President Thomas S. Monson: Navy, WWII
“I believe my first experience in having the courage of my convictions took place when I served in the United States Navy near the end of World War II.
“Navy boot camp was not an easy experience for me, nor for anyone who endured it. For the first three weeks I was convinced my life was in jeopardy. The navy wasn’t trying to train me; it was trying to kill me.
“I shall ever remember when Sunday rolled around after the first week. We received welcome news from the chief petty officer. Standing at attention on the drill ground in a brisk California breeze, we heard his command: ‘Today everybody goes to church—everybody, that is, except for me. I am going to relax!’ Then he shouted, ‘All of you Catholics, you meet in Camp Decatur—and don’t come back until three o’clock. Forward, march!’ A rather sizeable contingent moved out. Then he barked out his next command, ‘Those of you who are Jewish, you meet in Camp Henry—and don’t come back until three o’clock. Forward, march!’ A somewhat smaller contingent marched out. Then he said, ‘The rest of you Protestants, you meet in the theaters at Camp Farragut—and don’t come back until three o’clock. Forward, march!’
“Instantly there flashed through my mind the thought, ‘Monson, you are not a Catholic; you are not a Jew; you are not a Protestant. You are a Mormon, so you just stand here!’ I can assure you that I felt completely alone. Courageous and determined, yes—but alone.
“And then I heard the sweetest words I ever heard that chief petty officer utter. He looked in my direction and asked, ‘And just what do you guys call yourselves?’ Until that very moment I had not realized that anyone was standing beside me or behind me on the drill ground. Almost in unison, each of us replied, ‘Mormons!’ It is difficult to describe the joy that filled my heart as I turned around and saw a handful of other sailors.
“The chief petty officer scratched his head in an expression of puzzlement but finally said, ‘Well, go find somewhere to meet. And don’t come back until three o’clock. Forward, march!’
“As we marched away, I thought of the words of a rhyme I had learned in Primary years before:
Dare to be a Mormon;
Dare to stand alone.
Dare to have a purpose firm;
Dare to make it known.
“Since that day there have been times when there was no one standing behind me and so I did stand alone. How grateful I am that I made the decision long ago to remain strong and true, always prepared and ready to defend my religion, should the need arise.”
During World War II, I was ordained an elder—one week before I departed for active duty with the navy. A member of my bishopric was at the train station to bid me farewell. Just before train time, he placed in my hand a book: The Missionary’s Hand Book. I laughed and commented, “I’ll be in the navy—not on a mission.” He answered, “Take it anyway. It may come in handy.”
It did. During basic training our company commander instructed us how we might best pack our clothing in a large seabag. He then advised, “If you have a hard, rectangular object you can place in the bottom of the bag, your clothes will stay more firm.” I thought, “Where am I going to find a hard, rectangular object?” Suddenly I remembered The Missionary’s Hand Book. And thus it served for 12 weeks at the bottom of that seabag.
The night preceding our Christmas leave, the barracks were quiet. Suddenly I became aware that my buddy in the adjoining bunk—a member of the Church, Leland Merrill—was moaning in pain. I asked, “What’s the matter, Merrill?”
He replied, “I’m sick. I’m really sick.”
The hours lengthened; his groans grew louder. Then, in desperation, he whispered, “Monson, aren’t you an elder?” I acknowledged this to be so, whereupon he pleaded, “Give me a blessing.”
I became very much aware that I had never given a blessing. My prayer to God was a plea for help. The answer came: “Look in the bottom of the seabag.” Thus, at 2:00 a.m. I emptied the bag. I then took to the night-light The Missionary’s Hand Book and read how one blesses the sick. With about 120 curious sailors looking on, I proceeded with the blessing. Before I could again stow my gear, Leland Merrill was sleeping.
The next morning, Merrill smilingly turned to me and said, “Monson, I’m glad you hold the priesthood!” His gladness was only surpassed by mygratitude—gratitude not only for the priesthood but for being worthy to receive the help I required in a time of desperate need.
If we are on the Lord’s errand, we are entitled to the Lord’s help. His help has come to me on countless occasions throughout my life.
I was in the Navy at the end of World War II when I was a very young man. My training took place near San Diego, California. Everyone in the Navy had to know how to swim, or they wouldn’t let him out of boot camp (training camp). I had learned to swim as a boy and could do it quite well.
One day an officer said, “All of you who can swim get to go to San Diego for the day. Those who can’t must have a full day of swimming lessons. So those of you who can swim, line up over here, and we’ll put you on a bus and take you into town.” I lined up with the swimmers—there were about 30 or 40 of us. But instead of having my group get on a bus, the officer marched us into the gym, where the swimming pool was.
I thought, You’re mixed up, fellow. We’re the ones who can swim. But, of course, I said nothing. We prepared for swimming and were ordered to jump into the deep end of the pool.
Most of us obeyed, but about 10 men in our group didn’t know how to swim. They had thought that they could go to San Diego without measuring up. The officer didn’t let them just stand there—he pushed them into the water. He let them go under the water, come up gasping for air, and then go down again. When they came up for the second time, a big bamboo pole was held out to them, and they were pulled to safety. Then the officer said sternly, “Don’t you ever lie to me again!” I tell you, I was glad I hadn’t tried that! The experience taught me the value of being honest and true to yourself at all times.