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Saints at War

Project preserves WWII experiences of Latter-day Saints

Gathered for the first Saints at War conference at BYU Nov. 10, LDS World War II veterans shared experiences. They recalled common battles, remembered fallen comrades and spoke of the faith that sustained them through the conflict that changed their lives.

"We found the LDS soldier had a unique spiritual experience in war. They all testify of it. They say, 'Heavenly Father was there with me,' " said Dennis Wright, a BYU professor of Church history who has been working with Robert C. Freeman for the past two years to preserve experiences of LDS WWII veterans. (Please see story on Saints at War project on page 10.)

This spiritual component was evident in servicemen and women who served both the Allied and Axis nations. And despite their deep faith that God would protect those who lived His gospel, LDS soldiers were also realistic enough to know that they could have been the next to die, Brother Wright said.

"These men and women didn't set aside their religious convictions even though they were carrying rifles and machine guns. They still found time to read their scriptures, take the sacrament, pray and share the gospel with others," he explained. "In the most trying of circumstances their spiritual life did not end; in fact it became a sustaining force."

Before entering the European Theater, Leo Hymas received a Book of Mormon from his bishop. "I promised him I would read it or try to," he said.

On a dark night, Brother Hymas looked out over a convoy of ships that was carrying him to war. "I wondered what was going to happen to me. What about my friends. . . . I began to cry. I prayed to my Heavenly Father and then opened the Book of Mormon."

In 3 Nephi he read about the Savior. "I made up my mind that I would be a good soldier. I knew in my mind that everything my parents taught me was true. Jesus was my Savior. God loved me."

In addition to written and verbal accounts of World War II veterans, the BYU Saints at War archive i
In addition to written and verbal accounts of World War II veterans, the BYU Saints at War archive includes other war memorabilia, such as a photograph of Alvin R. Carlson with a little girl in Italy. | Historic photo courtesy BYU Saints at War archive

Later Brother Hymas was one of the first soldiers to cut the wires and enter a German concentration camp during the liberation. He saw the horror of what had happened there. Sometimes he wondered how he found the strength to make it through the war. Then he learned that his mother, Ireta Richards Hymas, fasted for him every Sunday while he was gone.

As a 16-year-old member of the Church, Artur Schwiermann was drafted into the German Army and trained to serve in an antiaircraft unit. During his time in the military, he never met another member of the Church and never had the chance to attend a Church meeting.

When the war ended Brother Schwiermann was placed in a Soviet prison camp. Well water in the camp was typhoid infested and used by the Russians only for laundry. Instead of water, the prisoners received coffee.

The young soldier said he was determined to follow the Word of Wisdom, and prayed for help: "I said, 'Lord, I will do my part, I hope you will do your part.' " Then every night, "I filled my container with typhoid infested water."

"The only thing that kept me going was the faith that I had," said Brother Schwiermann, who weighed 145 pounds when he entered the camp and 95 pounds six months later.

Roy Tsuya was baptized Nov. 16, 1941 — just three weeks before Pearl Harbor. Weeks later a Church missionary asked Brother Tsuya if he planned to volunteer for the U.S. Army. When Brother Tsuya replied that the Church didn't believe in fighting, the missionary replied: "Of course we believe in fighting for our country; you go ahead and sign up."

In the Army, Brother Tsuya had the opportunity to share the gospel.

On one occasion a chaplain asked the soldier about the Church. Brother Tsuya, who was young in the gospel and worried about his knowledge of Church doctrine, asked the chaplain a question in return.

FOR CHURCH NEWS STORY ON LDS VETERANS CONFERENCE AT BYU, SATURDAY, NOVEMBER 10, 2001. SARA JANE HAS
FOR CHURCH NEWS STORY ON LDS VETERANS CONFERENCE AT BYU, SATURDAY, NOVEMBER 10, 2001. SARA JANE HAS INDENT INFO. PHOTO/JOHANNA WORKMAN | Photo by Johanna Workman

"Do you believe you are a member of the true Church of God?" the young Latter-day Saint questioned. The chaplain confessed he did not.

"I know my Church is true," Brother Tsuya responded.

An American Church member of Japanese descent, Arthur Nishimo was fighting for more than the United States; he was fighting to prove his American loyalty. In the face of prejudice and bigotry, he recalled the Latter-day Saints drawing strength from each other, as well as from the Lord.

"There were times we had to remind ourselves that we were still Mormon boys," he said. "In combat you can be influenced very easily to have hatred in your hearts. But as you know innocent hatred can be a real cancer for our souls."

To fight this hatred he met as often as possible with other Church members. "We would go into the corn fields or tents and exercise our priesthood by having the sacrament. We had to keep ourselves strong."

E-Mail: sarah@desnews.com

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