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Mortars and Miracles: Faith-Filled Stories of Mormons in the Military

by | Jul. 04, 2018

Mormon Life


Finding Comfort in Christ

The gospel proved to be both a solace and a strength for those serving overseas. Bill Harrison received a blessing before leaving for Korea that he would return if he followed the commandments faithfully. “I just lived what I’d been taught,” he says. “I knew the Good Lord would protect me if I did what was right. And that’s what keeps you going—you know you’re on the Lord’s side.”

Jill Shepherd hung pictures of the temple, a poster of Captain Moroni, and her favorite spiritual quotes all over her walls to remind her of what was most important while she served in Afghanistan in 2003 and 2004. She also relied on prayer. “It wasn’t just morning and night,” she says. “It was all throughout the day and multiple times during the night. You’re always in communication with God.”

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Jill Shepherd prepares for takeoff in a Black Hawk.

One of the greatest ways Saints in the military stay close to the Lord is through attending Sunday services and partaking of the sacrament. “What was wonderful about being a Church member was I always had Sundays to look forward to,” Warren Price says. “No matter how horrible or hard the week had been, how hard the separation from the family, or any number of things that can cause difficulty—no matter how hard it got, we always had Sunday to look forward to. . . . Sometimes we had a building to meet in, sometimes we met in the tent, sometimes it was just around a cot or in the shade of one of the vehicles, but there was always the sacrament.”

“You really wanted to get the sacrament more than anything. It was so important, knowing that the next day you could be killed,” explains Henry McCain. “You might come in there all dirty; you might have just come off a mission; you’re sweaty, you’re dirty, you’re stinking. Nobody cared. You had your weapons with you, you might not have slept in some time, but you were there.”

And their strong testimonies helped them get through rough times. One of the hardest things, says Warren Price, was the people he couldn’t save. As a National Guard medic in Iraq, he watched some men die when their injuries were too great or he couldn’t get there in time. But a soldier’s death impacted everyone. “There are few things more moving than grown soldiers weeping openly and many of them despairing,” Price says. “But the knowledge that this is just temporary, that there is an overarching plan for our happiness and that God is watching over us, made it possible to get back up every day while we were over there and made it possible to do the difficult things that are required. Without the gospel, I doubt I could have survived.”

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Warren Price while serving in Iraq.

Called to Serve

And with the outpouring of blessings they received, Latter-day Saint soldiers in turn shared them—and the gospel—with others. 

Howard Bradshaw, who had served a mission in Northern California previous to being drafted into the Army, was the only Mormon in his unit. Immediately upon arriving in Korea in December 1951, he sought out and found LDS services to attend. Five other GIs and one Korean man comprised the branch, which met in a small room. Because of his upright example, Bradshaw’s commanders asked him to give talks in battalion meetings on clean living and morals to the other soldiers. He also taught English to the Koreans on Tuesday nights with a friend in his unit, who was not a member. Bradshaw invited all those he taught—American and Korean—to church. And they started coming. The first baptism took place in August 1952; five people were baptized in the China Sea. “We just kept working from there on, and by the time I went home in April of 1953, we’d probably baptized 50 Koreans in the China Sea, and lots of GIs,” Bradshaw says. “We just went from there and it was a tremendous success.” When he left, the Saints were meeting in a chapel that seated 300—and it was filled.

As a chaplain, Henry McCain would travel to the hospital to visit his MP (military police) soldiers and offer them a blessing. Inevitably, while he was there, a soldier from another unit would pipe up and say, “Hey, I’m LDS, can you give me a blessing?” And then someone else would recognize the peace and spiritual power that accompanied the blessings and would speak up as well: “I’m not MP or LDS, but can you give me a blessing, too?” There were times when McCain would give a dozen blessings in just half an hour. “That was the first time I ever ran out of oil,” he says—something that happened on more than one occasion.

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Henry McCain leads a group of soldiers in prayer.

Near the end of her stay in Afghanistan, Jill Shepherd witnessed a symbolic illustration of the impact the soldiers could have in spreading the gospel—even in a country where proselytizing was forbidden. A bunch of soldiers put the belongings they had collected during their deployment—including an Arabic Book of Mormon—in a box for people of a nearby village to claim and then left to attend to other responsibilities. When they returned and found the box empty, they looked around to see who had taken the Book of Mormon. They saw an old man reading it—“sitting on the only water source, a living well, in the village. And just the story and the impact of that message—that he was reading the word of God and just drinking from that while on the fountain—what an incredible thing that was to see.”

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