Saints at War
Joe J. Christensen: Say Another Prayer

Editors Note: This story is excerpted from Saints at War: Korea and Vietnam
Joe was admitted into the first class of advanced Air Force ROTC students at Brigham Young University, and thereafter served in the U.S. Air Force during the Korean War from July 1953 to July 1955. He served in the Tactical Air Command at Charleston Air Force Base as a personnel officer and a base exchange officer. Joe achieved the rank of captain in the Air Force, and later became a General Authority in the Church.

Howard [Carroll] was the young, single, clean-cut, newly commissioned lieutenant who was assigned to succeed me as BX [base exchange] officer. To learn the job, he came to work with me about two months before I was to be released from active duty. Barbara and I invited him to our home for a get-acquainted dinner and after we had taken him back to the BOQ (bachelor officers’ quarters) we almost simultaneously commented, “Howard would make a great member of the Church!”

Howard was a graduate in engineering from Clemson University. He came from a devout Protestant home. He was intelligent with an engaging smile and sense of humor. He didn’t smoke, swear, and if he drank at all, it was only occasionally and socially while he was at college. As we worked, attended temporary duty assignments, and played golf together, we became very well acquainted. We had the chance to have several long conversations about life and the gospel.

As I look back on it now, one of the defining experiences in Howard’s process of conversion occurred early on. We were assigned to a brief training session for base exchange officers at the air force base in Biloxi, Mississippi. We flew from Charleston about 4:00 a.m. in a C-47. We were in meetings throughout the entire day from morning until about 10:00 p.m. that evening. When the class was dismissed, several said they wanted to go to some bar and “relax.” Not wanting to do that, I said, “Howard, I’m really tired. I think I will go back to our room and write a note to Barbara.”

He said, “Joe, I’m bushed too. I think I’ll join you.”

[A few weeks later] we [Howard Carroll and I] were billeted in the same room, and so when we were ready to go to bed, it was a bit awkward for me. What should I do about my personal prayer? Maybe to be less intrusive, I should just slip into bed and say a silent prayer. Then, for whatever reason, I said, “Howard, in my faith I have a custom of kneeling and praying at night and morning and if it is all right with you, I’ll do that now.” He nodded and I knelt down next to my cot and offered what probably was a much shorter prayer than usual because I felt like there were two eyes staring at the back of my head.

When I finished and was getting into bed, Howard said, “Joe, uh, uh . . . spiritually, I am in bad shape. Would you mind kneeling down again and saying another prayer-only this time out loud?” And so we did.

The prayer experience Howard and I had that night in our room in Biloxi, Mississippi, opened the door to having several conversations about religion, our belief in God and the nature of God, the purpose of life, etc. We had a lot more time to visit during the last month of my active duty since Barbara [my wife] had gone home for our daughter Susan’s birth. We had moved out of our house and for the final few weeks, I was temporarily rooming in the BOQ [bachelor officers’ quarters] just down the hall from where Howard was living. The night before my being released from active duty and beginning the long trip west to home, Howard and I had another conversation. By this time we had become good friends, having shared a lot of experiences at work, on the golf course, eating at the officers’ club mess hall, etc.

 As we visited about a variety of things, Howard said, “Joe, you know, everything you have told me about your religion is better than mine. The only problem is, I don’t know that it is true. If the time ever comes that I do, I’d like to come out to Idaho, and you could baptize me.” Even that made me feel good. We continued our conversation about a wide variety of things, including religion. Then he stopped, hesitated for a few moments, put his clenched fist over his heart and said, “Joe, I don’t know how or why, but for some reason, I know that it is true. Would there be a chance that arrangements could be made for me to be baptized?”

Arrangements were made with Bishop Royall and the next evening in the Charleston ward chapel, I had the privilege of baptizing Howard. He subsequently was instrumental in the baptism of his fiance and mother-in-law and later became bishop of the Charleston ward. For Barbara and me, it was a great thrill to welcome two of his sons as missionaries while we presided over the Provo Missionary Training Center.

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Archive

The Saints at War archive is in the Harold B. Lee Library at BYU and includes personal histories, journals, letters, period photographs, artifacts, and first-hand accounts of war experiences,both oral and written. Those who would like to contribute to the archive can visit www.saintsatwar.org.

Conference

The Saints at War conference will be held at BYU on Saturday, November 8, from 8 A.M. to 3 P.M. The conference honors all LDS veterans, with special recognition being given to veterans from the Korean and Vietnam conflicts.

Highlights include a keynote address by Hartman Rector, Jr., General Authority emeritus, luncheon, entertainment, a memorabilia room, and the premiere showing of the documentary, Saints at War in Korea.

Book

Saints at War: Korea and Vietnam by Dr. Robert C. Freeman and Dr. Dennis A. Wright  ($39.95 hardcover) will be available in November and is published by Covenant Communications. It is the companion book to the best-selling Saints at War: Experiences of Latter-day Saints in World War II.

Documentary

The documentary Saints at War in Korea will air on BYU-TV on December 7, on KBYU Channel 11 on December 8, and will be available on both DVD and VHS from Covenant Communications.

Robert C. Freeman and Dennis A. Wright
Saints at War: Korea and Vietnam
Covenant Communications 2003


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