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How a WWII Pilot Saved 90 Men by Following an Unexpected Spiritual Prompting


Life After War

After finishing his 35th mission in March 1945, my grandpa’s crew threw him a surprise banquet at a local hotel, thanking him for getting them through the war alive. “Each crew member bore his testimony regarding my skills and not drinking alcohol. They believed they made it through the missions because of me. I wish I had a recording of all that was said,” my grandpa writes.

“He never took credit for his daring and amazing missions,” his grandson Nolan Hanson remembers. “He never bragged about how incredible he was, or what a skilled pilot he became. I don't remember the stories in detail, but the thing that stands out to me the most when he told them was the respect he had for his crew and those men who had paid the ultimate price sacrificing themselves for their men and their country.”

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To his kids and grandkids, my grandpa’s war stories were “always part of his legend . . . larger than life visions of heroics and humility,” his grandson Jeremy Peterson says.

Upon returning home to the United States, my grandpa was offered a high-paying job with an airline company, but he turned down the offer, feeling he wanted to be more involved with his future family than a career as a pilot would provide.

Once in Utah, my grandpa soon reacquainted himself with a beautiful young woman named Jean Porter—one he’d corresponded with during the war. My grandpa and Grandma Jean were married in the Salt Lake Temple September 5, 1945, beginning a life together full of trial, disease, hardship, but most importantly love and family.

A man with a “Wikipedia-like mind,” as his daughter Patricia Griffith describes him, my grandpa had a quest for knowledge that led him to receiving a Bachelor of Science, a Master of Educational Administration, and a Doctorate in Education. Throughout his higher education, my grandpa worked as a teacher and later an administrator to support his family, juggling his career with family and church service.Image title

Family meant everything to him as he helped raise nine children, one of whom was a daughter, Laurel, with severe mental and physical handicaps and a son, Mark, who suffered from genetic problems that required three open heart surgeries. In addition, he cared for my grandma, who suffered unexpected health problems that intensified as the years wore on. But my grandpa always met these challenges with a smile and a joke.

“His physical ailments (which affected his life daily and only got worse with each passing day) would have made me curse God daily, but he always whistled his way through the adversity—every single time I saw him,” Steve remembers.

Despite all that filled his life, my grandpa always devoted all he could to the church, serving as a bishop for many years, a stake counselor, and a stake patriarch. As a bishop, he found the time to help oversee, organize, and donate free labor to build two new church houses and one new stake center in his area.

“I remember going with my dad and my brothers to the new stake center many times where we would sweep construction debris and hand my dad nails as he would hammer the nails,” Pat says. “The day they poured cement for the sidewalks at the stake center, the sky was dark with rain clouds threatening overhead.  My dad had fervently prayed that it wouldn't rain at the stake center which would ruin the cement.  It was raining two blocks to the north, east, south and west, but it never rained at the stake center that day.”

“He loved the Church and what it stood for,” his granddaughter Brittani Hale says. “He was an example to his family of faith—how to live it and how to make it your own.”

Leaving a Legacy of Faith

“Though he’s not physically present on earth, I feel his presence every day, as I do my mom’s, Jean,” Rolayne shares. “I know they are involved in the lives of their children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren—all of their posterity. Their goodness continues to bless our lives.”

When my grandpa passed away on March 27, 2006, our family lost our hero.

“I heavily relied on his knowledge of Church doctrine—he was ‘Mormon doctrine in the flesh’ in those days. I miss not being able to call him and discuss questions and concerns,” my aunt Pat says.

But, despite the hole his absence left, he gave us a legacy to hold onto and continue.

“I've read his biography twice in the last few years and find myself in awe, tears stinging my eyes as I read and feeling so much love and appreciation for grandpa,” his grandson Craig Peterson says.

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“I think his greatest accomplishment was all of us,” Jeremy says, and most in the family agree. While his war heroics, career achievements, and even his life-long love and work establishing a science camp for students in the Uintah mountains—Mill Hollow—impacted thousands, his success is seen in the way our family sticks together—through times that make us laugh and times we’d rather not remember. By sacrificing his all for his family, my grandpa taught us all what truly counts, helping us come together and truly love and laugh despite our differences.

By watching his faith, all our lives were changed, as my cousin Brittani notes. “[His faith] was unchanging and that was amazing to me growing up, when so many people were constantly changing their minds and lifestyles, his faith remained unchanged.  To me, that takes amazing strength.”

“I really miss his sense of humor, but my favorite thing about him is the fact that he is still such a big part of my life 11 years later,” Steve says. “I keep a laminated copy of his obituary on my dresser and I think before I start the day, ‘I hope I can make him proud today.’”

While it’s hard to sum up such a life, a quote my Aunt Mary Bailey shared at Grandpa’s funeral captures his legacy best,” If I have seen a little further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants."

 “And I will bear him up as on eagles’ wings; and he shall beget glory and honor to himself and unto my name” —Doctrine and Covenants 124:18
All images from Wikimedia Commons or courtesy of the Beckstrom family
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