6 stories that highlight how Latter-day Saints are serving God and country

Memorial Day is on Monday, May 27, and many Americans will observe the holiday by visiting cemeteries or memorials and holding family gatherings in remembrance of fallen servicemen and deceased relatives. These six stories by Church News writer Jason Swensen highlight what some Church members involved in military service are doing to serve their God and country amidst trial.

1. Latter-day Saint cadets get one-of-a-kind training at West Point — May 17, 2019
Elder Lance B. Wickman and West Point cadet during May 4, 2019, gathering at the United States Military Academy in West Point, New York.
Elder Lance B. Wickman and West Point cadet during May 4, 2019, gathering at the United States Military Academy in West Point, New York.

Cadets and civilians from several states and varied backgrounds gathered May 4, 2019, for a Young Single Adult conference at the United States Military Academy. Dubbed “A Day of West Point,” the YSA gathering was initiated and organized primarily by Latter-day Saint cadets at the Academy.

Elder Lance B. Wickman — an emeritus General Authority Seventy, Vietnam War veteran and the Church’s general counsel — shared the conference keynote remarks at the Eisenhower Hall Ballroom.

The decorated retired Army officer focused his counsel to both the civilian and cadets YSAs on seeking and receiving personal revelation to bless and impact others. He focused his remarks on personal worthiness, correctly asking for the Lord’s help and learning “how to recognize the promptings of the Spirit when they come.”

2. BYU pitcher-turned-Army general says military makes him a better Latter-day Saint — May 15, 2019
U.S. Army Brig. Gen. William D. "Hank" Taylor, left, works with fellow soldiers in the field.
U.S. Army Brig. Gen. William D. “Hank” Taylor, left, works with fellow soldiers in the field.

Growing up, U.S. Army Brig. Gen. William D. “Hank” Taylor thought of himself as an athlete, not a future one-star general.

He played baseball at BYU and fondly recalled his Cougar career on the diamond as outstandingly-mediocre. But with mentorship from his BYU coaches who taught him to never give up, Taylor joined the Army National Guard.

Taylor participated in BYU’s ROTC program and BYU’s undergraduate and graduate programs, coached baseball and then was commissioned as a second lieutenant in 1990. He even taught at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, New York.

Conversely, Taylor said serving in the military has made him a better Latter-day Saint.

“We move around a lot — and wherever we go, there are opportunities to serve in the Church. … Wherever I have been, I have had the opportunity to grow spiritually because I’ve had opportunities to serve.”

Taylor is commander of the U.S. Army Operational Test Command in Fort Hood, Texas.

3. How being injured in the Brussels bombing has helped this returned missionary share the gospel in the Naval Academy — January 3, 2019

Recent United States Naval Academy graduate Mason Wells was one of four full-time missionaries injured in the March 22, 2016, Brussels airport terrorist attack. The young elder suffered serious injuries in the explosion, spent months in the hospital and endured multiple surgeries and medical procedures.

In speaking about his time in the France Paris Mission, he said that it “gave me the confidence and understanding that I can do anything with the Lord’s help.”

Wells marked a key moment in his recovery in the summer of 2017 when he reported for Induction Day at the Naval Academy, fulfilling a promise he made himself years earlier. Many of his relatives had served in the military, and he was determined to also wear his country’s uniform.

Wells’ major was in aerospace engineering and he plans to become a U.S. Marine Corps aviator. He’s learned military life is far different from missionary life. But in proven missionary-form, he relies upon prayer and testimony to overcome life’s inevitable challenges.

United States Military Academy Midshipman Mason Wells plans to become a military aviator following graduation.
United States Military Academy Midshipman Mason Wells plans to become a military aviator following graduation.
4. How being struck by lightning is still shaping this man's life 20 years later —December 11, 2018

On Sept. 30, 1998, 12-year-old A.J. Edwards and his Little League football team in Inkom, Idaho, were on the field scrimmaging. Seemingly out of nowhere, a bolt of lightning struck A.J., knocking him unconscious and near death.

“It was a long recovery,” Edwards said. “I had to learn how to walk and talk again. It was pretty intense.”

Edwards decided in the grueling months after the lightning strike that he would never let another define his limits.

“One of the reasons I joined the military was to try to be an example for others,” he said. “I work with some of the greatest people I’ve ever met. It’s been a unique blessing.”

Joining the military wasn’t easy for Edwards. Because of his lightning-related injuries he had to petition for several medical waivers while demonstrating he was physically fit for service.

Edwards received an officer’s commission by completing the Army ROTC program at Brigham Young University–Idaho. Now a captain, he serves as an armor officer working with tanks.

5. Latter-day Saint soldier helps nab Saddam — January 23, 2004

Harold Engstrom, a returned missionary and U.S. Army corporal attached to the 104th Military Intelligence Battalion, played a pivotal role in the December 2003 capture of Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein.

At 36 years-old, Engstrom, along with his analysis partner, Lt. Angela Santana, developed a chart identifying Hussein's relatives, associates and henchmen. The data included in the chart was then reportedly used to apprehend leaders of Iraqi resistance cells and eventually led U.S. troops to the hiding hole of Saddam himself.

Working with chart information, U.S. forces nabbed a middle-aged man who would lead them to Hussein a day later, according to the Wall Street Journal. Engstrom and Lt. Santana were working inside a military operations center in Tikrit when news arrived of Hussein's capture.

"Everyone jumped up, but I just took off my radio headphones, sat back, put my hands behind my head and let out a long sigh of relief," Engstrom told the Church News via e-mail from Iraq.

6. Latter-day Saint chaplains: Shepherding those in uniform and beyond — January 23, 2018

The job requirements and duties of each assignment may vary, but a Church-sponsored chaplain’s basic charge is the same: to serve people of all faiths by helping them meet their spiritual needs, especially during difficult times.

As a U.S. Air Force chaplain, Lt. Col. Kleet Barclay, is sometimes assigned to visit military families and inform them that their son, daughter, parent or spouse has died.

You need to have the faith that God will guide you through it.

No two death notifications are alike, he said. Each has unique circumstances and prompts unique reactions. And each demands different words of counsel and spiritual guidance. That’s when prayer becomes the chaplain’s most trusted friend and resource.

“You need to have the faith that God will guide you through it,” he said.

Barclay is one of 102 Church-endorsed military chaplains serving in the U.S. Army, Air Force or Navy. The Church also endorses another 122 non-military chaplains serving in a variety of locales — including hospitals, police and fire departments, universities, prisons and non-governmental organizations such as the Boy Scouts and private relief organizations.

Several years ago, Debra Hampton, a member of the Church, learned of the chaplain program at the Veterans Affairs hospital in Salt Lake City. She received the proper schooling and training and is now a non-military chaplain at Salt Lake Regional Medical Center.

“It’s important for a patient and their loved ones, during difficult times, to have access to someone who can bring hope, faith and comfort,” Hampton said.