This Christmas story occurred in the middle of the summer some years ago at a naval training center.
The man opposite me in the room had the many stripes on his uniform that signified long and distinguished service; I was an apprentice seaman in basic training. Nonetheless, Commander Hamilton, as he had greeted me at the door, had been most gracious—he called me “Mr. Hanks,” seated me with cordiality, and we talked as equals.
The commander, senior chaplain at the great training center, had invited me into his office to discuss the possibility of my becoming a chaplain. I was quick to explain that because I had interrupted my university training to serve as a missionary, I had not finished an academic degree and didn’t qualify to be a Chaplain under the navy’s standards. He replied that he felt he might be able to do something about getting the navy to disregard that requirement, if my qualifications were good.
Commander Hamilton was a tall, strong-looking man for whom I had immediately formed a feeling of respect and admiration. I had learned that he was one of the survivors of the aircraft carrier Yorktown when she was sunk by enemy action in the war and that he had been in the water for many hours before he was rescued. I was complimented and humbled that such a man would be considering his proposed action after having visited our group of LDS servicemen at the base.
“Before I recommend you to the Chief of Chaplains, Mr. Hanks, do me a favor, please. Talk to me about your experience in your Church, about what you think may help me in my recommendation of you as qualified to represent the Lord as a military Chaplain.”
I began to explain to him the lifelong experience of a young man in the Church that had helped me prepare for such a significant opportunity. We went back to the beginning—the early participation, the 2 1/2-minute talks, the service as deacon, teacher, priest, elder, seventy; Scouting, seminary, institute, Sunday School teaching, leadership opportunities, missionary service.
As I talked, he who had been so courteous and kind and interested began to fidget, to lose interest, and I realized, as we do when we are seeking to communicate person-to-person, that I was not reaching him, that I was losing the battle, and became more anxious. Earnestly I tried to tell him what there is in the stage-by-stage opportunity in the Church for a young person to develop the quality to be a servant of God.
After a time his demeanor completely changed, and he interrupted me, saying very brusquely, “Say, Hanks, do you believe in Jesus Christ?”
“Yes, sir!” I said, “Everything I believe relates to Jesus Christ. My faith, my life, center in him as my Savior. The Church I belong to is founded on him and follows him as its living head. It is named in his name.”
He said, looking at his watch, “Well, you have been talking for seven minutes, and you haven’t said so.”
I think I have not made that mistake again.