Expectant silence fills the living room where 80-year-old Ronald Bowles sits surrounded by teenagers.
“I’ll never forget my first trip as an officer in the South Pacific,” Brother Bowles begins, recounting an experience he had on a ship as a U.S. Marine during World War II. “It was a moonlit night, and I was on watch. Off the bow, on the starboard side, three torpedoes were coming straight for us.”
Now at full attention, the young men and women of the Tempe Arizona Stake listen anxiously as Brother Bowles continues: “I was just about to reach for the general alarm bell … when two or three porpoises swerved right by the bow and took off.”
The teens laugh with relief that the threatening torpedoes turned out to be nothing more than porpoises.
Experiences like this one recounted by Brother Bowles, including some with less happy endings, opened the eyes of about 120 teens from the Tempe Arizona Stake to a different world than the one they know. The young men and women gained a personal appreciation for the sacrifices of an older generation as they interviewed 52 stake members who served in the military in WWII. The interviews were part of a stake youth conference to honor veterans and preserve their experiences.
Christie Shumway, a Laurel, says, “Hearing personal experiences of WWII veterans made it real and helped me understand what life was like during that day.”
For almost six months, youth and adults worked together to videotape the veterans involved in the project. Youth, leaders, and veterans also gathered for an evening of 1940s-style entertainment and swing dancing, with many participants dressed in wartime-era clothing.
Throughout the project, the youth production team gathered video clips of veteran interviews and created a 30-minute DVD to honor the veterans at a youth conference fireside. The result was a combination of old photos, historic WWII footage, special effects, and live interviews.
“Because of the interviews, I appreciate the veterans so much more,” says Leah Hollingsworth, a Laurel. “We learned about the sacrifice they made for all of us and the importance of it. We shouldn’t take things for granted.”
Daniel Winters, a priest, enjoyed his service as a member of the stake youth conference committee. He says, “I was able to participate in five interviews. This experience really opened my eyes. You see people walking down the street each day, but you don’t know their history. These WWII veterans impacted our future. They were once average kids like us. They are among the bravest and brightest who answered the call to serve.”
But the veterans aren’t the only ones whose service is being recognized. “The service and effort given by our youth was tremendous,” says navy veteran David Clark. “I am so proud of them. Their efforts made a difference to those of us they interviewed. Now I have such fond feelings for the youth.”
The veterans shared some amazing experiences with the youth, such as Brother Henry Leigh’s experience of being caught in a typhoon on Okinawa, Japan, or the time Brother Gale Mortenson was calmed by the Spirit when the plane he was flying caught on fire. Listening to the stories of these veterans’ war-time battles helped the youth see that they could fight and win their own spiritual battles.
“The youth of today battle against evil as well,” says Sonya Acedo, a Mia Maid. “In Ephesians 6:10–13, it speaks of putting on the whole armor of God and fighting a war. It may be hard, but if we fight on the Lord’s side, we will prevail, and it will be worth the fight.”
In the final interview question, the veterans were asked what advice they would give to the youth of today. Their responses included:
Be loyal in all that you do.
Take your time when making choices.
Enjoy the journey.
Get a good education.
Obey the commandments.
Stay close to the Church.
Love the Lord.
I deeply appreciate those who have sacrificed their lives for the cause of human liberty. … There are no better Latter-day Saints anywhere on earth than many of those in uniform, and there are faithful representatives of this church in the armed forces of many nations.”
—President Gordon B. Hinckley, “In Grateful Remembrance,” Ensign, Mar. 1971, 20–21.