“Yes, I Am a Mormon,” Ensign, Sept. 1985, 55–56
In the summer of 1973 the bombing of Cambodia was still taking place and I received orders from the air force to go to Thailand. Leaving my wife and two small children that day was the most difficult thing I’ve ever had to do. It was only the assurances I received in a blessing from my father that gave me the courage to turn and walk to the awaiting airplane. He promised in that blessing that I would “not be forced to participate in any unlawful activities,” and that I would be “kept clean to return to my family.”
After a few days at jungle survival school in the Philippines, I went on to my final assignment in Thailand as a navigator and weapons systems officer in a fighter squadron. I was determined to do my job well and make the year pass as quickly as possible.
On the evening of my arrival, the other squadron members returned from their bombing missions, and soon I was invited to the squadron “party hooch” to join in a celebration. It was with trepidation that I entered the room to meet what would be my “family” for the next twelve months. The party was in full swing. I turned down a drink for a soda pop and tried to obscure myself in quiet conversation amid the pounding of the music and the layered haze of smoke.
As I was introduced around, I eventually ended up standing at the bar with the squadron commander, a colonel. With his arm around my neck I was a captive, listening to tales of airplanes, daring, and past comrades.
Soon a signal was given and the men gathered around the bar. The music was turned off and it became very quiet. A daily tradition was about to be enacted. Everyone was served a small drink of very strong alcohol, a lime, and some salt. When the drinks came around to me, I said quietly, trying to be casual, “No, thank you, I prefer this soft drink.”
“But this is a squadron tradition,” the man said.
Thoughts raced through my mind: “Why me? Why in front of the whole squadron? Why the very first night?” Trying to sound confident, I explained that I did not drink alcohol but would participate with soda pop.
With that, the silence deepened, then the commander’s arm tightened around my neck and he said, “Lieutenant, I’m ordering you to have this drink. You’ll drink it if I have to pour it down you myself.”
I thought of how far I could get if I tried to fight. I envisioned the results, and an unpleasant visit to the wing commander to change squadrons. Again I asked myself the question, “Why me?” Oh, how I wished to be home across those eight thousand miles of ocean. But as my thoughts darted about for some sort of relief, my mind caught hold of the promise my father had pronounced a week earlier. I gathered all my courage in that waiting silence and said, “I’m sorry, sir, I will not drink alcohol.”
An electricity filled the air, followed by a bristled silence. I prayed with all my heart, “Heavenly Father, help me get through this night.”
The colonel leaned back and measured me with his eyes, then replied, “You are going to drink this …”
Then he added, “… unless you are a Mormon.”
What relief filled my soul! Of course I was a Mormon. I’d always been a Mormon. Why hadn’t I mentioned it earlier? Was I ashamed of my reason for not drinking? Didn’t I believe that God in his wisdom gave such a commandment? I answered, “Yes, I’m a Mormon.”
He quizzed me again to make sure I wasn’t simply taking an easy out. Then he said, “A soft drink for this man.”
As I prayed later that night, I thanked my Heavenly Father for the lesson I had learned so far from home. I thanked him for an earthly father inspired to bless his son. I was thankful that my position was now known to everyone, and that for the next twelve months the whole squadron would make sure I remained true to my commitments. I was thankful that somewhere some other Latter-day Saint had not been afraid to let the colonel know why he lived a clean life. It was then also that I promised not to hesitate in saying, “I am a Mormon.”