Vietnam Diary


Young Latter-day Saint men have often asked, What good can come from my being in the military? A partial answer is found in the following account, taken from the diary letters of Karl Swensen, who recently served in Vietnam. He is now a graduate student at the University of Utah. He is also a member of the Tabernacle Choir.

April 2

Last night I went to MIA. We had a different experience than we normally have. A master sergeant named Frank Brown called on Major Funk last week and asked about the Church. He said that his family in Florida was hearing the discussions and attending church, and he wanted to know more about what we believe. He said he has never seen his family so interested in church before. So Major Funk invited him to MIA.

Most of the members stayed in the regular room and read the Book of Mormon. Major Hollis, the district clerk, and I gave Frank the first discussion. It went quite well. I had practiced my half of the discussion this past week, after having been asked to give it.

Before going to MIA, I said a little prayer. I knew before I got there that things were going to be all right. The Holy Ghost really gives you help when you need it. Sergeant Brown is an honest man and expressed his feelings freely. We are planning to present the second discussion to him next Tuesday at MIA.

April 9

I had such a great experience last night. We met with Frank Brown again and presented to him the Book of Mormon lesson. Yesterday Frank received a Book of Mormon from his wife. It arrived with perfect timing. It was marked with specific scriptures to read.

Frank was very receptive to the discussion. He committed well and told us he believed the Church has been restored with the priesthood. He said he would continue to pray. I was really thrilled as he expressed his feelings.

April 15

It’s 9:00 P.M. and I’ve just come back from another discussion with Frank Brown. I don’t want to go back to the barracks and lose the wonderful spirit we felt. Here’s what happened tonight:

We held our meeting in the usual place, Major Hollis’ office. We have privacy there. I taught the complete lesson tonight, with Brother Hollis adding his testimony as he felt moved to do so. It was a beautiful discussion.

Frank answered our questions right down the line. He knows why we need to know the truth and how we obtain it. He bore his humble testimony that the Church of Jesus Christ has the truth because of the apostles and the priesthood. He told us how he could enjoy the blessings of the Church and the restoration by being baptized, but he said he still has some old ways that he must get settled. He really is a golden contact.

As the lesson progressed I asked, “What are some things men commonly take into their bodies that are harmful?” His answer included the things mentioned in the Word of Wisdom. He said he had just finished reading it tonight. His wife had sent it to him, and it arrived just the other day. I then asked him, “Why has God commanded us not to use these things?” He said, “Because of his great love for us. The use of these things harms us spiritually, too.” I asked Frank, “Do you use any of these things?” He said, “Not anymore!”

What an answer! Frank explained that a couple of weeks ago his cigar began to taste bitter anyway, so he decided he would quit smoking. He doesn’t like coffee, but he does enjoy tea. I said that if he could quit his tobacco, tea would be no problem. He used to drink occasionally but hasn’t since learning that his wife is interested in the Church.

Both Brother Hollis and I had tears in our eyes as we heard Frank bear his testimony about the Word of Wisdom. Neither of us had ever met a contact who had decided to live the Word of Wisdom before being told about it in the discussion.

As we finished the lesson, I asked him if his prayers had been answered about the restoration and the Joseph Smith story. He said he has been praying and he feels he has had his prayers answered.

It’s strange, but during the past couple of days, thoughts have been coming into my mind that I should forget about Frank because he wasn’t interested. I even thought that he wasn’t going to be there tonight. But I know now who put the thoughts in my head. Unfortunately, “Scratch” is having a wild time here in Vietnam. I’m sure Satan works against anyone being taught the truth.

April 18

Last night I had the wonderful experience of teaching another fellow, Terry Kranz, the first discussion. He just became interested in the Church. A new fellow who just came to Nha Trang—Jerry Eberwein, who himself was baptized while I was at Ft. Gordon—moved into Terry’s company and increased Terry’s interest in the Church. He committed right down the line during the discussion. He has already read several pamphlets.

At the conclusion of the discussion I asked Terry to pray, and he did! Brother Hollis and I felt that Terry is ready, so we’re going to teach him the second discussion tonight.

April 21

Last night before sacrament meeting we had the third discussion with Terry. He has now caught up with Frank, and they will both hear the fourth discussion tomorrow night, Tuesday. Since Major Hollis has not memorized the third discussion, I had the privilege of teaching all of it. Terry is already living the Word of Wisdom. He is thinking about being baptized but wants some more questions answered.

April 23

Last night Major Funk and I went to MIA, where I taught the fourth discussion to both Frank and Terry. They are both living the Word of Wisdom, and Frank has already read First Nephi.

After the discussion, Terry said he wants to be baptized as soon as possible.

After an interview by one of the district presidency, he’ll be ready.

The past couple of days I’ve been in a terrible mood. I couldn’t understand why, either. I was irritated by such little things. After hearing Terry eagerly request baptism, I really know why I had been so discouraged. “Scratch” has been putting thoughts in my mind.

April 24

This Saturday we are having Terry’s baptismal service on the beach at sunrise. We’ll meet at 6:00 A.M. I’m really looking forward to it. We have not taught Terry all of the discussions, but we have only two more to go. Jerry Eberwein will baptize him. I don’t know who will confirm him.

I have been memorizing the fifth discussion every chance I get. I carry the lesson plan in my pocket and read it whenever I have to wait in line for dinner or when I rest after lunch, etc. I hope to have it completely memorized so I won’t have to ask Major Hollis to add anything to the lesson while I think for a minute about the next statement.

Late yesterday afternoon Frank came to the office to ask some questions in regard to his wife’s latest letter. She told him briefly about sealing and temple work. Probably she just touched lightly on these deep subjects. He didn’t understand what we believed and wanted to know why his wife was so enthusiastic about the temple. Major Funk explained these subjects briefly but very simply and with much understanding. Frank seemed to have a better understanding of the gospel when he left.

April 26

A baptismal service is a great way to start the day. We held it at the beach at 6:00 A.M., as some of the LDS fellows had to go on duty at 7:00. We were the only ones on the beach.

It was a beautiful morning. The sun was just coming up, there were no clouds in the sky, and the green sea was as smooth as glass. The air was still and clean-smelling. After the opening song and prayer, I gave a talk about the importance of baptism. I told Terry his baptism was like opening a door to the rest of his life. (I quoted Rom. 6:4–5.)

Jerry Eberwein performed the baptism. After Terry was baptized, we elders confirmed him a member of the Church. It was a wonderful service. By the time we had finished, the sun had just risen above the horizon of the South China Sea.

Terry has a strong testimony and really wants to live the commandments. A few weeks ago, he prayed that he could find the true church and know the truth about religion. A fictional book about life among the Mormons came into his possession. He read it and wanted to know more about the Church. He continued to pray and asked Heavenly Father to show him the way he should go. About a week later Jerry moved into his barracks. He began to answer Terry’s questions, and Terry became very interested. He wanted a copy of the Book of Mormon to read, so Jerry loaned him his. He felt this was an answer to his prayers.

As I’ve thought about how quickly Terry has accepted the gospel, I realize how important our example and attitude toward the Church is to our fellowmen. I wonder if Terry would have found the Church if Jerry had not been active and willing to share his testimony. Before coming to Vietnam, I didn’t know I would have the opportunity to teach the gospel using the missionary lessons; I had only expected to answer questions when my friends learned I was a Mormon. But I am happy I have been able to use the lessons.

April 29

Last night I had the privilege of teaching Frank and Terry the fifth discussion. I really enjoyed giving it. It was the lesson on the plan of salvation. Since Terry has already received the Holy Ghost, he really had a good understanding of the lesson. He answered the questions just as if he were reading from the book.

Frank said he called his family in Florida and asked them to make the arrangements for their baptism. His little girl, age nine, wrote and asked Frank if she and the rest of the family could be baptized. He decided to let them be baptized there in Florida, and he would be baptized here on the same day.

May 10

Frank is trying to coordinate with his family to be baptized on May 17. His wife couldn’t believe he was making the decision on his own, so I wrote her a letter explaining his conversion.

May 11

This afternoon at priesthood meeting, I had the privilege of standing with the priesthood holders and ordaining Terry to the Aaronic Priesthood. President Coates was the voice of the group. Terry seemed to mature to another plateau after his ordination. He passed the sacrament during Sunday School, and I was sure proud of him.

Frank was interviewed tonight, and it was announced to the congregation that he would be baptized. He asked me to baptize him. I was speechless. What an honor it will be to baptize Frank!

May 14

Frank Brown just came by and told me he received a letter this morning explaining that his family will be baptized in Florida at the same time on Saturday as he will be here. He was really happy. I’m certainly looking forward to Saturday morning.

I’m going to ask Dad to send me my line of authority. I’d like to let Frank know by what authority he was baptized.

May 17

What a great morning this has been. Frank was baptized!

He picked me up at 5:45 and we rode to the beach together. It was a beautiful morning. The sun had not yet risen above the horizon, and the clouds were just above the edge of the water. The stars were still twinkling. As we arrived at the beach, the golden haze of dawn made the sky a brilliant yellowish-orange, and this color was reflected in the calm sea. The fishing boats, several miles from shore, were returning from their night’s work. After a few minutes, more brethren arrived. Altogether, ten members from the Church attended the service.

The opening song was “Come, Come Ye Saints,” and considering the early hour, it sounded pretty good. After the opening prayer, the first counselor gave a talk about baptism. It was a good talk. Then Frank and I waded into the cool, clean water. It was very serene, peaceful, and smooth. We turned and faced the group on the beach.

As Frank came out of the water, he had a special radiance about him. He was purified as he had never been before. I’m very happy I had the chance to share the gospel with him.

We walked back to the group, and after changing into dry clothes, Frank was confirmed a member of the Church by Brother Hollis and given a wonderful blessing. President Coates and I stood in the circle to confirm him. After everyone had welcomed him into the fold, Frank took me back to my barracks, but we didn’t have much to say as we rode. We were just thinking.

May 26

Frank attended all three meetings yesterday. He spoke in last night’s sacrament meeting. He bore his testimony and then told about his family. He said, “I know this is the true church of God. I have been in other churches before this one, but the other ones don’t have the priesthood.” His family sent him word that they were baptized last Saturday in Florida. Frank was ordained to the office of deacon yesterday in priesthood meeting. He passed the sacrament in Sunday School and at sacrament meeting.

June 15

At church Frank told me about his family. They are active in their ward. He said his sixteen-year-old boy is already talking about a mission. The daughters will be helping their mother teach a Junior Sunday School class. Frank will fit right in when he returns home in September.

This experience has taught me one thing: You can be a missionary wherever you are. If you can do it in the military, you can do it at work or school. It’s really a joy to see people accept the gospel, and it is sad to know that most people in the world don’t even know what’s going on. They don’t know that God lives or that prayers work or that the gospel truths are for real. It surely is going to be an interesting day for the world at the second coming. I’m glad I can help spread the word.

[illustrations] Illustrated by Richard Hull