By J. Kenneth Doty
(This talk was originally given to members of my US Navy Squadron, VT-34, on the occasion of our 50th anniversary reunion in Venice, Florida September 1995)
You can’t imagine the honor I feel to be invited to address this group on this occasion. I, like each of you, was just a kid when the events of world history brought us together for a relatively short period of time in World War II.
We came from a variety of places that we called home – trained in different skills at different training bases. Some were pilots, officers, and gentlemen. Some were enlisted men, gunners, mechanics, ordinance men and radiomen – the combat air crewmen. Some were there when the squadron was organized. Some, including myself and Janke and Willie, joined the squadron at sea just before our part in the war was to begin. Come to think about it, we were replacements for the very first squadron casualties. But we came together as members of Navy Torpedo Squadron 34 aboard the aircraft carrier USS Monterey, CVL 26. Former President Gerald Ford, who served as aft gunnery officer on that carrier, lovingly referred to her as “The Mighty Monty.”
We served together over a period of some ten months, then scattered to different homes and different careers when our squadron was decommissioned fifty years ago. I wonder what we really knew about one another. That service together has given us a special bond to one another. A bond that can come only by the sharing of those special moments of sheer terror in combat as well as the endless hours and days of frustrating boredom between battles.
Looking back, our common bond includes the pride we share in being part of a force that won a great and terrible war. We were part of the greatest Navy Armada ever assembled in the world. We helped carry the war to the homelands of those who initiated it. In short, we put our lives on the line in the cause of liberty, freedom, and peace.
It has been said, “When God needs a great work to be done, He sends a baby into the world!” Examples of that statement abound in our respective memories. There are even prophets of God from the Holy Writ such as Moses, Abraham, Peter, and Paul – even Christ himself. There are those endowed with creativity and inventiveness whose talents have given us great advantages over peoples of earlier ages – people such as Guttenburg, Edison, Ford, and the Wright Brothers. Then there were those whose intellect and hunger for liberty drove them to frame the greatest nation of freedom and opportunity ever known in the world: Washington, Adams, Jefferson, and Lincoln. And again, in our day: Roosevelt, Churchill, Eisenhower, Mac Arthur, Nimitz, Halsey, and Sprague.
From 1910 to 1925 there were born some special babies. Fathered, many of them, by veterans returning from their war in their time. They were considered, at the time, as normal babies, but they grew up to face a tremendous force of evil and aggression that was rampant throughout their world in the years of 1935 to 1945. We were among them: special babies, who as young men, marshaled ourselves to defeat those enemies of liberty.
That leads me to the purpose of this reunion and the reason for this meeting and this talk: to pay tribute to those who did so much more than we did – the ones who gave their lives! They didn’t intend to. They just did their duty in spite of the risk involved. I always stand in awe of that sacrifice. I know that we all understood that we, too, faced that risk. And that we, too, went forward in spite of it. I guess that puts each of us in the ranks of the brave.
I had the privilege of visiting the US Memorial Cemetery near Pearl Harbor. It is called the Punch Bowl. It sits in the mouth of an extinct volcano on a mountain that overlooks the city of Honolulu. The view you have from there includes Pearl Harbor and the memorial built over the remains of the battleship Arizona.
There has been constructed on the grounds of that cemetery a panoramic wall depicting the history and battles of World War II that took place in the Pacific Theatre. Also constructed there are several marble walls on which are recorded the names of those who lost their lives at sea. The men we served with, who did not return, have their names recorded there, forever honoring them for their service and the price they paid.
I walked among those Marble Walls. I searched for and found some names that I knew those many years ago. I wept for them and my heart ached for them, thinking of all the things they have missed in this life that I have been blessed to experience and enjoy since they died. There surfaced in my mind the thought: WHY THEM AND NOT ME?
As I pondered that thought, it occurred to me that perhaps those of us who survived have been given a special opportunity to live a full life and perhaps do something additionally worthwhile. Then came a rather harsh review of my life. What have I done – what can I do – that would compensate for the blessing of the long life that I have enjoyed?
I have pondered that thought continually since that time. The result is a conclusion I have reached that gives me great comfort. Perhaps it can give you comfort as well. I have learned the answers to the great questions of life, tried to live according to those answers, and have taught them to my children and grandchildren. If I have done this well enough, then I believe there is not much else of importance that need be done.
The great questions I referred to are:
The first: Where did we come from?
The second: Why are we here?
The third: Where are we going?
I will be honest with you that the answers to these questions have become clear to me through the teachings of my Church and my conviction of the truthfulness of both the Church and its teachings, and so I wish to share the answers with you today. For, no matter how long we have lived, it is not too late to learn and to fulfill the purpose of our lives.
The answer to the first question is that we came from a heavenly existence. We are children of a Heavenly Father. We lived with Him, we were instructed by Him, and we participated with Him in the plans for the creation of this earth on which we live and for the life that we would eventually live here.
The second answer is that we are expected to learn by our earthly experiences and walk by faith. Without the ability to recall what we knew before, we are expected to learn what works and what does not work; what is true and what is false; and prove that we cannot only recognize truth but live by it. By our individual effort we are to follow the prophets God, our Heavenly Father, has sent to be our guides, and learn what He expects us to do to be able to return to Him.
That, of course, leads us to the last answer. It is our Heavenly Father’s plan that we return to live with Him; that we be resurrected and redeemed from mortal death and live in perfected bodies throughout the eternities to come. This involved the sending of a special baby, Jesus Christ, to become a Savior to this world and to atone for the sins of each of us. To accept Him and follow His teachings and keep His commandments will permit us to share our life after death with our families, friends, and shipmates that we knew and loved here on this earth. We will have that same sociality that we have here, only it will be coupled with eternal glory, which glory we do not now have.
I conclude with my statement of conviction that these things are true and that we will see and know each other beyond this life.
I am grateful for the privilege I have had to speak with you today and express to you my great joy in this reunion, and I look forward to our future reunions, even that one we will hold in the eternal heavens.