“Lost Battalions,” Tambuli, Sept. 1987, 2
Some time ago I stood on an old bridge that crosses the River Somme as it makes its steady but unhurried way through the center of France. Suddenly I realized that almost seventy years had passed since the signing of the Armistice of 1918 and the end of World War I.
Thousands of soldiers had crossed this same bridge during that war. Many had never come back. On the battlefields acres of neat, white crosses on graves serve as an unforgettable reminder of those who died.
I recalled reading the account of the “lost battalion”—a unit of the United States Army 77th Infantry Division in World War I. During one part of the war, this battalion was completely surrounded by the enemy. Food and water were short; the wounded could not be moved out. The battalion fought off repeated attacks, ignoring requests from the enemy asking them to surrender. Then, after that desperate period of total isolation, other units of the 77th Division advanced and relieved the “lost battalion.”
Reporters noted that the men in these units seemed to be on a crusade of love to rescue their comrades in arms. Men volunteered more readily, fought more gallantly, and died more bravely. A fragment from that ageless sermon preached on the Mount of Olives echoed in my mind: “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” (John 15:13.)
Almost forgotten is the story of the “lost battalion” and the terrible price paid for its rescue. Yet the story has much to teach us. Are there “lost battalions” today—people who feel isolated from their fellow human beings? If so, what is our responsibility to rescue them?
There are the “lost battalions” of the handicapped, the aged, the widowed, the sick. All too often these people are in that desolate wilderness called loneliness. When youth is gone, when health declines, when physical strength decreases, when the light of hope flickers ever so dimly, members of these vast “lost battalions” can be helped by someone who cares.
I recall a young man who, as a boy of thirteen, led a successful rescue of such persons. He and his friends lived in a ward where many poor, elderly widows lived. I was their bishop. The boys had been saving and planning for a glorious Christmas party. They were thinking of themselves—until the Christmas spirit prompted Frank, their leader, to suggest that they use their money not for the planned party, but rather for the benefit of three elderly widows who lived together. The boys made new plans.
With the enthusiasm of a new adventure, the boys purchased a giant roasting chicken, potatoes, vegetables, cranberries, and all that would make a Christmas feast in the United States. To the widows’ home they went carrying their gifts of treasure. They knocked on the door, then in the unmelodic voices characteristic of thirteen-year-olds, began to sing, “Silent night, holy night; all is calm, all is bright.” They then presented their gifts. Angels on that glorious night of long ago sang no more beautifully, nor did the three wise men present gifts of greater meaning.
There are other “lost battalions” of mothers and fathers, sons and daughters who have, through thoughtless comment, isolated themselves from one another. Consider the case of one young man we shall call Jack.
Throughout Jack’s life, he and his father had many serious arguments. One day, when he was seventeen, they had a particularly violent one. Jack said to his father: “I’m leaving home, and I shall never return.” So saying, he went to the house and packed a bag. His mother begged him to stay, but he was too angry to listen. He left her crying at the doorway.
Leaving the yard, he was about to pass through the gate when he heard his father call to him: “Jack, I know that a large part of the reason for your leaving is mine. For this I am truly sorry. I want you to know that if you should ever wish to return home, you’ll always be welcome. And I’ll try to be a better father to you. I want you to know that I’ll always love you.”
Jack said nothing, but went to the bus station and bought a ticket to a distant place. As he sat in the bus and the distance from home increased, he thought about the words of his father. He began to realize the love it had required for his father to do what he had done: Dad had apologized. He had invited him back and had left the words ringing in the summer air, “I love you.”
It was then that Jack realized that the only way he could ever find peace with himself was to show to his father the same kind of maturity, goodness, and love that Dad had shown toward him. Jack got off the bus. He bought a return ticket home and went back.
He arrived shortly after midnight, entered the house, and turned on the light. There in the rocking chair sat his father, his head in his hands. As he looked up and saw Jack, he rose from the chair and they rushed into each other’s arms. Jack often said, “Those last years that I was home were among the happiest of my life.”
Here was a father who, overcoming his emotions and pride, rescued his son before he became one of the “lost battalion” of those with broken families and shattered homes. Love was the binding band, the healing balm.
There are other “lost battalions.” Some struggle with sin, some experience ignorance. In reality, there is still another battalion in which each of us is numbered. It could have been the lost battalion of all mankind, a battalion doomed to everlasting death.
“By man came death,” the scripture says, “For as in Adam all die.” (1 Cor. 15:21–22.) Each of us experiences death. None escapes. Were we to remain unrescued, lost would be paradise. Lost would be family. Lost would be friends. Realizing this truth, we begin to appreciate the supreme joy that accompanied the birth of the Savior of the world. How glorious the pronouncement of the angel: Behold a virgin “shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name Jesus: for he shall save his people from their sins.” (Matt. 1:21.)
On one significant occasion, Jesus took a text from Isaiah: “The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me; because the Lord hath anointed me to preach good tidings unto the meek; he hath sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound.” (Isa. 61:1), a clear announcement of a divine plan to rescue the “lost battalion” to which we all belong.
But Jesus’ preaching had been merely a beginning. The Son of Man had always had an awful appointment to keep on a hill called Golgotha. Arrested in the Garden of Gethsemane after the Last Supper, deserted by his disciples, spat upon, tried, and humiliated, Jesus staggered under his great cross toward Calvary.
For us our Heavenly Father gave his Son. For us our Elder Brother gave his life. At the last moment, the Master could have turned back. But he did not. He experienced all things that he might save all things—the human race, the earth, and all life that ever inhabited it.
No words can mean more to me than those spoken by the angel to the weeping Mary Magdalene and the other Mary as they approached the tomb to care for the body of their Lord: “Why seek ye the living among the dead? He is not here, but is risen.” (Luke 24:5–6.)
With these stirring words came the announcement that the “lost battalion” of mankind—those who have lived and died, and those yet to die—this lost battalion of humanity was rescued.
I testify of him who delivered each of us from endless death. He is a teacher of truth—but he is more than a teacher. He is the example of the perfect life—but he is more than an example. He is the Great Physician—but he is more than a physician. He who rescued the “lost battalion” of mankind is the literal Savior of the world. He is the Son of God, the Prince of Peace, the Holy One of Israel, even the risen Lord, who declared, “I am the first and the last; I am he who liveth, I am he who was slain; I am your advocate with the Father.” (D&C 110:4.)
As his witness I testify that he lives and that his teachings and his gospel have the power to rescue each of us as we turn to him in faith and and integrity.
Some Points of Emphasis: You may wish to make these points in your home teaching discussion:
1. The story of the “lost battalion” of World War I is the story of a military unit thought to have been conquered but who were rescued.
2. There are other “lost battalions” today whom we can help rescue. They are the “lost battalions” of the handicapped, aged, widowed, sick, family members who have isolated themselves from one another, persons in sin, people who are ignorant. Have we thought how we can help them?
3. Were it not for the atonement of the Lord Jesus Christ, all of us would be in another “lost battalion”—the battalion of all mankind doomed to everlasting death.
4. Jesus is the literal Savior of the World, the Son of God, the Prince of Peace, the Holy One of Israel, the risen Lord whose gospel has the power to save us as we turn to him in faith and integrity.
1. Relate your personal feelings about the role of the Savior in our lives.
2. Are there some scriptures or quotations in this article that the family might read aloud and discuss?
3. Would this discussion be better after a talk with the head of the household prior to the visit? Is there a message from the bishop or quorum leader?