soldier reading scriptures

Illustration by Allen Garns

Five days after my high school graduation, I enlisted in the military. Just before leaving for Vietnam, I had a distinct impression that my enlistment was the beginning of a spiritual journey.

Two hours after I arrived at my new unit, enemy rockets exploded in the camp. A mortar attack followed that night. It all seemed exciting until the second week, when several men died. Sobered, I started reflecting on the meaning of life.

I soon met a helicopter crew chief named Graig Stephens. One day the subject of religion came up. He told me he was a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and asked if I wanted to know more. Although my parents were not members of the Church, they had taught me faith in Jesus Christ.

That evening in an empty bunker, Graig read me the first discussion. What stood out in my mind was not the logic of the discussion or the manner in which he presented it but rather the sincerity and humility of this young soldier.

In the next few days, Graig taught me the other discussions. After each discussion we would kneel in prayer. He always asked me to pray, but I couldn’t seem to do it. I remember becoming distraught over some principle of doctrine and decided I didn’t want to hear any more about the Church. Graig spent the next day looking for someone who could answer my questions.

At dusk he brought a helicopter pilot—a returned missionary—from another troop to see me. This brother answered my questions and testified that he knew the Church was true. Then he told me I was as ready for baptism as anyone he had ever seen. I couldn’t utter a word. When he finished speaking, I found myself thinking, “You know something, he’s right.”

A short while later, while sitting in my bunker reading the Book of Mormon, I decided to do as the scriptures direct and ask God if the Book of Mormon was true (see Moroni 10:4–5). Bowing my head, I took my request to the Lord. No sooner had I done so than I felt an undeniable feeling of warmth and peace such as I had never experienced. I knew that God had answered my prayer. I knew that the Book of Mormon was true. Knowing that the Book of Mormon was true, I knew that Joseph Smith had to be a prophet. Shortly thereafter, I was baptized in the Gulf of Tonkin.

As I came out of the waters of baptism, I had a feeling of being totally clean. Life had never been so sweet. It took traveling thousands of miles to a war zone, but I finally found the peace my soul had been seeking.