The flight from Brisbane, Australia, to San Francisco is a long one. There is time to read, time to sleep, and time to ponder and think. As a passenger on this flight, I was awakened by the calm, resonant sound of the pilot’s voice as he announced: “Ladies and gentlemen, we’re now passing over the Coral Sea, scene of the great sea battle of World War II.”
Through the cabin window I could see billowy, white clouds and far below the azure blue of the vast Pacific. My thoughts turned to the events of that fateful eighth day of May in 1942 when the mammoth aircraft carrier Lexington slipped to its final resting place on the ocean floor. Twenty-seven hundred thirty-five sailors scrambled to safety. Others were not so fortunate. One who went down with his ship was my boyhood friend Arthur Patton.
May I tell you about Arthur? He had blond, curly hair and a smile as big as all outdoors. Arthur stood taller than any boy in the class. I suppose this is how he was able to fool the recruiting officers and enlist in the navy at the tender age of 15. To Arthur and most of the boys, the war was a great adventure. I remember how striking he appeared in his navy uniform. How we wished we were older, or at least taller, so we too could enlist.
Arthur’s mother was so proud of the blue star which graced her living room window. It represented to every passerby that her son wore the uniform of his country. When I would pass the house she often opened the door and invited me in to read the latest letter from Arthur. Her eyes would fill with tears, and I would then be asked to read aloud. Arthur meant everything to his widowed mother. I can still picture Mrs. Patton’s coarse hands as she would carefully replace the letter in its envelope. These were honest hands which bore the worker’s seal. Mrs. Patton was a cleaning woman—a janitress for a downtown office building. Each day of her life except Sundays, she could be seen walking up the sidewalk, pail and brush in hand, her gray hair combed in a tight bob, her shoulders weary from work and stooped with age.
Then came the Battle of the Coral Sea, the sinking of the Lexington, and the death of Arthur Patton. The blue star was taken from its hallowed spot in the front window. It was replaced by one of gold. A light went out in the life of Mrs. Patton. She groped in utter darkness and deep despair.
With a prayer in my heart, I approached the familiar walkway to the Patton home, wondering what words of comfort could come from the lips of a mere boy. The door opened and Mrs. Patton embraced me as she would her own son. Home became a chapel as a grief-stricken mother and a less-than-adequate boy knelt in prayer.
Arising from our knees, Mrs. Patton gazed into my eyes and spoke: “Tom, I belong to no church, but you do. Tell me, will Arthur live again?” Time dims the memory of that conversation. The present whereabouts of Mrs. Patton is not known to me; but, Mrs. Patton, wherever you are, from the backdrop of my personal experience, I should like to once more answer your question, “Will Arthur live again?”
I suppose we could say that this is a universal question, for who has not at a time of bereavement pondered the same thought?
Death leaves in its cruel wake shattered dreams, unfulfilled ambitions, crushed hopes. In our helplessness, we turn to others for assurance. Men of letters and leaders of renown can express their beliefs, but they cannot provide definitive answers.
The dim light of belief must yield to the noonday sun of revelation. We turn backward in time, that we might go forward with hope. Back to Him who walked the dusty paths of villages we now reverently call the Holy Land, to Him who caused the blind to see, the deaf to hear, the lame to walk and the dead to live. To Him who tenderly and lovingly assured us, “I am the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6).
The plan of life and an explanation of its eternal course come to us from the Master of Heaven and Earth, Jesus Christ the Lord. To understand the meaning of death, we must appreciate the purpose of life.
In this dispensation, the Lord declared: “And now, verily I say unto you, I was in the beginning with the Father, and am the Firstborn” (D&C 93:21). “Man was also in the beginning with God” (D&C 93:29). Jeremiah the prophet recorded, “The word of the Lord came unto me, saying, Before I formed thee … I knew thee; and before thou camest forth … I sanctified thee, and I ordained thee a prophet unto the nations” (Jer. 1:4–5).
From that majestic world of spirits we enter the grand stage of life to prove ourselves obedient to all things commanded of God. During mortality we grow from helpless infancy to inquiring childhood and then to reflective maturity. We experience joy and sorrow, fulfillment and disappointment, success and failure; taste the sweet, yet sample the bitter. This is mortality.
Then to each life comes the experience known as death. None is exempt. All must pass its portals. Death claims the aged, the weary and worn. It visits the youth in the bloom of hope and glory of expectation. Nor are the little children kept beyond its grasp. In the words of the Apostle Paul: “It is appointed unto men once to die” (Heb. 9:27).
To most, there is something sinister and mysterious about this unwelcome visitor called death. Perhaps it is a fear of the unknown which causes many to dread its coming.
Arthur Patton died quickly. Others linger. Not long ago I held the thin hand of a youth as he approached the brink of eternity. “I know I am dying,” he said touchingly. “What follows death?” I turned to the scriptures and read to him: “Then shall the dust return to the earth as it was: and the spirit shall return unto God who gave it” (Eccl. 12:7). “There is a time appointed unto men that they shall rise from the dead; and there is a space between the time of death and the resurrection. … Now, concerning the state of the soul between death and the resurrection—Behold … the spirits of all men, as soon as they are departed from this mortal body, … are taken home to that God who gave them life” (Alma 40:9, 11).
To me, the lad said, “Thank you.” To my Heavenly Father I said silently, “Thank thee, O God, for truth.”
Mrs. Patton, do not grieve as you think of your boy in the depths of the Pacific or question how God’s purposes can be fulfilled. Remember the words of the Psalmist: “If I take the wings of the morning, and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea; Even there shall thy hand lead me, and thy right hand shall hold me” (Ps. 139:9–10).
God has not forsaken you, Mrs. Patton. He sent his Only Begotten Son into the world to teach us by example the life we should live. His Son died upon the cross to redeem all mankind. His words to the grieving Martha and to His disciples today bring comfort to you: “I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live: And whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die” (John 11:25–26). “In my Father’s house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. … I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also” (John 14:2–3).
Mrs. Patton, the testimonies of John the Revelator and Paul the Apostle are also significant to you. John recorded: “I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; … And the sea gave up the dead which were in it” (Rev. 20:12–13). Paul declared: “As in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive” (1 Cor. 15:22).
Until the glorious resurrection morning, we walk by faith. “For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face” (1 Cor. 13:12).
Jesus invites you, Mrs. Patton, “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls” (Matt. 11:28–29).
Such knowledge will sustain you in your heartache. You will never be in the tragic situation of the disbeliever who, having lost a son, was heard to say as she watched the casket lowered into mother earth: “Good-bye, my boy. Good-bye forever.” Rather, with head erect, courage undaunted, and faith unwavering, you can lift your eyes as you look beyond the gently breaking waves of the blue Pacific and whisper, “Good-bye, Arthur, my precious son. Good-bye—until we meet again.”
And the words of Alfred Lord Tennyson may come to you as though spoken by your boy:
Sunset and evening star,
And one clear call for me!
And may there be no moaning of the bar,
When I put out to sea,
· · · · · · · · · · · · ·
Twilight and evening bell,
And after that the dark!
And may there be no sadness of farewell,
When I embark;
For tho’ from out our bourne of Time and Place
The flood may bear me far,
I hope to see my Pilot face to face
When I have crossed the bar.
(“Crossing the Bar,” lines 1–4, 9–16)
To the words of the poet I add the testimony of a witness. Mrs. Patton, God our Father is mindful of you. Through sincere prayer you can communicate with Him. He, too, had a Son who died, even Jesus Christ the Lord. He is our advocate with the Father, the Prince of Peace, our Savior and Divine Redeemer. One day we shall see Him face to face.
In His blessed name I declare to you the solemn and sacred truth: Oh, Mrs. Patton, Arthur lives.
Note: Following the original broadcast of this message, President Monson received a touching letter from Mrs. Terese Patton, Arthur’s mother, who was living in Pomona, California. Among other things, she wrote, “I don’t know how to thank you for your wonderful and comforting words. God bless you always.”