Elder Mervyn B. Arnold was named after his ancestor, Mervyn Sharp Bennion, who was the captain of the U.S.S. West Virginia in Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941.
When the ship was attacked by Japanese war planes, Captain Bennion was hit by shrapnel and knew he was dying; despite that, he only allowed his wound to receive minimal care "and refused to be attended to further while there was work to be done."
Elder Arnold, a General Authority Seventy, grew emotional recounting how Captain Bennion eventually told his crew to leave him and save themselves.
"From another battleship a crowd of men, most of them Mervyn's men, watched the lone, white-clad figure lying on the navigation bridge of the ship," Elder Arnold said. "The grandeur of this heroic death scene as it unfolded profoundly moved the men of the stricken fleet."
The story was part of Elder Arnold's address at the Days of '47 Sunrise Service, which began at 7 a.m. in the Assembly Hall on Temple Square. Despite the early hour, people turned out to enjoy a flag ceremony, musical numbers and Elder Arnold's Pioneer Day address, in which he shared stories of his ancestors that demonstrated "faith in God, devotion to family, loyalty to church and country, hard work, service to others, courage in adversity, personal integrity and unyielding determination."
The address created a feeling of reverence and gratitude toward pioneer forebears, helping the modern audience recognize ways that pioneer values are applicable today.
For example, Elder Arnold's great-great-grandmother, Emily Ellen Swain, demonstrated courage in adversity by crossing the plains at the age of 10 without any other family members, he said.
Discouraged and exhausted, she felt no one would care if she simply lay down and didn't go on; however, that's when she saw an abandoned ox by the side of the trail, and "a feeling of friendship and understanding sprang up between them almost immediately." The ox was her companion for the remainder of the journey to the Salt Lake Valley, helping Emily forget her discouragements and even her sore, bare feet.
Elder Arnold also shared a story of a pioneer family not connected to his family tree. Maria Normington traveled with the Martin Handcart company, where she suffered starvation and exposure, and where she lost her husband and two of their children on the trail.
Despite this, when her feet were so frozen she could not walk, she crawled on her hands and knees; when her hands were so frozen she could not use them, she crawled on her elbows. Years later, she still had scars from these experiences.
However, "Maria was never heard to censure anyone for her trials, nor complain because her lot was hard," Elder Arnold said. "She was cheerful and faithful throughout her life and felt that the gospel of Jesus Christ, for which she had endured so much, was the most glorious of all blessings."
"This is a sacred moment," Elder Arnold added. "Thank you for coming. … Thank you for giving your all."
The service also included the Posting of the Colors by the Mormon Battalion Association and multiple musical numbers by the Salt Lake Valley Combined Institute Choir, directed by Will Hatch and Rick Decker.
Cheryl R. Searle, President of the International Society of the Daughters of Utah Pioneers, presented the 2018 Days of '47 Royalty, who sat on the stand in matching purple dresses. Queen Lauren Bell, who has received classical training in opera and musical theater, sang an arrangement of "Amazing Grace" which included a verse in Korean, a nod to her LDS mission in Seoul, South Korea.
Bell said the Sunrise Service was "extremely spiritual," which differs from the other typically civic events in which the Days of '47 Royalty participate; she also said the most important takeaway of the service was the importance of remembering the pioneers' contributions.
"Remember their legacy, remember their stories and keep telling them so that we can gain the strength and the inspiration," she said.
Ethan Thomas, 17, Henry Thomas, 12, and Isaac Birdsall, 14, all from Bountiful, also attended the service and came dressed in clothes from their recent Pioneer Trek to walk in the Pioneer Day parade. Isaac and Ethan both said it's important to celebrate Pioneer Day in order to remember pioneers and their sacrifices.
Henry particularly enjoyed the story of Maria Normington and how it showed "just how dedicated she was to get to Zion." Ethan said that kind of dedication is what they would represent while walking in the parade.
"Their journey was hard and it was a spiritual thing for them, so that's what we're going to try to convey when we walk," he said.
Carolyn Fleming, who lives in Salt Lake City, attended the service and said she loved coming because "it's a great way to honor our past and look forward to the future."
"We remember those that have gone before us because we can't be who we are without what has taken place before us," she said. "As we look back and remember the past… hopefully we can build upon that foundation."