Conference Report
A Challenge From Vietnam
Elder Gordon B. Hinckley
Of the Council of the Twelve

Gordon B. Hinckley, Conference Report, April 1967, pp. 51-55

My brothers and sisters: Since our last conference Elder Marion D. Hanks and I have been in Vietnam and other areas in Southeast Asia. In that troubled part of the world we have had many inspiring and sobering experiences, as we have met with our brethren in the armed forces—not only American, but also a few British and Australian.

A visit with Mormon boys in Viet Nam

Particularly sobering were our meetings in South Vietnam. Our first stop was the great military base at Da Nang. There in the base chapel we were greeted by our brethren, most of whom looked so young. Their automatic rifles were stacked along the rear pews, and they sat in their battle fatigues, many of them with a pistol on the right hip and a knife on the left.

They had come down from the Rock Pile, Marble Mountain, and other hot and deadly places whose names are only words in our newspapers, but which to them are battlegrounds where life is ever so fragile and the smell of death is in the air.

I am not disposed to discuss the merits of the war, but I would like to say a few things about some of the young men involved in it. We spent an afternoon in Da Nang in religious services that included a memorial for three of their number recently killed in action. Following that we talked with them individually for hours.

It is a sobering experience to converse with a young man who grew up in a quiet country town not far from here, a boy who was sent off to war and who had just come through 42 days of deadly battle. He had seen 68 of his company of 70 killed. He had been sickened by the atrocities inflicted by the enemy on the helpless native population. He, like most of his associates, was not there of his own wish, but in response to an obligation imposed upon him, and, without fanfare or heroics, he was doing his duty honorably as he understood that duty.

I turned to another young man who stood beside him. He was a handsome boy, tall, clean-faced, wholesome in his look. Hoping to relieve the somber tone of my conversation with the first, I said lightly and half jokingly, "What are you going to do when you go home? Have you ever thought of it?"

A wistful sort of light came into his eyes. "Have I ever thought of it? I think of little else, sir. We're moving north again tomorrow, and if I can last another two months I know exactly what I'm going to do when I go home. I'm going to do three things. First, I'm going back to school and finish my education so that I can earn a living at something worthwhile.

"I'm also going to work in the Church and try to do some good. I've seen how desperately the world needs what the Church has to offer.

"And then I'm going to find me a beautiful girl and marry her forever."

I countered with a question, "Are you worthy of that kind of a girl?"

"I hope so, sir," he said. "It hasn't been easy to walk through this filth. It's been pretty lonely at times. But you know, I couldn't let my folks down.

I know what my mother expects. I know what she's saying in her prayers. She'd rather have me come home dead than unclean."

I didn't sleep well that night. For one thing, it was terribly hot and the bed was not comfortable. For another, every few minutes a Phantom Jet would roar overhead. And beyond that was the statement of this young man who was about to go north again to face death.

I don't know whether he lived or died. I am sorry that I do not remember his name. We met and talked with so many and our schedule was so heavy that I do not recall his name or where he was from, but I have not forgotten him. I thought of him when I recently read of the growing multitude of so-called hippies, beatniks, glue-sniffers, goofball addicts, and makers and partakers of LSD. I thought of him when I talked with a school dropout who had come to think it more important to buy an old jalopy than to go on with his education. I thought of him when I talked with two young people, the one a once-beautiful girl and the other, a once-handsome young man, who had blighted their lives in walking a sordid trail of immorality.

Goals for youth

I would that the Lord would give me the power to say something out of that young marine's words to youth wherever they may be listening, to the young men and women of this challenging generation in this and other lands. He mentioned three things he wanted to do, and then spoke indirectly of another he was already doing. Out of these I would like to formulate a challenge, a series of four challenges to youth. They are based on his statements and on the vital gospel in which he and I believe. Though these challenges may sound trite and old-fashioned, I hope you will not close your ears to them. All that is old e is not necessarily unworthy, as this young man had concluded while walking the lonely jungle patrols of Vietnam. Nor is all that is necessarily good, as I have concluded while observing young people throwing their lives away in debilitating practices.

I therefore offer you these challenges:

1. That you prepare for usefulness.
2. That you serve with faith.
3. That you walk in virtue.
4. That you marry for eternity.

The first: Preparation for usefulness.

If ever there was a gospel, it is the gospel of work. Jehovah established the law when he declared, "In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread" (Gen. 3:19).

Without labor there is neither wealth, nor comfort, nor progress. It was said of old, ". . . the drunkard and the glutton shall come to poverty: and drowsiness shall clothe a man with rags" (Prov. 23:21).

"The glory of the coming of the Lord"

We are commemorating this year the hundredth anniversary of the completion of this great Tabernacle in which we meet today. Not long before his death the late President John F. Kennedy spoke from this podium, as had many of his predecessors. At the conclusion of his address, the Tabernacle Choir sang with a majesty it has never excelled, Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord . . . His truth is marching on."

As the sound rolled through this historic house, touching the emotions of everyone here assembled, I felt a catch in my throat and a tingle in my spine, not alone for the presence in this building of the chief executive of the nation, not alone for the magnificent music of this choir, but more especially for the quiet men of faith and vision who a century ago laid the stone of the great buttresses which form the walls that encircle us and support the roof that shelters us. They were people possessed of a dream of destiny. This is their handiwork, prayerfully wrought. Notwithstanding the fact that they were largely isolated in this desert land, notwithstanding the fact that they erected this before ever the railroad came to this part of this country, they built with an excellence unsurpassed in our time. They possessed the skill, they nurtured the dream, and they labored with devotion to make this magnificent structure a reality.

Today one need not look far in this or other lands to witness a growing tendency toward superficiality and irresponsibility.

I hope that all who are within the sound of my voice, and particularly the youth, will see in this great and sacred structure an example of the fruits of excellence. I do not expect that all shall pursue academic training. But I would hope that all would seek to develop skills and abilities with which to make a contribution to the world in which they live. For the century during which this tabernacle has been an assembly place for our people, there has gone forth from this pulpit the counsel of wise and inspired men to each new generation to secure that preparation which will make them useful to society, bring satisfaction to their lives, assure their families the comforts and graces which alone come of effort, and dignify their divine inheritance as sons and daughters of God.

Serve with faith

Now to the second item suggested by my young friend in Vietnam—to labor to help build the kingdom of God. To all I say, Serve with faith. The world so much needs young men and women who love the Lord and who will work to build his kingdom.

A night or two ago I received a phone call from an officer just returned from Vietnam. He had hoped to be here today. I was with him during the time we were there. I heard him speak of his reluctance to go to Asia. It was not easy to leave his wife and seven children, including triplet sons three years of age. "But," he said, "I resolved I would give the Air Force the best I had, and I would try to help my brethren in the Church."

He went on to say quietly but earnestly, "I think I have done a better work here than I have ever done before in my life."

I can bear witness to the great good he has done. Not only has he been highly honored by his government and by the government of South Vietnam; his good example and his faithful service under difficult circumstances have brought religious activity into the lives of hundreds of men. I have heard many of these testify of the vast good that has come to them, of the great strength they have gained from such activity in the Church.

Youth needs the Church

To young people everywhere I should like to say that you need the Church, and the Church needs you. There is no better association than that with other young men and women of faith who recognize God as their Eternal Father and Jesus Christ as the living Savior of the world.

That association will give you strength. It will give you companionship. It will challenge your abilities. It will afford you opportunity for growth. In The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints there is office and responsibility for all.

I have seen backward men become giants as they served in the work of the Lord. The cause of Christ does not need critics; it needs workers. And to restate an old quotation, "Whether you think you can, or whether you think you can't, you're right."

To those of this generation the Lord has said: ". . . be not weary in well-doing, for ye are laying the foundation of a great work. And out of small things proceedeth that which is great.

"Behold, the Lord requireth the heart and a willing mind" (D&C 64:33-34).

That, my young friends, is the substance of the matter: "the Lord requireth a heart and a willing mind."

Walk in Virtue

And now to the third challenge: Walk in virtue.

I commend to you the stirring and inspirational message from President McKay at the opening session of this conference. In behalf of the vast audience who did not hear that message, I should like to read a paragraph from this man whom we sustain as Prophet:

"In this day when modesty is thrust into the background, and chastity is considered an outmoded virtue, I appeal to parents especially, and to my fellow teachers, both in and out of the Church, to teach youth to keep their souls unmarred and unsullied from this and other debasing sins, the consequences of which will smite and haunt them intimately until their conscience is seared and their character becomes sordid. A chaste, not a profligate, life is the source of virile manhood. The test of true womanhood comes when the woman stands innocent at the court of chastity. All qualities are crowned by this most precious virtue of beautiful womanhood. It is the most vital part of the foundation of a happy married life, and is the source of strength and perpetuity of the race."

To which I wish to add a divine promise uttered long ago by the Savior of the world, "Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God" (Matt. 5:8).

Marry for eternity

And now finally: Marry for eternity.

My young friend in Vietnam was not simply indulging a romantic dream when he said he planned to return and find a beautiful girl and marry her forever.

One of the distinguishing features of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is a belief in the divine nature of the family as an institution ordained of God. Here center the most sacred of all human relationships. Life is eternal. Love is eternal. And God our Eternal Father designed and has made it possible that our families shall be eternal.

In that great colloquy between the apostles and the Christ wherein the Savior asked, "Whom say ye that I am?" and Peter answered "Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God," Jesus went on to say, "And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven" (see Matt. 16:15-19).

That same priesthood authority has been restored to earth by this same Peter, and it is exercised today in the temples of this Church. Those who kneel at the altars in these holy houses are not joined only until death. They are sealed for all eternity as families.

On Monday I shall be with a wonderful couple who have come all the way from Korea to enter the temple that stands a few feet to the east of us, there to be joined together for time and for eternity under the authority of the Holy Priesthood. Their faith, like the faith of that young marine in Southeast Asia, is such that no sacrifice is too great, no cost too high to bind together forever those whom they love most.

I give you my witness and my testimony that this authority is among us today. I give you my witness that God our Eternal Father lives and that Jesus is the Christ. I invoke upon you, my choice young friends, the choice blessings of heaven as you go forward with your lives, that you may choose those values that are enduring, in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.