In honor of Veterans Day, we would like to share two spiritual experiences President Nelson had while serving as a surgeon during the Korean War.
When the United States became entangled in the Korean War, the Surgeon General’s Office decided to make the most of Doctor Nelson’s obligated military duty by selecting him to form a surgical research unit at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center.
After uprooting their family and just days after the birth of their second child, plans changed for First Lieutenant Nelson, who was transferred into active duty. During that summer of 1951, President Nelson toured South Korea, including the battlefront, visiting mobile army surgical hospital units and suggesting improvements.
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During this time, President Nelson came face to face with life-threatening danger, paralyzing fear, crippling handicaps, pain, death, heartbreak, disease, and those who lost limbs, lost their innocence, and lost hope. No doubt President Nelson’s kindness and compassion helped heal and uplift those suffering in such terrible conditions, even as his own empathy grew.
In one instance, President Nelson told the story of meeting a young LDS soldier in a hospital—one who helped him understand the true breadth of faith:
"As I came to one mobile army surgical hospital one of the doctors who knew I was a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints asked me if I would be willing to see a Mormon boy who'd been hit in the spine with a missile. He was a paraplegic; wouldn't ever use his legs again and so as I was introduced to this young man, he could see that I didn't know what to say. I greeted him and expressed condolences and love as best I could and he said, 'Oh don't worry about me, Brother Nelson. I know why I am here. And I don't use my legs to work out my salvation. I do that with my faith.'
"I learned a lot from that young man. He was under age. He was not even old enough to be an elder, but there he was with great faith facing a future of inability to use his lower extremities. I often wonder what ever happened to that wonderful young man who taught me a lot about faith" (Saints at War: Korea and Vietnam, pages 120-121).
President Nelson also had the opportunity to share the gospel during the Korean War. In 1951, President Nelson worked closely with a nurse named Jane S. Poole at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C. During this time, Poole noticed that there was something that made President Nelson different from the other surgeons she worked with during the war. Curious, Poole one day asked President Nelson what Latter-day Saints believe and began learning about the gospel.
"'She was like a sponge craving water,' Russell recalled. 'She wanted to know more and more, so I gradually introduced more of the doctrine and concepts of the Church and suggested reading materials for her. It wasn't long before she had converted herself and I had the privilege of baptizing her.' Jane was a divorced mother with a young son, George, who later served a mission in Australia. Jane has remained true and faithful, periodically writing the Nelsons thank-you notes during the succeeding fifty years16 (Spencer J. Condie Russell M. Nelson: Father, Surgeon, Apostle).
Images from Russell M. Nelson: Father, Surgeon, Apostle
16. Russell M. Nelson, From Heart to Heart (Salt Lake City: Russell M. Nelson, 1979); interview by author.
In Russell M. Nelson: Father, Surgeon, Apostle, readers are treated to an intimate portrayal that will help us come to know Elder Nelson as a man of testimony, a dedicated husband and father of ten, and a servant whose principal desire since his youth has been to serve God's children.