The TET offensive was at its height in Vietnam when I received orders to report to Korea. I was to become Chief of Professional Services for the Surgeon of the U.S. Army and for the United Nations Forces. I had been at my new assignment only a month when a male nurse, no older than many of the other young soldiers I dealt with daily, arrived at the same command.
My surprise came when he asked to see me alone one day and said, “Colonel, as near as I can see, there are only six ‘straight arrows’ in this entire command (‘straight arrow’ was a term the soldiers used to mean a man who maintained his chastity while in the service). You are the one I admire most. I desire very much to go back home to my wife and family pure, but I’m afraid I don’t have the courage and stamina to do it. Are you going to remain a straight arrow? How are you going to do it?”
I was a bit taken back by the abruptness of his inquiry, but I knew the answer. I had faced the same decision and found my own answer long before I had arrived in the Far East. I told him I would remain a straight arrow throughout my tour in Korea and forever. I said I didn’t know how strong I was because I didn’t allow myself in a position where I could be tempted. I also told him I didn’t anesthetize my conscience by drinking.
Then I bore my testimony about Church-related activities during my off-duty hours, noting that they provided a wholesome means for keeping me occupied.
As our conversation progressed, I realized that this young man deeply loved his wife. I told him that if he lost his virtue, it would somehow be conveyed in the next letter he wrote to her and that a great wall would begin to rise between them. He acknowledged that he knew this to be true, and we both realized that we had seen it occur in the lives of our unchaste friends. We then made a contract. He promised to maintain his chastity as long as I maintained mine. We attempted to involve others in a similar agreement, but no one wanted to join us.
About two months later, my friend returned to my office. “Well, Colonel,” he said, “there are now only four straight arrows left in this outfit.” Shortly after that he dropped by again to tell me that the number was down to three. When I had just four months remaining to finish my tour of duty in Korea, he stopped in one day and said, “It’s down to you and me.” I asked him if he was going to make it. His reply? “Absolutely.”
When the time came for me to return to the States, my friend faced one more month before he could rejoin his wife. We had often discussed the gospel and our friendship was a sturdy bond. We both wept as I bid him farewell. He assured me that he would do nothing during his last month that would jeopardize in any way the happiness he had worked for until now, not when he was so close to realizing his goal.
Even though that young man was not a member of the Church, he understood some vital lessons of life. He knew that it is necessary to set a goal in order to obtain it. Returning home clean and pure would require struggle, and he was willing to put forth the necessary effort. He also was humble enough to let someone else know about his objective so that he would have a person to turn to who could strengthen him during a moment of weakness.
The Savior would like to have a similar relationship with those he loves. He wants us to set our goals high, founded on his commandments. We can work with him by planning in advance what we hope to achieve and reviewing our goals with him regularly in prayer. Many of the other soldiers in our outfit thought about remaining straight arrows. However, this young fellow and I were the only two who succeeded, and there was a reason why. The others succumbed in a moment of weakness. We accomplished our goal by charting our course of action in advance.
To make the decision at the time of temptation is too late. We must decide ahead of time that we will not compromise our ideals. Then when we’re tempted, we only need to ask ourselves, “Is this a compromise?” If it is, the proper decision has already been made.