South American countries, such as Mexico and Brazil, where there is an attempt to retain local currency on par with the U.S. dollar, devaluation may not be too noticeable. However, the situation differs from country to country. In Japan, the U.S. dollar decreased in value by as much as 13 percent. Italy devalued its currency along with the U.S. dollar, but the decrease in value in Germany, France, and Spain was significant.
It is recommended that prospective missionaries allow time for foreign currencies to stabilize in the post-devaluation period before trying to determine the rate of exchange.
Correlation Leaders Have Been Appointed
The First Presidency has announced appointments of two new secretaries for Church Correlation Committees.
New secretary of the Youth Correlation Committee, which is responsible for Church curricula for members 12 through 17 years of age, is William James Mortimer. Brother Mortimer, who succeeds Reed H. Bradford, is general manager of Deseret Book Company and former president of the Butler Stake in Salt Lake County.
Secretary of the Adult Correlation Committee, which is responsible for curricula of Church members 18 years and over, is Augustus F. Faust, professor and chairman of Cultural Foundations of Education at the University of Utah Graduate School of Education. He succeeds Aldon J. Anderson.
Both committees are part of the Church’s Internal Communications Department.
External Communications Directors Announced
Four veteran newsmen and media specialists have been named division directors of the Church’s new External Communications Department.
The department, which was formed by the First Presidency last August, is headed by Wendell J. Ashton, with Elders Mark E. Petersen and Gordon B. Hinckley of the Council of the Twelve as advisers.
Director of the division responsible for press relations is Henry A. Smith, a former editor of the Church News. He is also press secretary to the First Presidency. His responsibilities now include official Church news releases, contact with news media, and preparing materials for press conferences and area conferences.
Director of electronic media, promotions, and research is Heber G. Wolsey, former assistant to the president for communications at Brigham Young University. His responsibilities include the preparation of television and radio documentaries, creation of public service announcements, and special writing assignments for non-Church magazines and trade journals.
Norman R. Bowen, a former Deseret News city editor, is director of stake-mission public relations as well as assistant Church press secretary. He works with stake, mission, and area public relations councils throughout the Church and also directs preparation of Church displays.
Grant W. Heath has been named director of administrative services, which includes budget control, office management, and liaison with other Church departments. He also is serving as interim director of visitors centers and pageants and is involved in the planning of exhibits and displays.
Brothers Smith, Bowen, and Heath previously served with the Church Information Service, which has now been absorbed into the External Communications Department.
The May Ensign will feature an interview with Elder Ashton on the organization and purposes of the department.
1973 Dates Announced for Special Events, Conferences, Pageants
The First Presidency has approved the following dates for conferences, pageants, and special events to be held during 1973.
1. Melchizedek and Aaronic Priesthood MIAs, June 22–24, in Salt Lake City.
2. Semiannual general conference in Salt Lake City October 5–7, with a general priesthood meeting October 6 and Relief Society conferences October 3–4.
1. Promised Valley, at the Promised Valley Playhouse in Salt Lake City, with one performance nightly, Tuesday through Saturday, July 5 through 31 and two performances each night August 1 through September 1. There will be no performances on Sunday or Monday evenings.
2. Mormon Miracle at Manti, Utah, July 12–21, except Sunday, July 15.
3. Hill Cumorah Pageant, in Palmyra, New York, on Friday and Saturday, July 27 and 28, and Tuesday through Friday, July 31–August 3. The annual pageant religious service will be held Sunday, July 29.
1. Dedicatory services for four buildings in Nauvoo, Illinois, will be held May 26 in the Nauvoo Branch chapel of the Nauvoo Mission. The buildings, restored by the Church over the past few years, are the Brigham Young home, the Lucy Mack Smith home, the Browning home and gunshop, and the Seventies Hall. Overflow facilities are scheduled for the two theaters at the Nauvoo Visitors Center.
2. Cornerstone of the Washington Temple at Washington, D.C., will be laid June 20 under the direction of the First Presidency.
Managua Saints Returning to City
Twelve missionaries are now back in Managua, Nicaragua, and the surrounding communities as the Saints rebuild their lives following last December’s devastating earthquake.
In a special report to the Ensign, President Quinten Hunsaker of the Central America Mission said that wherever possible, the local Saints are repairing and rebuilding their shattered homes, in advance of the rainy season, which starts in May.
“Approximately 25 to 30 percent of the members have jobs now and are back to work, and they are using what little income they have to build new homes or repair their old ones. Of course, homes here are of a simple design and don’t require elaborate construction techniques. Where possible, the members are housing their relatives and friends.
“Food is now available, although few people have the money to buy it, so we are still providing supplies for the Saints. We are also helping nonmembers where the need has been great. This whole process of caring for the Saints and for others who need help has not gone unnoticed. Apart from the government and the International Red Cross, the Church is the only other organization distributing supplies here, and people know it.
“The members are in great spirits and very grateful for the help and the prayers in their behalf. They recognize the blessings that they have received in being saved from injury and being together with their loved ones. Even some investigators of the Church have testimonies of their blessings. Testimonies have been strengthened, not weakened, by the ordeal.”
President Hunsaker said that the Managua Branch chapel is now back in use. Although it would be possible to rebuild the damaged walls of the chapel, the building is located in the downtown area, and government plans for overall redevelopment have not yet been fully determined.
“We are waiting on the government’s decision to see what we will do and whether we will restore the chapel,” he added. “A member family living close to the chapel repaired their home and offered accommodations for two missionaries. We also have missionaries in Granada, the second largest city in Nicaragua, about 50 miles from the capital. We have had missionaries there before, but without any success. Now some Saints from Managua live there with relatives or friends, and we feel that their presence and the work of the Church will have sufficient impact to open up the area for missionaries.”
LDS Scene: A Round-up of Important Happenings
Belle S. Spafford, general president of the Relief Society, and Florence S. Jacobsen, former president of the YWMIA and now a member of the Church’s Historic Arts and Sites Committee, will attend the conference of the International Council of Women to be held in Vienna, Austria, June 25–July 7. Both will be voting delegates at the conference in behalf of the National Council of Women of the United States, of which Sister Spafford is a former president. …
Approval has been given by the board of trustees for an addition to the J. Reuben Clark Library at Brigham Young University. The 250,000-square-foot addition, to be constructed immediately south of the existing library, will more than double the seating capacity of the study and research center. BYU students have pledged themselves to raise $1 million toward the new building, with $2 million being sought from faculty, staff and administrative employees, alumni, and friends of the university. The existing building was planned for a student body of 11,000; current enrollment is 23,957. …
Mark Hathaway, station manager of Brigham Young University’s KBYU-TV, is a recipient of the Abe Lincoln Merit Award from the Southern Baptist Radio and Television Commission. This national award recognizes broadcasters for outstanding contributions to the quality of life in America, both as individual citizens and as representatives of the broadcasting industry. …
The Church has received recognition from the Utah Heritage Foundation for the preservation and restoration of historic sites. The citation gave specific mention to the Lion House, the Beehive House, and the Promised Valley Playhouse, all in Salt Lake City. …
The Tallahassee Stake, comprising four wards and seven independent branches, has been created from the Alabama-Florida Mission. Canadian-born Jay Nicholas Lybert is the first president of the new stake. …
Dan L. Johnston of Bremerton, Washington, a graduate student in public administration at Brigham Young University, is the first Army Reserve Officer Training Corps cadet in the United States to win the Defender of Freedom award in the annual Freedom’s Foundation Awards contest. The honor came in the Freedom’s Foundation letter-writing contest in which Brother Johnston submitted an entry titled “Freedom Has a Price.” He receives the George Washington Honor medal and a $1,000 cash prize. Another BYU cadet, Mike Sumko, from Baden, Pennsylvania, received an honorable mention in this year’s contest. …
The Church College of Hawaii has announced a multimillion dollar expansion program that will double the Ralph Woolley Library, provide additional housing for married students, modernize existing classrooms, expand a cafeteria, and provide for an innovative parent-early childhood education center. The three-year program is the most extensive since the school’s original classroom-dormitory complex was completed in 1958. Development plans were announced by CCH President Stephen L. Brower, following the dedication by President Marion G. Romney of the Aloha Center, a new cultural and recreational building.
Deseret Industries Committee
A new six-member General Deseret Industries Committee has been called by the Presiding Bishopric with the approval of the First Presidency. The committee oversees the operations of the Deseret Industries and reports to Junior Wright Child, general manager of the Church’s Welfare Department. Pictured at their first formal meeting are committee members Oakley S. Evans, president of ZCMI, left; Lyle L. Williams; Gary E. Meredith; Derek Harland, assistant commissioner and director of personnel for the Church Health Services Corporation; and F. Earl Matheson, committee chairman and manager of the Personal Welfare Department, General Church Welfare Services Committee. Juliana Milburn, foreground, was acting as secretary for the committee. Absent at the time the photograph was taken was Marianne C. Sharp, first counselor in the general presidency of the Relief Society.