Vietnam has two seasons, hot and dry and hot and wet. I’d been there for nearly a year and had seen them both. This morning was muggy, just as each previous day had been for the past several weeks. I was sitting in a shallow ditch, too tired to care about the mud oozing into my boots or the stench of the blood-stained water around my feet. Sweat was pouring down my brow, soaking my shirt. The oppressive heat made breathing a labor.
My entire company—or what was left of it—was scattered about the landing zone. We had spent the last three weeks (or was it four?) on patrol operations. But soon it would be our turn to board the choppers for the flight back to the base camp.
I thought of the past few days—of my friends who had died, of the pain of those who hadn’t, and of how tired I was of everything. We had had weeks of constant patrol, chasing the Viet Cong by day and praying at night that they wouldn’t come looking for us. But they always did.
I instinctively ducked deeper into the ditch as a bullet whined overhead. A sniper had started shooting, so this was no time to be careless. The perimeter guards were scanning the jungle, but they had not yet spotted the source of the rifle fire.
The roar of the choppers filled the air as three HUEYs set down some ten yards behind me. Their machine guns opened up to cover the landing. Fresh troops, our replacements from the Twenty-fifth Infantry, scrambled off and into the ditch as our wounded were loaded aboard. The entire exchange lasted only seconds, and then the helicopters were gone. The next flight would be for us. “Just a little longer,” I thought to myself as I tried to control the urge to stand up and stretch my cramped legs.
In the silence broken only by muffled conversation and occasional gunfire, I became aware of someone whistling an ever-so-familiar melody. What was that song? It seemed to calm my fears and shut out the war. I listened intently and looked around to see a soldier sitting a few feet away. I couldn’t make out his name tag; he was another private from the Twenty-fifth who had just arrived. He continued to whistle—and then I recognized the familiar melody of “We Thank Thee, O God, for a Prophet.”
I quickly crawled over to him and asked if he was a Latter-day Saint and if he held the priesthood. He said yes, and my heart skipped a beat; I had not been in touch with another Church member since I had attended the Saigon Branch several months before. I asked if he was worthy to bless the sacrament, and he told me that he was.
It was the Sabbath; I knew that only because of the day and date feature on my watch. I had a C-ration biscuit and a canteen, so I asked if he would help me with the sacrament. He nodded and we crawled out of the ditch—out of sight of the other soldiers—into the tall grass and bamboo.
I pulled from my pocket my serviceman’s copy of Principles of the Gospel that my bishop had given me when I had received my draft notice. I offered my helmet, upturned, for our table, and the soldier produced a clean white handkerchief for the sacrament cloth. Kneeling with my companion in the mud, I opened the bread and broke and blessed it. While I prayed, he watched the jungle with his rifle ready. We served each other. Then he laid down his weapon, took the canteen cup of water, and blessed it while I guarded him.
Never in my life has the bread of the sacrament tasted so sweet and the water so pure as it did that day, nor has my soul been so strengthened by the ordinance. We clasped hands, then quickly crawled back to the protection of the ditch. Immediately the whine of the helicopters again filled the air, and I was up and running for the landing zone with the other members of my squad. I turned and looked back, my fear gone, and he smiled and gave the “thumbs-up” signal. I climbed aboard the HUEY, and we were gone.
I never asked that soldier’s name, nor he mine, but in those brief moments we forged a bond to last throughout eternity. That fellow Saint had rescued my soul from the horror and despair of war. Partaking of the sacrament in the jungle had brought me closer to the Lord than I had ever been before.
Through a gospel ordinance, we had found peace.