Saints at War: Memories of LDS Soldiers in World War II
by Robert C. Freeman
Editors’ Note: In the next month, Meridian will be running significant and touching memories of LDS soldiers in World War II-including their moments of divine preservation and answered prayers. Today, read about Elder Neal A. Maxwell, Herbert H. Frost, and Grant B. Bitter.
In recent years, books such as The Greatest Generation and Citizen Soldiers have rekindled great interest in World War II. Extensive efforts have been undertaken to preserve the stories of those who participated in the bloody conflict. Some urgency has attended these efforts because recent statistics indicate that World War II veterans in America are dying at the rate of 1,100 per day. At Brigham Young University, an effort is currently underway to preserve the stories of Latter-day Saints involved in the war. The “Saints at War” research project is directed by Robert Freeman and Dennis Wright from the Department of Church History and Doctrine.
Heretofore, relatively little material has been available for researchers and the general public on the subject of the contribution of Latter-day Saints during World War II. The chief objective of professors Freeman and Wright is to establish an archive of written histories, journals, images, documents, and oral histories which will be maintained in the Special Collections Library at Brigham Young University. To date, over four hundred veterans and their families have contributed to the effort. Although the majority of participants have been American veterans, international Latter-day Saint servicemen have contributed as well.
It is clear from the materials already gathered that Church members participated in major battles and that they were involved in each of the major historical crossroads throughout the conflict. In addition to the purely historical aspects of the LDS war-veteran experience, “Saints at War” researchers hope to highlight the silver linings of the war. Materials that include stories describing moments of divine preservation, prayer, patriarchal blessings, the Word of Wisdom, significant Church meetings, servicemen’s conferences, LDS chaplains, conversion experiences, and other LDS themes are of paramount interest. It is this type of information which makes the “Saints at War” project a truly unique undertaking.
Several publication projects are also currently underway which will tell the stories of these heroes. The first, Saints at War: The Experiences of Latter-day Saints During World War II, will be available mid-November at all bookstores or at covenant-lds.com. During World War II over 100,000 Latter-day Saints served in the military and approximately 5,000 of that number gave their lives. One interesting fact about World War II is that members of the Church fought on both sides of the conflict. For example, in Germany approximately 700 members, primarily soldiers, died from the violence.
The memories of World War II are now nearly sixty years old, yet in spite of this fact, many clearly recall the momentous events which changed the world. Their voices are strong as they share their memories. The following stories are representative of their experiences and come from original journals and later reminiscent accounts.
Neal A. Maxwell
This future apostle served as an infantryman in the United States Army. He fought in the battle of Okinawa and was part of the occupation force in Japan after the war.
When I was in action in the spring of 1945, as a not-too-effective and very frightened young infantryman in Okinawa, I sometimes sent home what were called “V-mails” more than a postcard, but they were the best we could manage in foxholes. My father kindly saved all my letters from the service and all my letters from the mission field.
On one of those V-mails I noted recently that I had blessed my own sacrament in a foxhole..I certainly felt better. I try to look at the big picture of life and everything seems OK.
In another V-mail, “Today is Sunday. I have tried to make it a point to know so I can bless my sacrament, otherwise it is just another day.” In another, “I had a C-ration biscuit and rainwater for my sacrament. That proves it is not the ingredients, but the Spirit. It was wonderful. The mud is terrible here….Many things have so strengthened my faith, but I can hardly wait to go on a mission.”
* * * *
My only surviving aunt said that sometime in May of 1945, she doesn’t remember the day, Mother had told her the next day that she and Dad had prayed their usual vocal prayer and included me, of course, and my sisters. Then they got into bed and began to go to sleep, and Mother said, “Clarence, we’ve got to get out and pray again; Neal is in grave danger.” And so they got out of bed and prayed again for me. I don’t know which day that was, but I rather imagine, given time zones and all of that, it would have probably been when Japanese artillery shelling occurred at its worst stage. The phrase that comes to mind from the Book of Mormon is about some other young men who went off to war and [what] they [said] was, “We do not doubt our mothers knew it.” I don’t have any doubt that my mother knew intuitively that they needed to pray. Such parenting….is what I hope our young men and women experience, because they will be at times in great danger, too.
Herbert H. Frost
Herbert served as master sergeant in the Army. An unusual note about Herbert is that he collected insect and bird specimens throughout his tour of duty and dutifully preserved them and sent them to the BYU Zoology Department.
Many times it has been said that action speak louder than words. During my time at Salinas, California, this was forcefully brought to my attention.
By this time our unit had been together for almost a year and so everyone knew quite a bit about everyone else. My behavior was watched more closely than I was aware. The men knew that I was a Mormon and had some habits that were not the general run-of-the-mill activities of those in the service. One Sunday morning I picked up my mess kit and headed for the mess hall. I hadn’t got out of the barracks when one of my good friends, Earl Dabin said, “Hey, Jack, where are you going?”
I responded, “Over to get some chow.”
His reply I’m sure I will never forget. He said, “Have you forgotten that this is the first Sunday in the month?”
I turned around, returned to my bunk, and thanked him for reminding me it was fast Sunday.
Grant B. Bitter
Grant was a radarman second class in the United State Navy. He was assigned to the USS Gladiator, an ocean auxiliary minesweeper, and he participated in the invasion of Okinawa.
Rufus Boldman’s wife Penny was a member of the Church. Rufus had casually mentioned it when we first met on the Gladiator. Soon after my assignment to the ship, I sought permission to hold LDS services aboard. The request was granted. There were several sailors who began attending services each week; among them was Rufus Boldman.
His interest in the Church grew rapidly. He quit smoking and drinking along with other habits not considered consistent with gospel standards. During our escort duties whenever we docked at Guam or Pearl Harbor he attended LDS services with me. Changing attitudes and habits contrary to gospel standards seemed to be no problem for him. Rufus did accept the gospel, and we made arrangements on one of our infrequent visits to Honolulu for his baptism (which I was privileged to perform), in the beautiful stake center there.
We, of course, had long, delightful and serious talks on board ship. One day he told me that he and Penny could never have children. There was a real note of sadness in his voice. Penny had multiple sclerosis. According to medical experts, the condition could be arrested, but not cured.
At the moment that Rufus told me about Penny’s condition and that they could never have children, I said , “Rufus if you will accept the gospel of Jesus Christ and live your religion, you and Penny will have children.” That statement was quietly electrifying. It startled Rufus and even me, initially. Yet a peaceful and sweet feeling swept over me, and I was assured that the statement was one of prophecy through the power of the Holy Ghost.
After the war was over and Rufus had gone home, I received news that Penny had given birth to a beautiful baby daughter, which was a confirmation of Rufus’s obedience to the Lord’s promise through the Holy Ghost. The blessings to Rufus and Penny were multiplied many times over with the coming of four other choice children to their home, Their posterity has greatly increased, and their descendants are giving outstanding service to others, a trademark of the Boldman family.
2001 Meridian Magazine. All Rights Reserved.