Saints at War
Richard D. Wilson:
Not Taking the Scriptures for Granted

Editors Note: “This excerpt is taken from the book Saints at War: Korea and Vietnam. You can read other stories from this book about Joe J. Christensen, Roger McLaughlin , and Terry Jorgensen that tell of other experiences in war.

Dick became a U.S. Marine at the age of seventeen, arriving in Korea in November 1951. He served with Fox Company, 2nd Battalion, 5th Marines, 1st Marine Division, and he achieved the rank of sergeant. His company commander reported that he was the youngest buck sergeant in the Division and possibly the entire U.S. Marine Corps.

Fighting a war without having your scriptures is like being baptized without going in the water. During the twelve months I served in Korea, I never experienced the abiding comfort and the feeling of the Spirit you receive when attending a sacrament, Sunday School, or priesthood meeting. My scriptures had been lost someplace between getting aboard the troop transport ship in San Diego and when I arrived in the port of Pusan, South Korea. But I did pick up a small copy of the New Testament provided by a Protestant chaplain. I think I had taken having the scriptures for granted until I got into a war.

I found that in those months in Korea between 1951 and 1952 that my experiences would forever change my life’s perspective. Without personal prayer and scripture reading I don’t think I would have been able to keep my sanity or my beliefs intact. Why? Because an 18-year-old seems to view himself and his life as immortal. I quickly found it not to be the case. It happened shortly after I arrived at the front. I met a Marine much older than I that everyone called “Preacher.” Most of us seemed to pick up a nickname. He got his because he always carried his Bible wherever he went. He liked to read us various verses that seemed to fit the moment. He was married, had some kids, and was a nice guy. I really liked him a lot. Then one day about noon he was walking to his bunker carrying his Bible as usual and an incoming mortar exploded a few feet from him, and he was killed instantly. It happened that quickly. One minute he was there and alive and the next he was gone and dead. He was the first person in my life that I knew as a friend and that had either died or was killed. Later when they were gathering his personal belongings someone murmured the question, “How could someone so good, so spiritual, and so religious lose his life while others who are not so good and some who have never even attended a church or read the Bible live?” I remember thinking about that for a long time that night.

That was the first time I realized how quickly you can meet your Maker, lose your life and a friend. I think that day we all asked ourselves if we were ready to face the ultimate sacrifice. It took me a long time to deal with that event-if I ever have!

* * * * *

In early spring of 1952 some of our company was assigned to occupy a hill; I think it was called “Warsaw.” It was about four to five hundred yards in front of the MLR (main line of resistance). We had daily and nightly contact with the North Koreans and Chinese which amounted to mostly mortar fire and enemy probes to test our resolve to hold the hill. Next to that hill was a slightly less elevated hill where there were several reinforced rifle and machine-gun squads. Forward of the main bunker and trench line was a sniper’s hole. It was dug on the forward slope about forty to fifty yards. It was camouflaged with scrub brush, and it was almost impossible to see. The routine was that an hour or so before sunrise one of our snipers would belly out to that sniper’s foxhole and wait for sunrise. With his snipe’s rifle, silencer, and high-powered scope, he could observe throughout the day and especially in the early morning the movement of enemy troops in the trench line and bunkers across the shallow valley. They were his target.

For several weeks he did his job. Then one day just after dark, which was the usual time for the sniper to crawl back to the safety of the trench line and his buddies-that night he was late. He never showed up. They tried to make contact but with no luck. Finally, under the cover of darkness a fire team of three from his unit crept down to his sniper’s foxhole and found him slumped over his rifle with a single bullet in his head. An enemy sniper had somehow caught him during a split second of exposure and with just enough time to get off a single shot. It was a very sad day for all of us. Everyone placed a special value on these courageous Marine buddies. Unfortunately it did not end there.

A couple of days later his replacement showed up and took his position in that same sniper’s foxhole each morning before sunup. Three days or so went by and one night after dark he was late and did not return. The word quickly spread and all of us could not believe that we might lose another one. It would be too much. We still felt the deep pain from losing our other friend. That night the fire team crawled down to his foxhole and found him with a single bullet to his head. The word spread. No one would believe it. But this tragedy and deep loss was even more staggering when we found out that they were brothers!

Even as I write this story that occurred a half century ago, the personal heart-wrenching emotion of that day brings a lump in my throat and tears to my eyes, and I can hardly contain myself. That was the last time they used that sniper location.

2003 Meridian Magazine.  All Rights Reserved.