The Message:

The Best Policy

by Elder Keith W. Wilcox

of the First Quorum of the Seventy

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    Medal of Honesty: Awarded for integrity above and beyond the call of duty when confronted with a temptation to lie.

    As a small child, I must have been a great “talker.” According to my mother, I liked talking to adults and enjoyed the attention this generated. My observations and comments often resulted in laughter, which at times, I later learned, came from the embarrassment those remarks had caused my parents.

    Soon after my family moved to Holladay, Utah, many of my parents’ friends came to visit and to see our new home. After one such visit, in which I had given my usual performance, my father took me aside and said, “Keith, I’m grateful you are so honest in the things you say. Mother and I are proud of you.” He paused and then with greater emphasis said, “Keith, always be honest.” Then he added, “But Keith, you don’t have to tell all you know.” He then explained what he meant. Evidently, in my chattering before his friends that evening I had really said too much. What impressed me, however, was my father’s counsel to always be honest.

    In later studying the thirteenth article of faith, I noticed that it began with “We believe in being honest.” [A of F 1:13] I was very pleased that my father had taught me that principle.

    Like many of you, I experienced peer pressure in my early teens. Some of my boyhood friends urged me to become involved in certain activities that were contrary to the teachings I had received in my home and at church. Receiving my patriarchal blessing and deciding to enroll in seminary at Granite High School helped me to resist this peer pressure.

    My patriarchal blessing gave me a wonderful understanding of the purpose of my life and what the Lord expected of me. I learned that my life was important and that I had a great mission to perform. President Ezra Taft Benson has said that “a patriarchal blessing is the inspired and prophetic statement of your life’s mission” and can be regarded as “personal scripture” in knowing God’s will for you (Ensign, May 1986, pp. 43–44).

    My seminary experience also had a profound effect on my life. My teacher, William E. Berrett, taught from the Old Testament and made those scriptures come alive. The Ten Commandments became a central part of my life. One of these commandments to “not bear false witness” (Ex. 20:16) re-emphasized my father’s basic teaching to always be honest.

    The six months spent at Granite High School proved to be a turning point in my life. I made firm decisions concerning my living the gospel of Jesus Christ and knew what the Lord expected. I also learned the value of study, of hard work, of learning, and of developing my talents. I was elected sophomore class president. Many lasting friendships were made.

    My time was all too short at that school. My family moved to Ogden, Utah, before the year was out. However, I continued my commitment to live according to the gospel even though seminary was no longer available. I graduated from Ogden High School in 1939 and entered Weber College in Ogden that fall.

    During my second college year on December 7, 1941, the United States was attacked at Pearl Harbor. The entire nation was aroused. Patriotism swelled to great heights. Every person was deeply affected. War was declared by Congress.

    Many students at Weber State, myself included, elected to join the military service at once. I decided to join the Navy with the object of becoming a naval officer. An entire day was spent in the Naval Recruiting Office filling out forms for consideration. Little did I know that I would soon face one of the most serious character tests of my entire life. It pertained to my resolution to keep the Lord’s commandments, particularly that of being honest.

    One of the last questions on the naval physical fitness questionnaire startled me. It simply asked whether I had ever had “hay fever.” I remember staring at this question for a long time. Why would hay fever be of any consequence at sea? How could pollen affect anyone on a ship? Why was I being asked such a question? It was evident that my answer could affect my being accepted or rejected as a candidate for officer consideration.

    The simple truth was that I had experienced hay fever all of my life and sneezed very often. It would be so easy to mark no to this question since it would probably never come up again. However, marking no would be dishonest. It was a little thing, and yet a principle was at stake. With reluctance, I marked the space for yes and handed the paper back.

    As suspected, the answer to that question became troublesome. The medical officer, upon seeing my answer, looked up and exclaimed, “Don’t you know that naval officers can’t have hay fever? You will have to take a special allergy test.”

    When the results of my allergy test came back, the officer studied the form intently. The test showed that I suffered a considerable number of allergies. He then took my application forms, calmly tore them up, and threw them into a waste basket. I was astonished. I stuttered, stammered, and finally asked, “What shall I do now?” The officer calmly replied that the “draft” would take care of me and not to worry. Sick at heart, I went back to school, transferring to the University of Utah for the winter quarter. My sophomore preparation classes were completed while awaiting to be drafted into one of the services. That summer I began my junior year in the school of mechanical engineering. Then an announcement was released from Washington, D.C., indicating that all upper division engineering students were to be deferred from the draft until graduation. My graduation with a Bachelor of Science in mechanical engineering occurred in December of 1943, two years following Pearl Harbor.

    The day following my graduation, I again presented myself to the naval procurement office in Salt Lake City and indicated that I had just graduated from the school of mechanical engineering at the University of Utah and showed them my degree. When they learned I was interested in becoming a naval officer, I experienced “red carpet” treatment. The officer in charge told me that there were naval ships in dry dock because of the lack of engineering officers and technically trained personnel. A direct commission as an ensign was offered that day. This would be followed by a two-month indoctrination school.

    Before accepting this commission, I told the officer that something had to be made clear. He was surprised. He asked me what was on my mind. I flatly stated, “Sir, I suffer severe hay fever. What do you think of that?” The officer laughed. He said that at one time it was a consideration, but not anymore. He told me to forget it, and to please sign my acceptance of a commission as an ensign. This I did.

    The ship to which I was later assigned with four other officers and 50 enlisted men was the USS LSM 558. It was our understanding that this ship was destined for the invasion of Japan. We prepared ourselves for departure, but orders never came. Instead, we were given orders to patrol on the Atlantic Coast from Boston to Florida. We later learned why. Two atomic bombs were dropped on cities in Japan. The war was soon over. I left the Navy in 1946 to pursue my career, first in engineering and then in architecture.

    In August of 1985, the Asia Area Presidency and our wives toured the main Asian countries in company with Elder and Sister Marvin J. Ashton and Bishop and Sister Robert D. Hales. I was finally participating in an “invasion” of Japan, but this time with love and a desire to share with the Japanese people the gospel of Jesus Christ. We later went to Korea and then to Hong Kong and finished our tour in the Philippines.

    As a part of our activities in the Philippines, we were shown the great war memorial in Manila dedicated to those from our country who had given their lives during World War II. It was a sad but sacred experience. Sister Wilcox and I shed tears when we saw the name of one of our dear friends from Weber College who had been successful in entering the Air Force directly following Pearl Harbor. He was listed as “missing in action.”

    Our experiences at the Manila war memorial reminded us of many personal friends who joined the services in the first years of that war and who did not return. Had I become a part of those early engagements, the possibility of losing my life would have been very great. Had I been willing to tell an untruth concerning my hay fever, I would have been immediately moved into the first bitter battles where so many lost their lives.

    Looking back to that eventful day, I realized that I survived one of the greatest tests of my life in telling the truth about my hay fever. My life was spared. There had been a great temptation to tell a “little lie,” but the counsel my father had given me was sound and enduring and served me well. I share it with you humbly: always be honest.

    Our Church leaders have always counseled us to be honest. Elder Marvin J. Ashton has said that honesty “is a virtue that we achieve step by step, with our associates, in our work, and with God. It is not above and beyond the call of duty to be honest. Being honest is our duty” (“We Believe in Being Honest.” New Era, Sept. 1983, p. 7). President Gordon B. Hinckley has said, “We cannot be less than honest, we cannot be less than true, we cannot be less than virtuous if we are to keep sacred the trust given us” (Ensign, May 1976, p. 62).

    All of us have the right to make our own choices. Before coming to this earth, we chose to accept the principle of free agency. We are, therefore, free to act and to choose for ourselves, but must take the responsibility for our decisions (see 2 Ne. 10:23).

    My testimony is that we can successfully pass the tests that come to us and make correct decisions if we have made the gospel our way of life. We must learn and then keep the Lord’s commandments. This will bring peace, joy, and happiness, not only in this life, but especially in the life to come. My experience has been that true success comes from being honest, in not cheating or breaking moral laws, in honoring parents, and in keeping all of the Lord’s commandments.

    Live a spiritual life. Stay close to the Church and listen to the Lord’s appointed leaders. Eternal principles for our guidance are found within The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. This is my humble testimony which I gladly share with you, praying that you too will be protected on your life’s journey through obedience to the Lord’s commandments. As my father counseled me, I likewise counsel you to always be honest.

    Illustrated by Perry Van Schelt