During Elder L. Tom Perry’s visit to Guam in early December 2010, he visited the island of Saipan where he had spent a year serving in the U.S. Marine Corps during WWII. During his recent visit, he was recognized for his wartime service, receiving a certificate and commemorative medallion at the Saipan/CNMI American Memorial Park.
While there he reflected on the memories of his fallen comrades, and recalled the day troops landed on the beaches near Garapan. “It was a terrible time, but it is now a place of peace and beauty,” Elder Perry said. He also recalled the first chapel on Saipan, built by him and his fellow servicemen near Aslito/Isley Airfield.
Following is part of an account about his time on Saipan, shared by Elder Perry at BYU-Hawaii commencement exercises on Dec. 17, 2010:
“After the business of the stake creation was over, I had to make a side trip to Saipan. We spent a day on this now beautiful little island. Being again on the island brought back so many memories. I would like to tell you my most pleasant memory of the time I spent on Saipan.
“Following the invasion of Saipan, and the securing of that island, except for an occasional air raid, life was rather normal. There were a good number of LDS men on the island from either the Air Force, the Seabees (construction battalions of the U.S. Navy) or, of course, the Marines. We obtained permission from the island chaplain to erect a tent to hold our Church services. It served us well until the infrequent air raids caused several holes to develop.
“As the days on the island became months we noticed the attendance at our Sunday services started to diminish. The members started drifting off into other activities. The boredom of waiting around for the next invasion started to wear on our minds. I had been blessed to have stationed on the island with me the first missionary companion I served with in the mission field…. We decided what we needed was an activity to unite the servicemen who were members of the Church. Since the tent had several holes, and the tropical rains were rather frequent, it was not a conducive place for our worship services.
“We decided we needed a chapel to hold our meetings. We called our group together and proposed the idea. It was a pretty outlandish proposal. We had no experience, no tools, and no materials, but we knew a group of Mormon priesthood holders working together with purpose and in unity could accomplish anything.
“From the different branches of the service — the Marines, the Air Force and the Seabees — we set about to gather the needed materials. We were surprised with the response we received. The Seabees supplied the tools we needed, and the Marines and Air Force contributed most of the building materials. Now the problem was designing the chapel. We finally found one Marine who had helped his dad build a barn. We made him the design and construction supervisor.
“Each evening after our day’s duty was over, we would go to the construction site. As we began our work, truck after truck would arrive, bringing other men anxious and ready to work. Day by day, one nail at a time, a beautiful little chapel began to rise. More impressive than the building itself was what working together did for the spirits of the servicemen. Less-active members and some non-members joined in the project. Our Church services had a renewed spirit and increased attendance. One evening, as we were just about to finish the roof, the whole harbor came alive with tracers being shot through the air. …Word soon came via radio that the war was over. We had a short celebration and then returned to work on the chapel.
“We completed our chapel and held our dedication on a beautiful Sunday evening. We learned again that priesthood holders working together with purpose and in unity could accomplish anything. The next day we were aboard a ship heading for Japan.
“We were only able to hold one Church service in our chapel, but the effort was well worth the energy we put into its construction. More impressive than the building, itself, was the number our building project had brought back into activity. …Pounding nails on a roof had a special way of strengthening our brotherhood.”