“Paul Yost: The Admiral’s Anchor Is the Gospel,” Ensign, Aug. 1987, 47–48
Entering the hushed hallways of the headquarters of the U. S. Coast Guard in Washington, D.C., you at once feel a sense of history. The polished brass chandeliers, burnished wood trim, and old paintings of founding fathers on the walls reflect years of tradition. The feeling continues inside the office of Admiral Paul Yost, Commandant of the Coast Guard—but the aura of proud tradition continued mingles with a hint of new traditions begun. Admiral Yost is the first Latter-day Saint in history to head a branch of the U. S. military service.
That unique position has brought with it many opportunities and responsibilities. “It’s not a secret in Washington or anyplace else that I am a member of the Church,” says Brother Yost. “I’ve got to be an even better example of the gospel than is expected, and I realize that. I’m happy to have that anchor of the gospel in my career and life.” As head of the Coast Guard, he commands the forces that protect the United States’ borders—a responsibility that includes law enforcement and search and rescue.
Brother Yost is known as an honest, fair, and sensitive commander. “He tries to work with people so that no one comes out the loser,” says Marylyn Poppe, who served as his secretary for several years while he was commander of the Atlantic area and based in New York City.
“The gospel is an added help to me in performing my duties,” he says, adding, “I don’t make big decisions that affect a lot of people’s lives without prayer and meditation.”
To understand Brother Yost and his success in the military service, you have to know his wife, Jan. She is a bubbly, bright woman whose support and enthusiasm has been an asset not only in raising their two daughters and three sons, but also in what the couple considers their joint career.
The Yosts met in 1950 during Paul’s last year at the Coast Guard Academy in New London, Connecticut, where Jan was in her freshman year of college. They were married on 2 June 1951—only weeks after he graduated—and were sent to Hawaii for their first tour of duty. Less than four years later, while the Yosts were living in Hawaii, two missionaries knocked on their door.
“It was a one-in-a-million chance,” says Brother Yost. “We are one of the success stories.” Because of that experience, the Yosts decided that it was important to support their sons in serving missions; all three have served.
Brother Yost himself has an opportunity to do missionary work on a daily basis. He makes no secret of the fact that he is a Latter-day Saint, and although he doesn’t do overt missionary work, he nevertheless takes opportunities to explain what he believes to others. “When I am asked, and I very often am, I am forthright in what I believe and why, and I encourage people to look into it,” he says. He often takes opportunities to talk about the Church with those he meets on airplanes or while traveling.
The Yosts find that the Word of Wisdom often sparks conversations about the gospel. Although they often entertain, the Yosts serve nothing stronger than sparkling grape juice at their parties. “When people come to my house, they don’t expect to have a drink,” says Brother Yost. Sister Yost recalls that shortly after Brother Yost became an admiral, a senior officer’s wife asked her whether or not the Yosts would begin serving alcohol at their parties. “I just told her we would be doing the same thing we had always done,” says Sister Yost. “It wouldn’t change because Paul had a higher rank.”
Brother Yost agrees. “We’ve stuck with those principles, and it has not hurt us in our career. People have accepted it, and some even admire it.”
While his Coast Guard duties are demanding, Brother Yost has also served in several bishoprics and on two high councils. He has found that when he puts the Lord first in his life, he is better able to serve his country. Once, while commanding 25 percent of the U. S. Navy Coast Guard troops in Vietnam, Brother Yost learned a great lesson about serving the Lord.
“I went to the servicemen’s group the first Sunday I arrived, and it was in disarray,” he remembers. “The leader had just been transferred, and no one had been able to come down from Saigon to replace him. So I conducted the meeting, then called Saigon and asked them to call a group leader. I felt I had a combat command and didn’t have time to worry about administering the group. I had a war to fight. I was leading men into combat four out of every seven days.”
Three weeks went by, and then Brother Yost was called to be group leader. “I said, ‘You have got to be kidding. I don’t have time.’ Then I thought to myself, ‘Hey, here I am out in combat. I need all the help I can get from the Lord, and I’m saying to the Lord I don’t have time.’ So I decided to accept the assignment.
“Since then I’ve realized that if the Lord will use me and needs my efforts, I will serve no matter how busy I am.” He says that he has learned to live by a familiar saying: “There is nothing that is going to happen today, Lord, that you and I together can’t handle.”
“The principles of the gospel are everlasting and should be used every day in our lives,” says Brother Yost. According to Sister Yost, her husband is a prime example of that philosophy. “The gospel is an intricate part of his life,” she says. “His belief in God is him. It is in everything he does and says.”