Guest Post: Missionaries served God and country in WWII

M* is pleased to share the following guest post from Brother Alfred Gunn.

Brother Gunn serves on the Gig Harbor Stake Public Affairs Council and in that capacity writes a monthly religion column for his local paper, The Peninsula Gateway. Be sure to check the “Worth Reading” section for links to Brother Gunn’s articles.

Three years ago I stood at the foot of Brazil’s iconic statue of Christ the Redeemer on Corcovado Rock overlooking Rio de Janeiro-a magnificent representation of the resurrected Christ, arms outstretched, the marks of atoning sacrifice in his hands.

In my tour group was Barlow Briggs, then a spry 86 years old, who had been a Mormon missionary in Brazil as a young man. He recalled how one Sunday after church he and his companion rode the Corcovado train up to admire the statue, erected only 10 years before. The next day, he said, bold newspaper headlines announced “War in the Pacific.” Pearl Harbor had been bombed that Sunday.

Barlow’s mission president William Seegmiller counseled his young American missionaries to return to the U.S. and serve their country. Many, many did just that-returning and enlisting in the armed forces. Barlow signed on for Marine Corps OCS and was commissioned a Naval Officer to train ship gun crews. Jim Imlay was a 2nd lieutenant in the Philippines. Ferrel Bybee would win two bronze battle stars in the Army and Davis Grant would serve in WWII and Korea. I don’t know many of their stories. Mostly just what a widow mentions to me or an obituary cites.

Norton Nixon served in both Europe and occupied Japan in the Army. Wayne Johnson fought in Italy along side Brazilian troops and retired a lieutenant colonel. Jim Asper served with the 10th Mountain Division and received the Brazilian Service Cross in 1951. Because he spoke Portuguese, Jack Turner was sent to Washington DC and then guarded President Roosevelt at Camp David. Franklin McKean was in occupied Japan and went on to become a 2-star general in the Army Reserves. Orson Pratt “Bud” Arnold enlisted in the Army Medical Corps and served 4 years.

What impresses me was the courage of these men to serve God and then country, some at the cost of their own lives. While Dee Wilson was a missionary he lost his brother in the war, but Dee went on to serve in the Merchant Marines.

Roger Rose went into France after D-Day with the Signal Corps. Major Calvin “Gail” Cragun flew 21 bombing missions as well as the Berlin Airlift and received the Distinguished Flying Cross. Heber Stevenson was in Casablanca and followed Patton across Europe. Max Shirts and James Faust served in the same Army unit. Many went on to lives of service in family, church and community.

I honor these missionaries-turned-soldiers, most of them gone now.

In 1965, when I returned home after 2½ years of missionary service in Brazil, the U.S. was augmenting its military presence in Vietnam and the Church was again limiting mission calls in support of military manpower needs.

On the other hand, a former high school classmate of mine, turned hippie, was living in a garage with his “old lady.” On learning I was a missionary, he told me, “Hey, you can get a CO!” He had to explain to me that CO meant a conscientious objector draft exemption. I didn’t think so. My people have served in every conflict in which America has fought.

Two years after my mission, college degree in hand, I thought perhaps I could fly for the Air Force. At the physical exam in Seattle I learned for the first time that I was color deficient, at least enough that I wouldn’t be flying. The examiner told me just how I had failed to correctly identify the red, green and white lights of the test. A couple months later a vital government bureau was hiring college grads with foreign language skills and they sent me to the same Sand Point Naval Station facility for my physical. This time I called the little lights just as the previous examiner had explained to me, and passed. And so began a 30-year government career, giving me a chance to serve my country in that way.

“When all is said and done,” said Church President Gordon B. Hinckley in 2003, “we of this Church are people of peace. We are followers of our Redeemer, the Lord Jesus Christ, who was the Prince of Peace. . . . This places us in the position of those who long for peace, who teach peace, who work for peace, but who also are citizens of nations and are subject to the laws of our governments. Furthermore, we are a freedom-loving people, committed to the defense of liberty wherever it is in jeopardy.”

Barlow Briggs’ generation proved that. God bless those who so serve today.

6 thoughts on “Guest Post: Missionaries served God and country in WWII

  1. Thank you for your tribute Brother Gunn and thank you for your service. My oldest is ROTC. He hopes to be Army Corp of Engineers.

  2. Brother Gunn, a beautiful and fitting tribute to our own LDS soldiers who served their country honorably and without hesitation. And thank you for your service to our country and for this wonderful post!

  3. Nice article, Bro. Gunn. Your father was my bishop for a time, and your mother was a very sweet lady. We may have met.

    I hope we’ll see you around here again.

  4. Great post.

    Now we need another post about those men who were too young for missions before the war, but served in the military during the war (sometimes for three or four years) and then served full-time missions, despite instruction from church leadership that they need not consider themselves obligated to do so.

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