Return with Honor


Robert D. Hales
Adapted from a Church Educational System fireside address on 3 May 1998, given in the Cadet Chapel at the United States Air Force Academy, Colorado Springs, Colorado.

As a young man, I had an opportunity to serve in the U.S. Air Force as a jet fighter pilot. I am completely aware that my flight experiences may seem antiquated today, but I think the principles taught have eternal significance.

Each unit in the 31st Fighter Bomber Squadron had a motto to inspire their efforts. Our motto, “Return with Honor,” graced the side of our fighter aircraft. “Return with Honor” was a constant reminder to us of our determination to return to our home base with honor only after having expended all of our efforts to successfully complete every aspect of our mission.

This same motto, “Return with Honor,” can be applied to each of us on our eternal path of progression. Having lived with our Heavenly Father and having come to earth, we must have determination to return with honor to our heavenly home.

Captain Moroni in the Book of Mormon put honor and humility in perspective: “Behold, I am Moroni, your chief captain. I seek not for power, but to pull it down. I seek not for honor of the world, but for the glory of my God, and the freedom and welfare of my country” (Alma 60:36).

The scriptures teach us that honor includes such things as faith and trust in the Lord, payment of tithes and offerings, fear of the Lord, humility, and obedience.

We honor the Lord by placing our faith and trust in Him: “Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding” (Prov. 3:5).

We show our honor for Him by paying tithes and offerings: “Honour the Lord with thy substance, and with the firstfruits of all thine increase” (Prov. 3:9).

We honor the Lord with our obedience to His commandments: “Forget not my law; but let thine heart keep my commandments” (Prov. 3:1).

In the process of preparing to be a pilot, I was required to have training in what was called a Link trainer, which simulated real flight. There, an instructor would acquaint us with the emergencies which could occur when flying a jet fighter, sometimes at the speed of sound.

For each emergency, we were taught the procedures for avoiding disaster. We would practice each procedure over and over, so if a real emergency came along we would have an automatic, preconditioned response. We would know exactly what we were to do if there happened to be a technical failure in the airplane. We would even choose the altitude at which we would bail out if the plane went out of control.

I had a dear friend, an outstanding football player. His team earned the opportunity to play Oklahoma in the Orange Bowl. Before 100,000 spectators and a large television audience, his team lost by a huge score. It turned out that he and a few other members of his team had not kept the training rules which their coach had tried to teach them. They paid a dear price. They had to live with the consequences of knowing they were not prepared to play the big game; they had to live with the final, very embarrassing score for the rest of their lives.

Years passed. Two members of this same football team were in my flight training unit. One was an exemplary, well-disciplined student and a model pilot who had learned his lesson well from the Orange Bowl game.

However, the other had not learned to listen to those with more knowledge and experience. When his turn would come to go to the Link trainer to learn emergency procedures and to precondition his mental and physical responses so that they would be automatic, even instantaneous, my friend would put his arm around the airman instructor and say, “Check me off for three hours of emergency procedure.” Then, instead of training, he would go to the pistol range or to play golf. Sometimes he would go to the officers club to enjoy the associations which were there or to bask in the beautiful sunlight at the swimming pool. But he never learned the emergency procedures which he should have mastered in preparatory training.

When he went to advanced bomber training, the instructor on one occasion said to him, “What are you going to do when there is an emergency and you are not prepared?” His answer: “I am never going to bail out; I am never going to have an emergency.”

On an evening mission a few months later, fire erupted in his plane, and it dropped below 5,000 feet, spinning in flames. Noting the fire warning light, the younger pilot who was with him said, “Let’s get out of here.” And with the centrifugal force pulling against him, the younger man, who had taken his training seriously, struggled to get to the door and bailed out. His parachute opened at once and he slammed to the ground, receiving serious injuries, but he survived.

On the other hand, my friend, who had not felt the need to train for an emergency, stayed with the airplane and died in the crash. He paid the price for not having learned the lessons that could have saved his life.

Just as aircraft pilots must obey certain rules in order to avoid disaster, there are laws, ordinances, and covenants we must understand and keep as we go through earthly life if we are to reach our goal of eternal life. As important as it is for an airman to develop an automatic, preconditioned response in reaction to warning indicators on the instrument panel, it is even more important for us to learn emergency procedures and develop preconditioned responses to the warning lights that go off in our personal lives. Many a pilot has crashed because of faulty calculations or failure to accurately read the flight instruments. If we refuse to pay attention or deliberately ignore the warnings we receive from the Holy Ghost, we will wander off course and may crash before reaching our goal to return with honor.

The compass on the instrument panel of an airplane gives us our relationship to true north, allowing for the effects of magnetic deviation and prevailing winds that will take us off our intended course. The Holy Ghost is like a compass because He gives us direction and helps us find the way to our destination, no matter how stormy the weather.

The Book of Mormon prophet Lehi was given the Liahona, a divine compass that was “prepared by the hand of the Lord that thereby they might be led, every one according to the heed and diligence which they gave unto him” (Mosiah 1:16). Just like those of Lehi’s day, we must give heed and diligence to the Lord in order to have the blessing of being guided by the Holy Ghost.

To “heed” means to listen to the teachings of our Savior, Jesus Christ. It means to take counsel from our parents and the Lord’s disciples and leaders. It means to be humble and teachable. To have “diligence” means that we must live obediently and do that which we know to be right, working with all our heart, might, mind, and strength. Then we can expect to have the Spirit to be with us to guide us and direct our actions to do good, endure to the end, and attain eternal life.

In an airplane, the airspeed indicator gives us the relationship of speed to safe flight, avoiding the instant danger of stall-out speed on takeoff and landing that would cause the aircraft to lose flight characteristics and fall from the sky.

Like pilots who don’t watch their airspeed indicators, some individuals receive the gospel, the word of God, and then fall into inactivity. Because they do not keep up the momentum they had when they reached the waters of baptism, they stall and fall short of their eternal capabilities. We need to keep ourselves moving in an eternal direction, and then we must lift and strengthen others so they too can experience the joy of the Lord.

The fuel gauge on an airplane indicates the amount of fuel consumed and the amount of fuel remaining. No one would go into the air without enough fuel to complete the mission.

In the gospel, we must maintain enough fuel to complete our mission, and that fuel comes from daily replenishing our spirituality through prayer, scripture study, living more Christlike lives, consecrating ourselves to building the Lord’s kingdom, keeping sacred ordinances, serving one another in a spirit of love, attending Church services, and being obedient.

The altimeter allows a pilot to know his altitude so he can fly above all obstacles that will cause him to crash. When we are in an airliner flying above 30,000 feet in the stratosphere, we are above all weather (except for a few exceptional thunderstorms which radar will help us circumnavigate), and we miss the violent storms below on the surface of the earth.

We read in the Doctrine and Covenants that the Savior “comprehendeth all things, and all things are before him, and all things are round about him; and he is above all things” (D&C 88:41). President Wilford Woodruff, when teaching of the Savior, said, “I have always looked upon the life of our Savior—who descended beneath all things that He might rise above all things—as an example for His followers” (The Discourses of Wilford Woodruff, ed. G. Homer Durham [1946], 4). It was necessary that Jesus should descend below all things by living in mortality, in order that He might raise others above all things through the Atonement.

As followers of Jesus Christ, let us live our lives so that we can be above all things to receive the great blessings which are promised us. Being above all things is taking the higher ground and not participating in the things of the world that are going to take us away from what we are trying to accomplish in mortality. Let us live our lives above all things and enjoy the freedoms that come from knowing we are free and clear of Satan’s turbulent temptations and stormy weather.

In an airplane, the attitude indicator is a useful instrument. It gives us our continuous and accurate relationship to the horizon. Paying close attention assures us that we are flying straight and level and on course. It lets us know if we are banking or straying off course, even a degree at a time, or if we are climbing or diving toward an obstacle. It even tells us if we are completely upside down.

In life, we have to be careful to monitor our personal attitude. Are we positive, loyal, and trustworthy in all that we do? Don’t be negative. Strengthen and lift those around you. Do not let them pull you down.

I was taught about vertigo when my Air Force instructor took me up in an airplane with the cockpit covered by a canopy so I could not see outside and would have to rely on the instruments. Unknown to me, he gradually turned the airplane upside down, keeping positive G forces. My ear did not detect the slow rollover. He told me to take control of the airplane. Of course, I did what every other student did. I pulled backwards because I was losing altitude, and, of course, I started a dive toward the earth because I did not know I was upside down.

As I started to regain control of the airplane, I could see that the little marks on the landing gear were upside down. My instructor taught me the principle that you can take a human being at a two- or three-degree turn while keeping positive G forces and turn them upside down without them knowing that they have left the straight and level flight. The motion is imperceptible.

If we are not careful, we can experience spiritual vertigo. If we stray off the course of obedience by only two or three almost imperceptible degrees, we can become disoriented and lose sight of our eternal destination, not even realizing how far off course we are. We will then make poor choices. Just as my airplane left straight and level flight degree by degree, if we stray from the straight and narrow path even degree by degree, we can become confused and lose sight of our eternal goal.

Our Savior does not want us to crash. His desire is for us to choose the right course that will bring us back on the straight and narrow path to live with Him eternally. “Come, follow me,” He has told us (Luke 18:22). He provides the light that will keep us on course and bring us back into His presence. If we prepare ourselves to have preconditioned responses, we can devote all of our time to productive things and not worry about making big adjustments to place ourselves back on the straight and narrow path.

Instrument flying conditions require a complete trust in the instruments. Similarly, if we are obedient and listen to the Holy Ghost, we will recognize the warnings we receive in our own lives. If ignored, the price we pay will block our eternal progress, and we may not be able to return with honor.

Warning lights of a personal nature are activated for many reasons. For example, the use of alcohol, tobacco, drugs, or pornography would turn on warning lights, because when we choose to use these substances, we become slaves and our moral agency is limited. We must be prepared with preconditioned responses to reject these things when they are offered to us, or we will jeopardize our right to have the Spirit to guide us and direct us and our ability to return to our Heavenly Father with honor.

I once read about a survey taken by the Embry-Riddle company of 700 airplane accidents involving small private airplanes as well as large commercial ones. In 95 percent of the cases, the accidents involving these aircraft had nothing to do with equipment failure or with lack of proper training and skills but had everything to do with pilot error. These errors were broken down into four categories, which can compare to the problems we can bring upon ourselves by choosing to disobey commandments of God.

The first type of error involves a pilot’s feelings of invulnerability. It is thinking, I can do something dangerous and not get hurt. I can break the rules and not get caught. It couldn’t happen to me. It is the equivalent of running down the football field to see how close to the sideline you can come, bringing up just a little chalk dust, and believing the referee won’t see it.

Most of the time it is not total disobedience that gets us into trouble. It is, rather, that we are selectively obedient. Selective obedience is when we push the limits of what we know to be right. We may recognize what we must do to be obedient, yet we selectively do only part of what we are commanded to do.

The Bible teaches a marvelous story about Samuel and Saul. Saul had been set apart by the prophet Samuel under the direction of the Lord to become king of the Israelites. Saul had been a choice young man. The scriptures say, “There was not among the children of Israel a goodlier person than he” (1 Sam. 9:2). But eventually he decided to practice selective obedience by obeying only part of the commandments.

Before one battle, Samuel told Saul to utterly destroy the Amalekites and all of their animals, as Samuel had been told by the Lord. Saul’s army was made up of over 200,000 footmen. After their victory, Saul and his army brought back the best of the animals for themselves. Saul reported to Samuel, “I have performed the commandment of the Lord” (1 Sam. 15:13). Samuel replied, “What meaneth then this bleating of the sheep in mine ears, and the lowing of the oxen which I hear?” (1 Sam. 15:14). Saul had practiced selective obedience because he had destroyed all the animals except those he wanted to keep.

Samuel asked Saul what he was going to do with all of those animals. Saul replied, “The people spared the best of the sheep and of the oxen, to sacrifice unto the Lord thy God. …

“And Samuel said, Hath the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the Lord? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice. …

“… Because thou hast rejected the word of the Lord, he hath also rejected thee from being king.

“And Saul said unto Samuel, I have sinned: for I have transgressed the commandment of the Lord, and thy words: because I feared the people, and obeyed their voice” (1 Sam. 15:15, 22–24).

In 2 Nephi the Lord tells us the following:

“Yea, and there shall be many which shall say: Eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die; and it shall be well with us.

“And there shall also be many which shall say: Eat, drink, and be merry; nevertheless, fear God—he will justify in committing a little sin; yea, lie a little, take the advantage of one because of his words, dig a pit for thy neighbor; there is no harm in this; and do all these things, for tomorrow we die; and if it so be that we are guilty, God will beat us with a few stripes, and at last we shall be saved in the kingdom of God” (2 Ne. 28:7–8).

This is the deception of the world. As the Lord has taught us, wickedness—not even a little wickedness—never was happiness (see Alma 41:10). And it never will be. Wickedness prevents us from returning with honor to our Father in Heaven.

When Jesus went into the wilderness and fasted for 40 days, Satan came to tempt Him with the same things he uses to tempt us: wealth, power, and worldly passions. Jesus told him to get behind Him and tempt Him no more. By our actions, we sometimes put Satan right square in front of us.

How does one know when he takes his first drink that he is not capable of becoming an alcoholic? How can one know when he takes drugs, tobacco, and so on, or looks at his first pornographic magazine, that he won’t become dependent upon them? Why does one think he can be promiscuous and not pay a price such as social diseases, HIV, or pregnancy? We need to make the commitment to really obey the commandments of God.

The second pilot error noted in the Embry-Riddle study was machoism. The researchers told in this article of a pilot who twice buzzed a pickup truck. The second time, the pilot hit the truck and wiped out his airplane and the truck. Fortunately there were no lives lost in this particular accident.

In my Air Force experience, part of our training required us to fly low, just clearing the power lines, to avoid radar detection. What do you think made some fly the airplane barely under the power lines? What would make a guy do something like this?

The answer is machoism. His thinking is, It is going to make a bigger person out of me in the eyes of those around me or in my own eyes.

The street gangs that are so prevalent today are based on machoism. You have to be tough in order to impress someone else or to be accepted into the gang. Gang becomes family to each member. Members think that doing negative things rather than positive things will make them feel important. Momentarily they may have feelings of importance, but these feelings may be quickly replaced by feelings of self-doubt and poor self-esteem. Often underneath the macho exterior is low self-respect and immaturity.

We need to measure very carefully who our true friends are. The measure of a true friend is one who will not have us choose between his way and the Lord’s way. A true friend makes it easier for us to live the commandments of the Lord. A true friend will not let us do anything we want. True friends will correct us when we do something wrong and bring us back on the straight and narrow path that leads to exaltation.

Every one of us needs to know when to walk or run away from those who would call themselves friends but in reality are not. Joseph of old recognized the evil in Potiphar’s wife and ran from it (see Gen. 39:7–12). We too must recognize evil and shun it. If we allow machoism to overtake our personal lives and influence choices and decisions we make, we can severely limit our progression in this life and in the eternities.

The third pilot error is being anti-authority—not following orders, not following the proper flight plans, not learning the proper procedures. I submit that this is a trait found in people who haven’t grown up.

Our Heavenly Father has lovingly given us commandments that will bring peace and joy into our lives. There are some who say, “No one is going to tell me what to do!” as they go about breaking one commandment after another. It is naive and immature to think you are not accountable to someone else. Everyone is accountable. We have those we are responsible for and those we are responsible to. Even the prophet is responsible to the Lord.

All of us influence one another by doing good or evil. We can be a good example or a poor one. Ultimately we must all answer to the Lord.

When we know that we are accountable and go about being a good example by obeying the Lord’s commandments, we prove to those about us that we are trustworthy. We must live our lives in such a way that Heavenly Father will trust us, that superiors and peers will trust us, that our parents and children will trust us, and that we will trust ourselves. Anti-authority mixed with machoism will cause a lot of heartache in this life.

The fourth error is impulsivity. We can get ourselves in a lot of trouble by impulsive behavior. Shoplifting, for example, is usually done on impulse. So are lying, cheating, and stealing, and the list goes on. I think of someone who, upon impulse, decides to go swimming and, in the middle of his beautiful swan dive, realizes there is not enough water in the pool.

We often make mistakes when we do something on the spur of the moment without thinking it through. Then we may find ourselves in trouble. Often, we compound one error with another by trying to cover it up. We need to think before we act and, if we find ourselves with a problem, seek help. A mark of maturity is knowing when to ask for help and then use that advice in correcting our mistake.

So many of the poor decisions we make we want to blame on others. Some of us come from backgrounds of difficult circumstances, but we can do our utmost to learn from these experiences and determine not to repeat them in our own families. We must strengthen ourselves so we will not give in to impulsive behaviors and then blame others. Ultimately, we must come to the conclusion that we are responsible for our actions regardless of what circumstances we find ourselves in.

If we have made errors because of impulsivity, we must do what we can to correct them. That may include acknowledging our error to the proper authority and then learning from the experience, repenting, and resolving never to repeat it.

If we will remember who we are—sons and daughters of our Heavenly Father; why we are here—to receive our earthly bodies, gain wisdom from our experiences, and endure to the end; and where we are going—to return to our Heavenly Father, we will be able to live by the example given us by our Savior.

We can prevent many tragedies in our lives by avoiding poor judgment. In our daily lives we need to develop the ability to detect and prevent actions that can bring about disasters in case we do not recognize invulnerability, machoism, anti-authority, and impulsivity.

Others often look to members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints for examples. They usually have high expectations. Our light is a beacon that should never stop burning or mislead those who are looking for a way home. We have a great responsibility to keep the light of Christ brightly burning within us. “Therefore let your light so shine before this people, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father who is in heaven” (3 Ne. 12:16).

There are few things more dangerous than a fallen lighthouse. When a captain of a ship depends upon a lighthouse to warn him of danger or guide him home to a port in the storm and the light is not there, it is such a helpless feeling. The same is true when we fail those who look to our light or leadership as an example.

The light of the Holy Ghost brings great comfort by giving us guidance to stay on the straight and narrow path. There is nothing more lonely than to be left without the guidance of the Spirit. To have the Spirit with us each day it is necessary to be obedient, to keep the commandments, and to humbly pray often to express gratitude for all we have been given.

Impressive is the Cadet Prayer: “I ask true humility that, knowing self, I may rise above human frailty. I ask courage that I may prove faithful to duty beyond self. I ask unfailing devotion to personal integrity that I may ever remain honorable without compromise.”

As a father, I put my arms around each of my boys as they left to serve their missions and whispered in their ears, “Return with honor.” I can picture our Father in Heaven putting His arms around each of us as we left His presence and whispering, “Return with honor.”

I ask that each one of us would go to our Heavenly Father and ask for His guidance, that we may be obedient and have His spirit to be with us. That we will remember who we are, be obedient to the commandments of the Lord, and return with honor together into the presence of our Heavenly Father is my prayer.

[photo] Electronically composed; Background: Photo by Image Bank

[photo] Photo by Digital Stock

[illustration] The Liahona, by Arnold Friberg

[photos] Photos of gauges by Matthew Reier

[photo] Photo by Welden C. Andersen

[photo] Photo by Craig Dimond