Soldiers of God
May 1976

“Soldiers of God,” New Era, May 1976, 14

Soldiers of God

I was a Mormon chaplain newly arrived in Vietnam and had been directed by a senior chaplain to teach a series of character guidance classes. A check through channels failed to produce a copy of the regular manual, but the assignment stood. The first lesson was scheduled to be given to Alpha Company immediately after they had finished their 12-hour-duty day. The class was to be taught in a quonset hut that was being used as a post office.

The company was waiting for me when I arrived—about a hundred of them in all, draped over mailbags, slouched over the few available chairs, leaning against the walls, or seated on the floor. Not having a lesson, I was free to move in any direction I wanted to go, so I posed this question for discussion: “What effect will the manner in which you conduct yourself in Vietnam have on your relationship with your wife or sweetheart when you return home?”

The initial response to the question consisted of snickers, whispering, and a quick turning or lowering of the head of any whose eyes I tried to catch. A prompt solution to their bashfulness was a randomly selected panel. Much to my chagrin, but to the delight of the GI’s, it was immediately apparent that my selection of a panel was less than inspired. They all consciously avoided saying anything that they thought the chaplain wanted them to say. They weren’t going to play goodie-goodie in front of their peers. Vietnam, they argued, was a twilight zone, and what they did there had no relationship with the real world. The last member of the panel to speak bragged about the double-standard by which he was living and concluded by saying, “What my wife doesn’t know won’t hurt her.” Someone challenged him by asking how he would feel about his wife living by that same standard. He tried to maintain his cavalier image, responding that if he didn’t know about it he didn’t care. Somehow that response did not come across with much conviction. Disdain was clearly written upon the faces of his audience and it became evident for the first time that they saw through the shallowness of the arguments that had been presented.

Then a rather unusual thing happened. A tall, broad-shouldered fellow who had been sitting quietly in the back of the room stood and asked if he could speak. Silence swept across the room, evidencing that he commanded respect. He did not raise his voice, but all heard what he had to say. He told about his fiancé and the love they shared. He spoke of the beautiful relationship that was theirs, and then with tears streaming down his face, he told how all that had been destroyed by their violation of the law of chastity. He spoke of a betrayed trust and expressed his hope that someday, somehow, they could gain again the feeling that once was theirs. The effect was dramatic. I waited a few moments for it to have its full impact and then added the testimony of a Mormon elder.

With the announcement that the class was dismissed, a few of the fellows got up and walked out, but the better part of the company remained. A group gathered around to ask more questions. A number expressed themselves to the effect that they had never heard a priest or minister “give it so straight before” or even take a position on the question of morality. One young GI, curious to know what denomination I represented, asked, “What kind of chaplain are you?” Before I could answer, the fellow standing behind him responded loud enough for all to hear, “He is a chaplain’s chaplain!”

Reflecting on that experience as I returned to my quarters that night, I came to a greater realization of our responsibility as Latter-day Saints. The world is replete with “many kinds of voices,” voices that sound “an uncertain sound,” and yet there are many who are ready to respond to the banners of truth. We are of Israel, the English equivalent of which means “prince of God,” or “soldier of God.” We live in times when good is made to appear as evil and evil as good. Prophetically, they are described as times of “false and vain and foolish doctrines.” They are times that call for courage. They are times that call for quiet example, and they are times that call for bold denunciation of those things that sap character and destroy nations. They are times for soldiers of God.

Illustrated by Kent Goodliffe