Return with Honor


Robert D. Hales
Adapted from a May 1998 Church Educational System fireside given at the United States Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colorado.
Pilots avoid disaster by obeying rules and following guidelines. The same is true for those who want to reach their goal of eternal life.

As a young man, I had an opportunity to serve in the U.S. Air Force as a jet fighter pilot. Each unit in the 308th Fighter Bomber Squadron had a motto to inspire their efforts. Our motto, “Return with Honor,” graced the side of our fighter aircraft. “Return with Honor” was a constant reminder to us of our determination to return to our home base with honor only after having expended all of our efforts to successfully complete every aspect of our mission.

This same motto, “Return with Honor,” can be applied to each of us on our eternal path of progression. Having lived with our Heavenly Father and having come to earth, we must have determination to return with honor to our heavenly home.

Emergency procedures

In the process of preparing to be a pilot, I was required to have training in a Link trainer, which simulated real flight. There, an instructor would acquaint us with the emergencies which could occur when flying a jet fighter, sometimes at the speed of sound.

For each emergency, we were taught the procedures for avoiding disaster. We would practice each procedure over and over, so if a real emergency came along we would have an automatic, preconditioned response. We would know exactly what we were to do if there happened to be a technical failure in the airplane. We would even choose the altitude at which we would bail out if the plane went out of control.

In our squadron I had a dear friend who was an outstanding football player. Years before, his team played in a New Year’s Day bowl game. Before a sold-out stadium and a large television audience, his team lost 61-6. It turned out he and a few other members of his team had not kept the training rules. They paid a dear price. They had to live with knowing they were not prepared to play the big game; they had to live with the final score for the rest of their lives.

Years passed. Two members of this same football team were in my flight training unit. One was an exemplary, well-disciplined student and a model pilot who had learned his lesson well from the bowl game.

However, the other had not learned to listen to those with more knowledge and experience. When his turn would come to learn emergency procedures and to precondition his mental and physical responses so they would be automatic, even instantaneous, my friend would put his arm around the airman instructor and say, “Check me off for three hours of emergency procedure.” Then, instead of training, he would go to the pistol range or play golf or go to the officers’ club. But he never learned the emergency procedures.

On one occasion he was asked what he would do in an emergency. His answer: “I am never going to bail out; I am never going to have an emergency.”

On an evening mission a few months later, fire erupted in his plane, and it dropped below 5,000 feet, spinning in flames. Noting the fire warning light, the younger pilot who was with him said, “Let’s get out of here.” And with the centrifugal force pulling against him, the younger man, who had taken his training seriously, bailed out. His parachute opened at once and he slammed to the ground, receiving serious injuries. But he survived.

On the other hand, my friend stayed with the airplane and died in the crash. He paid the price for not having learned the lessons that could have saved his life.

Just as aircraft pilots must obey certain rules to avoid disaster, there are laws, ordinances, and covenants we must understand and keep as we go through earthly life if we are to reach our goal of eternal life. As important as it is for an airman to develop an automatic response to warning indicators on the instrument panel, it is even more important for us to learn emergency procedures and develop preconditioned responses to the warning lights that go off in our personal lives. Many a pilot has crashed because of faulty calculations or failure to accurately read the flight instruments. If we refuse to pay attention or deliberately ignore the warnings we receive from the Holy Ghost, we will wander off course and may crash before reaching our goal to return with honor.

Warning lights of a personal nature are activated for many reasons. The offer of alcohol, tobacco, drugs, or pornography would turn on warning lights because when we choose to use these substances, we become slaves and our moral agency is limited. We must be prepared with preconditioned responses to reject these things, or we will jeopardize our right to have the Spirit to guide us and direct us and our ability to return to our Heavenly Father.

When Jesus went into the wilderness and fasted for 40 days, Satan came to tempt Him with the same things he uses to tempt us: wealth, power, and worldly passions. Jesus told Satan to get behind Him and tempt Him no more. By our actions, we sometimes put Satan right square in front of us.

Straying off course

I was taught about vertigo when my Air Force instructor took me up in an airplane with the cockpit covered by a canopy so I could not see outside. I would have to rely on the instruments. Unknown to me, he gradually turned the airplane upside down, keeping positive G forces. My ear did not detect the slow rollover. He told me to take control of the airplane. Of course, I did what every other student did. I pulled backwards because I was losing altitude, and, of course, I started a dive toward the earth because I did not know I was upside down.

As I started to regain control of the airplane, I could see the little marks on the landing gear were upside down. My instructor taught me the principle that you can take a human being at a two- or three-degree turn while keeping positive G forces and turn them upside down without their knowing they have left the straight and level flight. The motion is imperceptible.

If we are not careful, we can experience spiritual vertigo. If we stray off the course of obedience by only two or three almost imperceptible degrees, we can become disoriented and lose sight of our eternal destination, not even realizing how far off course we are. We will then make poor choices. Just as my airplane left straight and level flight degree by degree, if we stray from the straight and narrow path even degree by degree, we can become confused and lose sight of our eternal goal.

Our Savior does not want us to crash. His desire is for us to choose the right course that will bring us back on the straight and narrow path to live with Him eternally. “Come, follow me,” He has told us (Luke 18:22). He provides the light that will keep us on course and bring us back into His presence.

Who we are

If we will remember who we are, sons and daughters of our Heavenly Father who are here to receive our earthly bodies, gain wisdom from our experiences, and endure to the end, and where we are going—to return to our Heavenly Father—we will be able to live by the example given us by our Savior.

As a father, I put my arms around each of my boys as they left to serve their missions and whispered in their ears, “Return with honor.” I can picture our Father in Heaven putting His arms around each of us as we left His presence and whispering, “Return with honor.”

I ask that each one of us would go to our Heavenly Father and ask for His guidance, that we may be obedient and have His spirit to be with us. That we will remember who we are, be obedient to the commandments of the Lord, and return with honor together into the presence of our Heavenly Father.

The Instrument Panel

Just as aircraft pilots must obey certain rules in order to avoid disaster, there are laws, ordinances, and covenants we must understand and keep as we go through earthly life if we are to reach our goal of eternal life. As important as it is for a pilot to develop an automatic, preconditioned response in reaction to warning indicators on the instrument panel, it is even more important for us to learn emergency procedures in response to the warning lights that go off in our personal lives.

There are five main indicators on the instrument panel.

The compass gives us our relationship to true north, allowing for the effects of magnetic deviation and prevailing winds that will take us off our intended course.

The Holy Ghost guides us in the right direction.

The airspeed indicator gives us the relationship of speed to safe flight.

We must move forward or we could stall and fall.

The fuel gauge indicates the amount of fuel consumed and the amount of fuel remaining.

Keep spirituality levels high through Christlike living.

The altimeter allows a pilot to know his altitude so he can fly above all obstacles.

Staying above worldly things helps us avoid turbulence or obstacles.

The attitude indicator gives us our continuous and accurate relationship to the horizon.

Keeping the right attitude helps us fly straight, level, and on course.

Instrument flying conditions require a complete trust in the instruments. Similarly, if we are obedient and listen to the Holy Ghost, we will recognize the warnings we receive in our own lives. If ignored, the price we pay will block our eternal progress.

[illustrations] Illustrated by Paul Mann