I Knew It Wasn’t Luck
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“I Knew It Wasn’t Luck,” Ensign, Sept. 1995, 62–63

I Knew It Wasn’t Luck

With each carefully placed step I slipped quietly through the vines and high grass of the Vietnam jungle. The dark shadows offered the Vietcong a million hiding places, and my heart was pounding so loudly it seemed that its beating alone was enough to give away my presence. Then I saw a shadow that seemed out of place—a trip wire.

I was on point duty, which meant it was my job to walk in front of the reconnaissance patrol and spot traps. I saw the wire about ten feet from me, but I also knew the Vietcong often placed a visible trap as bait to set off an unseen trap nearby. I stopped and signaled for the patrol behind me to halt. I drew my knife to begin a probe of the trail. As I bent to my knees, a sudden burst of machine-gun fire filled the space where I had just been standing and shot my backpack full of holes, ripping it from my back and sending it flying into the jungle.

I dropped down flat and rolled over a fallen log. My steel helmet fell off, striking me in the chest as I landed on it and knocking the wind out of me. While I desperately caught my breath, I tried to work the helmet out from beneath my chest, but it was stuck. The sounds of gunfire and grenade explosions were all around. Just inches from my eyes, I saw the trip wire to another trap. I knew I couldn’t crawl forward, yet the bullets hitting the log near where I lay made moving a necessity.

Finally I managed to edge down and lift the helmet. I then saw what had been holding it. It was a punji stick, a sharpened bamboo stake set in the ground and dripping with what smelled like fresh snake venom.

As I lay there in the jungle, my mind flew back to a year earlier, when I had just turned twenty years old and had wanted to go on a mission. My mother was not financially able to support me, so I was working hard to earn money for a mission. One day a letter came calling me to serve, but it was not from the prophet. Instead, it was from the president of the United States telling me to report for induction into the U.S. Army.

After going through basic training and advanced individual training, I had an overwhelming desire to receive my patriarchal blessing. I contacted the nearest patriarch, and after giving him a recommend from the bishop of my home ward in Oregon, I received my blessing. In part, my blessing promised me that as long as I kept the commandments, my life would not be taken from me while I was in the service of my country. With that assurance I was ready when the overseas assignment came a few weeks later, sending me to Germany for eighteen months. But after only six months, I was transferred to Vietnam for a tour of duty. Although temptations of the adversary surrounded me during this time, the gospel teachings of my youth helped me remember I held the priesthood of God.

Suddenly the captain’s voice brought me back to the reality of the jungle. The firing had stopped, and he and the rest of the patrol flanked the ambush site. As my buddies came forward, I knew they expected only to recover my body. Instead, they looked at me in disbelief. The captain told me to lie still. Two more punji sticks were inches away from my legs, and my boots were almost touching another trip wire leading to a land mine.

Death could so easily have taken me that day. However, to the medic’s surprise I did not have a single wound. The sergeant declared me to be the luckiest man he’d ever seen and said that since I must have used up my portion of luck, I was relieved of further point duty.

But I knew it wasn’t luck. I knew then, as I know now, that it was the fulfillment of the Lord’s promise that my life was saved that day.

  • Robert K. Hillman serves as high priest group leader in the Citrus Heights Second Ward, Citrus Heights California Stake.