Lindsay Payne Halgren and Dr. Dennis A Wright, Church History and Doctrine
War is a unique phenomenon for each person concerned; two soldiers in the same battle could face entirely different conflicts. In order to better understand the many facets of war and military life, we must investigate as many different accounts as possible. As Ralph Waldo Emerson states, “All history becomes subjective; in other words there is properly no history, only biography.” Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are no exception. Some Latter-day Saint servicemen experience quite singular events during wartime; countless others quietly do their duty without fanfare. Each person’s story is different, and each is important.
My purpose in this project was to contribute to the preservation of wartime histories by collecting, organizing, and preparing personal accounts of LDS veterans, and adding the resulting collection to the Brigham Young University Saints at War Archive. The Saints at War Archive is concerned primarily with assembling war narratives from Latter-day Saint veterans of all modern wars. These personal histories, photographs, images, and artifacts are housed as a special collection in the Harold B. Lee Library at BYU.
Through this project I was able to add more than 300 of the nearly 1,200 veteran accounts to a computer database in which information and war narratives of military veterans from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are being recorded. As part of the Saints at War archive, this database and various publications and media productions will give numberless others access to the individual war stories of past generations.
In addition to entering these files into the computer database, I also had a chance to prepare much of the veteran’s material as soon as it was received. This work included arranging and transcribing various interviews, responding to questions and correspondence, categorizing and cataloguing photographs and artifacts, preserving fragile materials, and managing the consent form process. There were countless occasions where I became absorbed in the fascinating stories of these veterans.
Another goal of my project was to work personally with Latter-day Saint veterans and to help bring the general public to a greater awareness of these veterans’ contribution to their countries. This was accomplished in part through participation in the Saints at War Conference, held at BYU in November 2001. Hundreds of Latter-day Saint veterans, their families, and interested community members attended this event to share and learn more about the unique experience of LDS servicemen. I was personally responsible for supervising the conference’s artifact room, where veterans came to view the relics and war memorabilia of others. The opportunity to talk personally with these veterans after becoming so familiar with them through their stories was invaluable.
The major difficulties in meeting the goals of my project were actually more assets than setbacks. One problem was helping find ways to contact the whole population of Latter-day Saint veterans. Although the archive has over a thousand personal accounts, this number represents only a fraction of the Latter-day Saints who have served. Certain populations have been harder to reach than others. These include: women who served both in the military and on the home front, LDS soldiers fighting for countries other than the United States, and veterans of the Korean and Viet Nam wars—many of whom have not yet recorded their war experiences. This hurdle is being overcome through various means. The other major difficulty, surprisingly enough, was in dealing with the large amounts of information that we did receive. Interest in the Saints at War archive produces a steady stream of materials and correspondence to consider.
I am grateful for the time I spent helping contribute to the Saints at War archive. It is and will yet become a priceless addition to historians and veterans’ family members alike. I learned that the uniqueness of Latter-day Saints becomes even more apparent against a background of war. This experience has truly changed my perceptions of conflict, of duty, and of human potential forever.