Veterans

By J. Kenneth Doty

I am deeply appreciative that the general leadership of the Church has been inspired to have a Sabbath day to memorialize the veterans of this great nation.

I am one of those veterans. I served in World War II as a Combat Air Crewman, flying in carrier based torpedo bombers. In detail, I was an aviation radioman and aerial gunner. Our torpedo squadron, VT-34, was based on the aircraft carrier, USS Monterey. We were part of the United States Navy Third Fleet that saw action in battles to reclaim the islands of the Philippines, Marrianas (Guam, Saipan, and Tinnian), Iwo Jima, and Okinawa. We concluded the war with attacks against targets on all three of the main islands of Japan. It was our fleet that steamed into Tokyo Bay to receive the final surrender of the Japanese Government.

The war ended August 15, 1945. The surrender was signed aboard the Battleship USS Missouri on September 2, 1945. As our fleet sailed into Tokyo By for the surrender ceremony, we passed the spot where just five weeks earlier, July 10th, we ditched our plane, escaped in our life vests and our life raft, and then were rescued by one of our submarines.

That was well over fifty years ago, but the memories of those historical events are still vividly etched in my mind.

In the letter from the First Presidency in which they announced this observance, it was suggested that this scripture from Isaiah 2:4 be cited. “And they shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore.”

To a veteran of any war, there is not a more wonderful or more powerful thought to consider. I can speak for all veterans when I say that I wish that could happen now. I would not wish to see any of our children or grandchildren have to go to war. Certainly it is God’s desire that there should be no more war. Peace should reign supreme. But until Satan is bound and his servants no longer contend for the power and the wealth of the world by trying to subject innocent peoples to their will, wars will continue. War is not so much between nations as it is a war for the loyalties, the hearts and souls of men. It is the fight to preserve liberty, freedom, truth, and whatever measure of peace possible.

The Book of Mormon teaches us that this, the American Continent, is a choice land. And on this choice land, our government has become the best that man has yet created on this earth. This, our government, has its basis in these few words from the Declaration of Independence. “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among them are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.”

Even with all its faults and shortcomings, the United States of America is still the greatest bastion of freedom and liberty and opportunity ever to exist on this planet. I believe that with all my heart and soul.

But when our freedoms, our way of life, our peace, and our opportunities are threatened, the struggle to defend and protect must be met and won. To do this there have always been, and I pray always will be, those men and women who rise to that cause of defending these hallowed and eternal principles.

My great grandfather was a volunteer in the Union Army that preserved the Union in the Civil War. My father served with the American Expeditionary Forces in France and Germany during World War I, fighting to make the world safe for democracy. I was one of the millions who fought in World War II, also in the hope that this war would end all wars.

We need to pause from time to time to remember those who have served and scarified for those of us who continue to enjoy the freedoms, the liberty, the peace, the opportunities, and the comforts we do today. those who have served in any capacity of war know that war is very indiscriminate in who dies and who survives. And to those of us who lived through the terrors of war there is always the haunting question within our souls asking, “Why them and not me?”

Therefore, I feel it very appropriate to share with you the immortal words of Abraham Lincoln in what I believe was the first attempt to hold a national veteran’s day memorial.

THE GETTYSBURG ADDRESS

Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate — we can not consecrate — we can not hallow — this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us — that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion — that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain — that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

Abraham Lincoln
November 19, 1863

Veterans of such service in any conflict deserve to be remembered and appreciated. And each of them should feel proud of their service. Proud that they could put their personal plans and desires aside for the greater cause of victory over oppression. I know I am. So let me share with you my personal motto when it comes to the support of my country. A young navy officer of the Revolutionary War, Stephen Decatur, originally voiced it. “Our country; in her intercourse with foreign nations, may she always be right; but my country, right or wrong.”

My war experiences are neither more nor less than that of any other veteran. I recognize that there were many who had more terrible experiences, some who endured more battles, some whose battles were more severe. But every veteran had his own unique experience. For example: as I alluded to earlier, our plane became severely damaged by anti-aircraft fire over our target, Atsugi Air Field just south of Tokyo. We had to ditch (meaning a controlled crash landing in water) in Tokyo Bay. We evacuated the plane, into the sea, in our life vests and a three-man life raft. An hour or so later one of our submarines, the SS Gabilan, came to our rescue. There were three of us on that plane. We had not been together, all three of us at the same time, since the end of the war until the 50th anniversary reunion of our squadron. When I phoned Willie, our turret gunner, to determine that he would be there, he excitedly replied that he would and that he was bringing his tape recorder because he wanted to get our stories straight. We were together in a terrifying experience, yet we each remember most what we did individually – and therein occurred separate experiences. While there was one story including all three, there were also three individual stories.

I said I was proud of my service, and I am, because of three facets of pride that I retain from the following experiences. But first let me share with you the comfort I held close to me during that war time service.

This comfort came from the patriarchal blessing that I received just four months before I went overseas. Just a portion of it reads: “In as much as you have been called to serve your country in defense of the principles of freedom and liberty, you are in the service of the Lord. You will be exonerated and held blameless in all that you do for your country when acting in the command of your superiors.” When I recall the terrible damage we inflicted with the bombs, torpedoes, depth charges, and machine guns when we launched at enemy targets; then when I realize that there were human beings in, on, or near those targets, you can never know what comfort those words meant and still mean to me.

Now, to those three areas of pride.

First: Pride in seeing and honoring our nation’s symbols.

We had been several days at sea heading west from Pearl Harbor to rendezvous with the Pacific Fleet at its anchorage at Ulithi Atoll (part of the Caroline Islands). It was just about dawn that morning and I was as forward on the flight deck as I could get, straining to see the fleet. Gradually, in that early dawn, I began to see, at great distance, the tops of masts of the fleet. As we moved closer and as daylight increased, I began to be aware of more and more ships, spanning 180 degrees across the horizon from the left to my right, each flying an American Flag.

I cannot adequately describe the feelings I had that day as I beheld that magnificent assemblage of ships. Our flag. Our Navy. Our country.

Then there was that ditching experience in Tokyo Bay. You may guess at our feelings as we sat in the life raft. The plane had sunk; we were alone on a huge and silent sea. Then there appeared this submarine, steaming towards us. “Theirs our ours?” We wondered. As it steadily approached us, we suddenly spied the American Flag painted on the coning tower. New feelings, new hope: safety, security, home.

After the surrender ceremonies were over, our carrier, with some other vessels, was dispatched to the United States by way of the Panama Canal to New York City. We were to be there for a Navy Day celebration being staged in that city. As we approached our destination we were assigned to make our final flight from the deck of the USS Monterey. Our destination was Floyd Bennett Field in Brooklyn, NY. We were to include in this flight a fly over of the parade that was taking place in down town New York City. As we flew up the harbor of New York we passed the Statue of Liberty. What a thrill it was to see that statue’s arm raised as if in salute to us as we flew by her. I was home!

Finally there is the letter I received from the Secretary of the Navy. It is dated May 31, 1946 and signed by James Forrestal, Secretary of the Navy.

“I have addressed this letter to reach you after all the formalities of your separation from active service are completed. I have done so because, without formality but as clearly as I know how to say it, I want the Navy’s pride in you, which is my privilege to express, to reach into your civilian life and to remain with you always.

“You have served in the greatest Navy in the world.

“It crushed two enemy fleets at once, receiving surrenders only four months apart.

“It brought our land-based air power within the bombing range of the enemy and set out ground armies on the beachheads of final victory

“It performed the multitude of tasks necessary to support these military operations.

“No other Navy at any time has done so much. For your part in those achievements, you deserve to be proud as long as you live. The nation, which you served at a time of crisis, will remember you with gratitude.

“The best wishes of the Navy go with you into civilian life. Good luck!”

Second: The results of doing one’s duty

I had the privilege of being interviewed by Elder Neal A. Maxwell of the Quorum of the Twelve when he was in our stake in June of 1993 to reorganize our stake presidency. In that interview we discovered that when he was an 18-year-old infantryman, we had a mutual experience in the Battle of Okinawa. He described his experience of being pinned down by Japanese artillery and how, miraculously, the enemy shelling stopped just as they had finally found the exact range to Elder Maxwell’s position. I shared with him my own experience during that same battle when our squadron was dispatched specifically to bomb enemy artillery positions. We were given verbal commendation from the ground control officer for our accuracy on that mission. Did I help save his life? Neither of us will ever know. But the point is this: fulfilling one’s duty on one hand creates great assistance to another on the other hand – just as the men of the submarine, doing their duty, had a great saving effect on my life.

Third: God uses events such as war to further His work

There are those in our country today who condemn our nation’s use of the atomic bomb to end the war. They are called ‘revisionists.’ They would like to revise history – to rewrite it to conform to the way they think things should have been done. They ask, “Did we really have to kill so many people to end the war?”

All they need to do is ask those of us who were still fighting if we wanted to continue risking our lives in an invasion of the mainland of Japan itself. That would have prolonged the war at least another six months and maybe another year. Think of how many lives would have been lost, on both sides, in that period of time. Then, too, Japan may have been able to arrange a ‘negotiated’ cease-fire. This could have left the Emperor and his military regime in power.

Because of the total surrender of Japan, we were able to establish for the people of that nation a democratic form of government much like our own. This led to a freedom the Japanese had never known. Because of that, religious freedom has permitted the missionaries to go freely through that land with great success. Today there stands a Mormon temple in Tokyo. There’s one in Taiwan, and in the Philippines.

Our military success in Europe has led to expansion of missionary work there, which in turn has led to temples in many European countries. Our defense of South Korea in the Korean War has led to Church growth and a temple in Korea.

Our military efforts in Viet Nam, while not so successful militarily, took many LDS men and women to Southeast Asia and their missionary zeal brought many converts. Many of the people of this area escaped their homeland and came to America. A lot of them have joined the Church and their descendants are returning to their ancient homelands as missionaries. And so the work of the Lord continues to expand throughout the world as our military efforts help the expansion of freedom throughout the world.

Let me conclude with an experience I had in our Portland Temple.

While Corinne and I were supervising the sealing office, there came a young Japanese couple wishing to do some sealings for deceased members of their family. Both had been born and raised in Japan but his business assignment was to this country and they moved to Eugene, Oregon. There they met the missionaries and joined the Church. Now they were ready to redeem their deceased progenitors.

Since they had no one with them to assist in the work, we arranged for some members of another sealing group, all Caucasians, to assist us. As I looked at the names of the cards, containing information as to dates of birth and marriage, and the cities in which these events took place, I recognized men and women of my generation, who 50 years ago had been my enemy. Now, here I was in a position to perform ordinances of exaltation for them. A pronounced feeling of peace and joy swept over me.

I said nothing about this to the couple. I just proceeded to perform the ordinances, during which it became necessary to ask one of the Caucasian sisters to be proxy at the alter doing some of the marriages.

After the sealing was completed, the young Japanese brother approached me and said, “Brother Doty, you handled those Japanese names very well. Have you ever been to Japan?” I hardly knew what to say for a moment, but then explained my involvement in the war. He responded by saying something about the wicked men who were in power in that nation during the war years. Then we were interrupted by the Caucasian sister who had worked at the alter with him, saying, “Every time I was expected to say ‘yes’ at the alter it was as if someone spoke in my ear saying something like ‘hai.’ Does that word have any meaning in Japanese?” Tears began to fill his eyes as he said, “Of course. That is the Japanese word for ‘yes!'”

Brothers and sisters, our nation’s efforts in times of both war and peace in advancing freedom and liberty and peace throughout the world is something we should be proud of. We should take time to honor those who have served our nation in these causes.

While it is necessary in this mortal sphere in which we live to use war when necessary to protect and preserve life and liberty, I bear witness that the Gospel of Jesus Christ is the only true avenue to peace. The final and continual peace will arrive only with the return of the Savior. This is my testimony in the name of our Redeemer, The Prince of Peace.

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