I grew up on war stories from my father who went from religious apathy to transforming faith through the puzzling miraculous experiences he encountered amidst the daily horror of the Korean War, a ridiculous no-win war fought under direction of the United Nations in which the lives of many our men were wasted. Many puzzling aspects of the war made sense when my outraged father later learned that “secret” US plans had to be pre-approved by a UN office that was headed by officials from Communist nations who obviously shared the plans with the North Koreans. In spite of the futility of this no-win war and the corruption of top leaders who supported it, there was incredible honor and valor among our troops. Their blood was spilt unnecessarily, but they gave their lives to serve their nation, seeking to protect and defend us.
My father’s real-life stories show how the Spirit can operate and guide people in the midst of carnage and horror. We do not know why some will die and others be spared, but we can learn much from the stories of those who applied their faith and sought the help of God in the brutal scenes of war. In my father’s case, his dormant faith was jolted into a commitment to serve God when he finally recognized God’s hand in sparing his life time after time. The moment of change came in a foxhole under heavy artillery fire. He heard the whistling of a shell that he sense was “the one.” Closer, closer – he covered his head and waited for the explosion that could end his life. There was a thud and then — nothing. After a few seconds, he opened his eyes, turned around, and saw smoke streaming from a hole in the side of the foxhole, just inches from his back. It was a rare dud. At this moment, he knew almost nothing about the Church, but decided he would go on a mission. That mission would bless him in many other ways — including bringing a miraculous end to the post-traumatic stress disorder he faced after enduring shelling for many months in the war and facing so much danger daily.
There are many other stories he has shared – and some he’d rather not share. Through it all comes a recognition of the hand of God and the importance of listening to the promptings of the Spirit, in both times of war and times of peace.
With this background in my life, it’s no wonder that I am excited about the new books by John Bytheway, Supersonic Saints: Thrilling Stories from LDS Pilots and Supersonic Saints 2: More Thrilling Stories from LDS Pilots. These are stories written by LDS pilots, many dealing with war. Some are especially gripping and faith promoting, and all are instructive. They include stories of pilots seeking guidance in how to save lives, including their own, the lives of co-pilots in damaged planes, or the lives of possible innocent civilians they don’t want to harm. The reality of God and miracles shines through these accounts.
These aren’t just faith promoting rumors about some unnamed pilot during some war. These are first-hand accounts written by real pilots with names and even biographies at the end of each chapter. The events occur in specific airplanes, on specific missions, with details and supporting information. The powerful story, “Sir, I’m on Fire!” that begins the second book includes verbatim dialog from a miraculous Vietnam War event which is backed up by a copy of the dialog on tape in the pilot’s possession, plus text from the June 22, 1972 maintenance log for Aircraft #6358. In this event, the LDS pilot, Gordon Weed, heard the voice of the Spirit telling him to go against all his training in coaching his wingman, Bill Harrell, not to eject from a burning airplane after being hit in a mission over An Loc, near Saigon. It was crazy, but he knew Who was speaking and chose to obey, but was unable to give his wingman good reasons to delay ejection from the burning plane whose fuel tanks or ammunition could explode. The other pilot could have ejected on his own volition, but complied. Doing so saved his life, for it turns out that the fire was from a hit to the flight refueling line in the front of the plane. Once the fuel in the refueling plumbing burned out, the fire was over with no further threat. But had the pilot ejected while the fire was raging, he would have been sprayed with burning fuel and probably killed. Read the full story – it’s very dramatic, as are many of the gems in these two volumes.
Of the two books, the second has more stories and would probably be my recommendation if you want to read or give a single book. But I recommend reading both.
By the way, my father has his own miraculous story involving a flight that could have taken his life. Not a war story, though.
Ever wondered why the Book of Mormon, whose purpose is to bring souls to Christ, has such a large fraction of the text describing times of war? Especially in the highly emphasized period in the century before the coming of resurrected Jesus Christ to the Nephites, we encounter lengthy descriptions of war, including details of war tactics, of individual and group heroism, of faithful people relying God to know how to handle the threats they face, of mothers and fathers worried about the lives of their warrior sons, of blessings and miracles coupled with tragedy and grief. Remember, the book was written for our time, edited by a general who saw his wicked nation wiped out in war, and who also saw our day and gave us inspired selections from the Nephite records that would meet our needs. The rigors of peace are not the major challenge of our pre-Millennial era. We need to understand war – how to avoid it, how to wage it, how to maintain and use our faith throughout it, etc. We need to learn from these accounts.