Elder Robert D. Hales: Air Force, Korean War
Each unit in the 31st Fighter Bomber Squadron had a motto to inspire their efforts. Our motto, “Return with Honor,” graced the side of our fighter aircraft. “Return with Honor” was a constant reminder to us of our determination to return to our home base with honor only after having expended all of our efforts to successfully complete every aspect of our mission.
We realized that this motto applied to all members of the flight. It did not just apply to us as individuals. We flew jet fighter planes in a fingertip formation. For a moment, fold your thumb under your hand and look at the back of your hand with your fingers extended. You will see a flight of four planes with a leader and three wingmen. You are protected on the left and on the right, and the leader is concentrating on his goals. If for a moment you will separate and put two fingers on either side, you will still see a leader and a wingman, one plane ahead of the other, and one plane on the wing to protect. We all knew and were taught from bitter experience that a “loner” out of formation was unprotected and would surely be destroyed.
In an airplane, the attitude indicator is a useful instrument. It gives us our continuous and accurate relationship to the horizon. Paying close attention assures us that we are flying straight and level and on course. It lets us know if we are banking or straying off course, even a degree at a time, or if we are climbing or diving toward an obstacle. It even tells us if we are completely upside down.
In life, we have to be careful to monitor our personal attitude. Are we positive, loyal, and trustworthy in all that we do? Don’t be negative. Strengthen and lift those around you. Do not let them pull you down.
I was taught about vertigo when my Air Force instructor took me up in an airplane with the cockpit covered by a canopy so I could not see outside and would have to rely on the instruments. Unknown to me, he gradually turned the airplane upside down, keeping positive G forces. My ear did not detect the slow rollover. He told me to take control of the airplane. Of course, I did what every other student did. I pulled backwards because I was losing altitude, and, of course, I started a dive toward the earth because I did not know I was upside down.
As I started to regain control of the airplane, I could see that the little marks on the landing gear were upside down. My instructor taught me the principle that you can take a human being at a two- or three-degree turn while keeping positive G forces and turn them upside down without them knowing that they have left the straight and level flight. The motion is imperceptible.
If we are not careful, we can experience spiritual vertigo. If we stray off the course of obedience by only two or three almost imperceptible degrees, we can become disoriented and lose sight of our eternal destination, not even realizing how far off course we are. We will then make poor choices. Just as my airplane left straight and level flight degree by degree, if we stray from the straight and narrow path even degree by degree, we can become confused and lose sight of our eternal goal.
Our Savior does not want us to crash. His desire is for us to choose the right course that will bring us back on the straight and narrow path to live with Him eternally. “Come, follow me,” He has told us (Luke 18:22). He provides the light that will keep us on course and bring us back into His presence. If we prepare ourselves to have preconditioned responses, we can devote all of our time to productive things and not worry about making big adjustments to place ourselves back on the straight and narrow path.
Instrument flying conditions require a complete trust in the instruments. Similarly, if we are obedient and listen to the Holy Ghost, we will recognize the warnings we receive in our own lives. If ignored, the price we pay will block our eternal progress, and we may not be able to return with honor.