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Saints at War: Vietnam vets honored

Conference offers perspective on Vietnam War history

"Veterans Day is a day of remembrance. It is a day to remember all veterans who have served in American wars. All have sacrificed. Some have sacrificed profoundly," said Elder Lance B. Wickman, an emeritus member of the First Quorum of the Seventy, in his keynote address given at the third "Saints at War" conference held in the BYU Conference Center on Friday, Nov. 11. His remarks were entitled "The Wall: Reflections on the Legacy of Vietnam." In the United States, Nov. 11 was observed as Armistice Day to commemorate when the allied forces and Germany signed an armistice during the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month in 1918 at the end of World War I. In 1954, U.S. Congress changed the name to Veteran's Day to honor American veterans of all wars.

Elder Lance B. Wickman, First Quorum of the Seventy, gives his keynote speech during Saints at War, a special conference honoring LDS veterans and their families, in the BYU Conference Center in Provo on Friday, Nov. 11, 2011.
Elder Lance B. Wickman, First Quorum of the Seventy, gives his keynote speech during Saints at War, a special conference honoring LDS veterans and their families, in the BYU Conference Center in Provo on Friday, Nov. 11, 2011. Photo: Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

"So, with the turning of the seasons we gather each year on the eleventh of November to remember. To remember and to pay our respects to those who have served and especially to those who have fallen," Elder Wickman said.

Elder Wickman's remarks were mainly focused on those who fell while serving in Vietnam.

He recalled the day Vietnam went from the back pages of newspapers and other periodicals and became a household word and, for thousands of American men, including him, became something that changed their lives.

Memorabilia, including these sacrament cups made of shell casings, were on display at the Saints at War conference.
Memorabilia, including these sacrament cups made of shell casings, were on display at the Saints at War conference. Photo: Kristin Murphy, Deseret News
Flags and photographs on display at the conference Nov. 11, 2011. The flag held in the base is accompanied with the a verse found in Alma 60:36, "I seek not for honor of the world, but for the glory of my God, and the freedom and welfare of my country."
Flags and photographs on display at the conference Nov. 11, 2011. The flag held in the base is accompanied with the a verse found in Alma 60:36, "I seek not for honor of the world, but for the glory of my God, and the freedom and welfare of my country." Photo: Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

He commented that individuals cannot "visit the Vietnam Veteran's Memorial in Washington D.C. without being intensely moved."

The wall can be a spiritual and yet imposing place, he said. It is a monument but not one that is of statues of soldiers or images of commanders on horses.

"The wall is simply a list of names, but it is no ordinary list. Panel after panel of names. Column upon column. Row upon row of names. At present 58,267 names," he said.

Virgil Kovalenko offers his remarks about Elder Marion D. Hanks to the audience before presenting Sister Maxine Hanks and two of her children with a plaque on behalf of the Saints at War project.
Virgil Kovalenko offers his remarks about Elder Marion D. Hanks to the audience before presenting Sister Maxine Hanks and two of her children with a plaque on behalf of the Saints at War project. Photo: Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

Further, he noted there is a "serenity" and a "deep sense of nobility" surrounding the Wall.

"Recognizing name after name after name of those who were once comrades in arms, one is struck by the spirit of sacrifice, of consecration that the wall represents," he said.

He recounted the history of America's war involvement leading up to the war in Vietnam and the period in history in which it occurred. He then went on to explain some of the more contemporary views of the war.

Frank Clawson, director of LDS Military Relations and a retired U.S. Air Force colonel, wipes a tear from his eye while introducing and sharing a story about Elder Lance B. Wickman, an emeritus member of the First Quorum of the Seventy.
Frank Clawson, director of LDS Military Relations and a retired U.S. Air Force colonel, wipes a tear from his eye while introducing and sharing a story about Elder Lance B. Wickman, an emeritus member of the First Quorum of the Seventy. Photo: Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

"Largely forgotten in this hue and cry has been the soldier, the veteran, who has borne the burden of the battle and who now, in body, mind and even soul, bears the scars. His country called. He answered. He fought. He suffered. And, in many cases, he suffers still," he said.

Memorabilia, including these sacrament cups made of shell casings, were on display at the Saints at War conference.
Memorabilia, including these sacrament cups made of shell casings, were on display at the Saints at War conference. Photo: Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

He mentioned that "no one can say for sure" if the passage of time can answer the question of whether or not the war was necessary or if the view of it will change,

"It is enough today, my dear brothers and sisters, on this Veteran's Day, where we honor those living and dead who fought in Vietnam, to offer the perspective that the cause was worth it. And undertaken in the best interest of our country, as seen by the nation's leaders in the challenging crucible of that perplexing time.

Nona Mower, left, talks with Virgil Kovalenko and Lela Kovalenko, right, after the keynote address given at the Saints at War conference Nov. 11.
Nona Mower, left, talks with Virgil Kovalenko and Lela Kovalenko, right, after the keynote address given at the Saints at War conference Nov. 11. Photo: Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

"Those who served, those who fought, and especially those who died were willing to offer themselves in that crucible in order that America remain true to its lodestar of liberty and justice for all. Nobler than feats of bravery under fire is the quiet valor of those who stepped forward when the country called. Even as many others decry the endeavor. Regardless of the eventual political judgments about the war, the nobility of that response by these citizen soldiers, I believe, is Vietnam's legacy to the nation," Elder Wickman said.

Elder Lance B. Wickman, First Quorum of the Seventy, gives his keynote speech during Saints at War, a special conference honoring LDS veterans and their families, at the BYU Conference Center in Provo on Friday, Nov. 11, 2011.
Elder Lance B. Wickman, First Quorum of the Seventy, gives his keynote speech during Saints at War, a special conference honoring LDS veterans and their families, at the BYU Conference Center in Provo on Friday, Nov. 11, 2011. Photo: Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

He shared a personal experience in which he was in Vietnam in October of 1966 in the jungle. During a battalion operation he found out Elder Gordon B. Hinckley, who at the time was a member of the Quorum of the Twelve, would be visiting Vietnam. Elder Hinckley was going to hold meetings with Latter-day Saint servicemen. There were two others in Elder Wickman's battalion who were members of the Church.

He and the two other members caught rides on helicopters to make it to the meeting in Saigon. The meeting was held Oct. 30, 1966. Elder Marion D. Hanks of the Seventy and President Keith E. Garner of the Southern Far East Mission accompanied Elder Hinckley.

Elder Wickman recalled that Elder Hinckley said that when he was leaving Salt Lake City, President David O. McKay called him into his office and told him that if he felt so impressed, he was authorized to dedicate Vietnam for the preaching of the gospel. At that meeting in Saigon Elder Hinckley said, "I feel so impressed."

Elder Wickman shared that he remembered that in the midst of the war, the Lord had found a way to do His work.

He then spoke of some of the connections and friendships that have developed between the United States and Vietnam since the war and also the relations between the Church and the Vietnamese government.

He shared that his "glimpse of heaven" while there was found in the Book of Mormon because he was able to appreciate the war chapters and he said that they had been written for him and "for every other Mormon soldier who would be drawn into the wars of the last days."

He began to close, saying, " ... in my case, I treasure it and would not trade those defining experiences that have had the convincing power of God, His love and the reality of the Restoration. My prayer, my brethren, is that as each of us peers into the rear wheel of time, upon our own customized Vietnam experience, [that] he may seek ... nuggets of truth, testimony and tender mercies that are his own personal legacy."

"I appreciated his speech," said Bonnie Fullmer from the Middleton 2nd Ward, Middleton Idaho Stake. "It was a hard time. But we survived. ... It has helped me heal today and it has been a long time. ... It was very peaceful and comforting."

Her husband agreed.

"It was a wonderful speech. It really hit home," said Frank J. Fullmer, who is now a retired U.S. Air Force lieutenant colonel.

Elder Larry Chesley, a retired lieutenant colonel and a former Vietnam prisoner of war, also enjoyed the address.

"I thought it was one of the most spiritual, patriotic speeches I've ever heard. He just did such a good job of tying everything together and making it meaningful to us who have already served, but not forgetting those who had given their all," said Elder Chesley, a member from the Crismon Ward, Queen Creek Arizona North Stake. He and his wife, Judith, are serving in the Texas San Antonio Mission, assigned to Lackland Airforce Base.

Elder Chesley also introduced the documentary that was shown during the final session of the conference.

Don Norton, an oral historian whose focus is on veterans and is also from the Orem 3rd Ward, Orem Utah Stake, also felt Elder Wickman's remarks were well done.

"[They] were incredibly articulate and right on target," Brother Norton said. "He was able to say what needed to be said in spite of the horrific dimension of it all. And that was not an easy thing to do."

Frank Thomas, an army artist and Church member, presented Elder Wickman with a picture.

"It represents everything that matters by way of our nation. The Constitution of the United States, superimposed over it, portraits of those who have served in America's wars," Elder Wickman said of the picture.

Brother Thomas' art was also displayed along with other memorabilia at the conference.

Frank Clawson, director of Military Relations for the Church and a retired colonel of the U.S. Air Force, introduced Elder Wickman.

Sister Maxine Hanks, the wife of late Elder Marion D. Hanks, an emeritus General Authority, and her daughter, Susan, and son, Richard, were present at the conference to accept a plaque from the Saints at War project. Elder Hanks had been present at the previous two conferences held by the Saints at War project. He died Aug. 5, 2011.

The keynote address was followed by breakout sessions, a luncheon for the participants and a premiere showing of the BYU documentary, "Saints at War: Vietnam."

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