Editor’s Note: Beginning tomorrow and in the next few days, Meridian Magazine will run many of the veteran’s stories from this new book.
This year marks the 50th anniversary of the Armistice agreement in Korea. Of the thousands who served in the Korean conflict and the Vietnam War, many were Latter-day Saints. Their wartime experiences have been preserved as part of the Saints at War archive at Brigham Young University.
A significant portion of this archive will be available in November with the release of the book, Saints at War: Korea and Vietnam and the documentary, Saints at War in Korea. In addition, a Saints at War conference will be held at Brigham Young University on Saturday, November 8, the weekend prior to Veterans Day.
Saints at War: Korea and Vietnam combines almost 150 remarkable stories from Church leaders and veterans around the world with hundreds of images that literally capture faith in the midst of war. Among the veterans’ accounts are those of several General Authorities of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, including Russell M. Nelson, Joe J. Christensen, Hartman Rector, Jr., and Lance Wickman.
Yet, certainly as moving is the valor and self-sacrifice on the part of the ordinary soldier. In the Vietnam War, Terry M. Jorgensen served in the Army’s Headquarters Company, 9th Infantry Division from 1968-1970. He received the rank of sergeant, E-5. Upon returning from the war, he worked as a locomotive engineer for thirty years for Southern Pacific Railroad.
This is a poignant letter he wrote home to his parents:
Dear Mom and Dad,
Yesterday we were assigned to fly support missions for some of the outlying firebases. While there I learned that my good friend Jay had gone out on patrol with his platoon three days ago, was overdue and was presumed missing. I asked our pilot Captain Holloway if there was any way we could help in the search for my friend and still complete our missions for that day. Captain Holloway is a kind and good man and he understood my concern. He said he would do whatever he could. It was not until later that day and with some effort on his behalf that we felt that we had found them.
As we flew over I could see bodies everywhere, my heart cried out as we made an attempt to land. As we did so we came under ground fire and were forced to land a short distance away. I pleaded with Captain Holloway to let me go out myself and try to bring back my friend and anyone else who might still be alive. Reluctantly, he said that he would cover for me and that I could go; he knew he would do the same thing. “We’ll pick you up here at 0600 tomorrow, but I don’t think it will be worth it,” he said. “Your friend and everyone else are probably already dead and you’ll just be throwing your life away.” As the chopper flew away, Mom, my heart cried out with so much fear, and I began to cry.
I crawled on my belly half the night and somehow, I managed to reach their position. One by one I searched for Jay until I found him. It took me all night to drag him back and at times I would carry him on my shoulders until I could no longer walk. Finally, somehow, we made it back to where the chopper was waiting. Captain Holloway with tears in his eyes, looked at me so tenderly; and he then said, “I told you it wouldn’t be worth it, your friend is dead and now you are wounded.”
I said, “It was worth it, Sir.”
He said, “Listen to me, I am telling you that your friend is dead.”
“Yes sir, I understand, but it was still worth it.”
“How do you mean it was worth it, son?”
“It was worth it, Sir, because when I got to him, he looked at me and said, ‘I knew you would come.'”
* * * *
Terry also wrote:
Saigon may sound like it was a bed of roses, especially after having been in the jungle for six months. In a way it was, but there was still a lot to do. Camp Davies was a supply depot and responsible for supplying the outlying units. One of the problems I encountered was a shortage of drivers.
One of the units we were responsible for was the 82nd Airborne, about twenty-five miles outside of Saigon. For some reason the 82nd wanted their fuel (gasoline) delivered on Sundays. On weekdays the drivers would hang around the motor pool like flies, I couldn’t get them to leave. On Sundays it was a different story, we were always short one driver and no one wanted to drive the fuel truck. So guess who drove the truck? You guessed it: Yours truly. Driving in Saigon traffic was like driving on L.A.’s freeways at peak rush hours. Everyone and his uncle had these Honda scooters and they all drove them at the same time. Maybe that’s why I don’t have any hair today. I have always loved flying, so after making it out of Saigon alive, I would park the truck at the end of the Tan Son Nhut Air Base runway. The F-4 Phantom jets would taxi to the end of the runway and wait to take off. With their afterburners wide open, down the runway they would go. Their bomb racks were always full and as they would take off, the jet would almost settle back to earth. For that brief moment it looked as if they would not make it.
Each Sunday at 1200 hours the armed forces radio would broadcast the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and the Spoken Word. Like clockwork, each Sunday I would watch the F-4s take off and then listen to the choir sing the most beautiful songs. For that brief half hour I was no longer in Vietnam. When the program was over I would bow my head in prayer. Then put the truck in gear and head down this long narrow road to the 82nd Airborne.
Other Conflicts Besides World War II
Dr. Robert C. Freeman and Dr. Dennis A. Wright, professors in the Church History department at BYU, started the Saints at War project. “We quickly realized as we were doing research on the ‘greatest generation’ that there were other conflicts in which valiant Latter-day Saints participated that screamed for our attention,” said Freeman. “The veterans were involved in war situations that many didnt want them to talk about. It is time to hear their stories and in so doing, give a long overdue ‘thank you’ for their valor and courage,” said Wright.
“The Korean War is known as the ‘Forgotten War’ and the Vietnam War was a confusing and difficult war for everyone. The spiritual experiences of the veterans became an oasis of hope within the awful realities of these wars,” said Wright. “And with the impressive missionary and humanitarian efforts of the servicemen, this hope spawned the birth of the Church in both nations.”
It is the focus of faith during war that makes the Saints at War project unique. “These men and women didnt set aside their religious convictions even though they were carrying rifles and machine guns. They still found time to read their scriptures, take the sacrament, pray, and share the gospel with others,” said Wright. “In the most trying of circumstances their spiritual life did not end; in fact it became a sustaining force.”
Among the many miraculous events found in the book and documentary is the amazing account of Utah’s 213th unit, which has been called a modern “stripling warriors” story. This unit was later reorganized as the 222nd and activated for service in the Iraqi conflict in 2003.
Freeman said the Saints at War project also brings families closer together as family members do much of the work of capturing these accounts, and they reap a rich spiritual and emotional outpouring in the process.
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.
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.
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.
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
2003 Meridian Magazine. All Rights Reserved.