Pres. Hinckley urges upholding of motto: 'in God we trust'

Expressing concern that people "are forsaking the Almighty," and voicing a fear "that He may forsake us," President Gordon B. Hinckley delivered the keynote address at the American Legion Patriotic Religious Service on Temple Square Sunday morning, Sept. 1.

Solemn and colorful, reverent and patriotic. Such was the atmosphere in the Tabernacle where President Hinckley addressed some 6,000 people - part of the estimated 20,000 American military veterans and family members who gathered in Salt Lake City Aug. 31-Sept. 5 for the 78th national convention.Several emotional moments were evident during the service, among them: the singing of the Battle Hymn of the Republic by the Tabernacle Choir and the singing of the National Anthem by the choir and congregation, the placing of two memorial wreaths on each side of the podium area, a bugler playing "Taps," and a moment for silent meditation in tribute to those who gave their lives while serving their country. Many in the congregation wiped tears from their eyes during these moments while some others seemed to struggle to retain their composure.

The program was conducted by James C. McKee, a member of the Ensign Peak Ward, Salt Lake Stake, who is a past national chaplain of the American Legion. George Wahlen of the Roy (Utah) 10th Ward, who received the Congressional Medal of Honor for heroism after rescuing 14 wounded soldiers at the World War II battle of Iwo Jima, led the congregation in the Pledge of Allegiance. Joseph E. Reynolds, a Catholic clergyman from Caldwell, Texas, and current national chaplain, delivered the concluding "memorial message."

In his speech, President Hinckley acknowledged the veterans for what they have done, particularly during times of war, and thanked and congratulated them for "the vast good" they continue to do, particularly in the realms of community service and programs for youth. He noted that the American Legion is second only to the Church in sponsoring the Boy Scouts of America. Much of the American Legion's work, he said, is unsung and unheralded.

President Hinckley spoke of U.S. coinage and currency, which bear the national motto, "In God We Trust."

"I submit that this is the foundation upon which this nation was established, an unequivocal trust in the power of the Almighty to guide and defend us," he said.

President Hinckley spoke of prayer, and observed that American citizens once gathered their families for daily prayer. "They remembered before Deity this nation and its leaders," he said. "I venture to say that when you were involved in terrible and bloody battles, on some foreign front, your loved ones at home were on their knees, pleading for the protection of the Almighty to be upon you."

Of the disappearance of family prayer from much of society, President Hinckley asked: "Are we forgetting the Almighty, who in times of last resort, is our greatest strength?"

He referred to the Pledge of Allegiance to the flag of the United States, which was recited at the beginning of the program in the Tabernacle. "We said, . . . one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.' I hope, I pray that we will never forget that we are a nation under God and that with the strength which comes from Him, we will remainindivisible, with liberty and justice for all.' "

President Hinckley called attention to the third verse of the National Anthem, in which is the proclamation, "In God is our trust."

He observed that, in recent years, the Boy Scouts of America has been challenged in the courts because of the language in the Scout oath, which is, "On my honor, I will do my best, to do my duty to God, and my country."

He said that oaths of office and oaths in other legal procedures have concluded with the phrase, "So help me God." He referred to a Wall Street Journal report that the state of New Jersey has passed a law banishing the mention of God from state courtroom oaths.

"Without acknowledgment of Deity, without recognition of the Almighty as the ruling power of the universe, the all-important element of personal and national accountability shrinks and dies," President Hinckley said. "I am satisfied that this is one of the reasons for the great host of social problems with which we deal these days.

"Teen pregnancy, abandoned families, failure to recognize the property and rights of others, and many other problems, have resulted, in substantial part at least, from failure to recognize that there is a God to whom someday each of us must give an accounting. . . .

"Can anyone doubt that there is a sickness in our society today? We cannot build prisons fast enough to accommodate the need. We have in this nation more than a million six hundred thousand people in prison. The number is constantly growing. Our people are forsaking the Almighty, and I fear He may forsake us. We are closing the door against the God whose sons and daughters we are."

Referring to the U.S. Constitution as "the umbrella under which our liberties are guaranteed," President Hinckley quoted William E. Gladstone, a 19th century British statesman and prime minister, who said: "The American Constitution is the most wonderful work ever struck off at a given time by the brain and purpose of man."

President Hinckley added, "This remarkable document is the keystone of our national life. It is my faith and conviction that it came not alone of the brain and purpose of man,' but of the inspiration of the Almighty. This charter, with its Bill of Rights, sets forth the great concepts which have made of this a mighty nation, . . . a nation founded by men who were raised up by the Almightyunto this very purpose.' "

With emotion that caused him to pause several seconds, President Hinckley mentioned his eldest brother, Stanford, killed in World War II and buried in an American military cemetery in France. "As I have stood before the cross that marks his grave, I have thanked the God of heaven for the cause for which he died, for the great and eternal concepts of human dignity, for the precious boon of liberty, for freedom to worship, to speak, to assemble, which, I believe are the gifts of a beneficent providence, codified in the language of our national charter."

In his address, the Rev. Reynolds commented on "the struggle to protect the American flag from desecration."

He commented also on a conversation in which a friend observed that many of the problems American citizens are experiencing can be traced to the fact that, for many, war "is just some abstract proposition in which they never expect to participate" and "that wars are events of the past they have studied . . . and believe were fought by old men and old women."

This, he emphasized, is not true, "for when a nation goes to war, all its people must make sacrifices, for this is a time when many grow old within short hours of combat. . . . This is a time when children become fatherless or motherless, and families bereaved. . . . This is the cold hard fact and the totally absurd reality of war: It is all a nation's people who fight their wars."

Further, he said that while honoring the memories of those who made the supreme sacrifice for their nation, veterans of today must remember that they have a duty that did not end when they went home and put their uniforms in their closets.

The chaplain said: "We veterans and all Americans are linked together, not by skin color or gender or religious belief or even political ideology, but by the spirit of a duty to a higher cause than self, a spirit that consumes the heart and soul and mind of God-fearing, freedom-loving people who see hunger and seek to feed it, who see disease and seek to cure it, who see oppression and seek to end it, and who see injustice inflicted upon the defenseless and seek to correct it, and who recognize evil for what it is and are willing to do whatever it takes to erase it."

Patriotic and religious music by the Tabernacle Choir added to the occasion's aural ambience. Directed by Jerold Ottley and associate director Craig Jessop and accompanied by Tabernacle organist Clay Christiansen, the choir performed a medley of patriotic selections, as well as "When I Survey the Wondrous Cross" and "Psalm 148." The musical highlight came when the choir sang "The Battle Hymn of the Republic." A seemingly spell-binding stillness reigned over the congregation until the choir sang the last verse. When directed to join in on the chorus, members of the congregation spontaneously rose to their feet to sing with the choir.

A parade of 80 American flags carried by young women and 50 state flags held aloft by young men brought a visual feast to the gathering.

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