PROVO — Russell Meacham's respect for Elder Marion D. Hanks runs very deep.
One of Meacham's most treasured memories from his military service during the Vietnam War was time spent with Elder Hanks, who risked his life to fly into hot combat zones to minister to LDS soldiers.
"Elder Hanks … made lists of the names and hometown addresses of everyone he met. He then spent countless hours, while traveling and elsewhere, dictating letters on a portable tape player, to the loved one 'back home,'" Meacham wrote in "Saints at War: Korea and Vietnam." "I can tell you by experience in my own family that a letter from a general authority who has recently visited your 'loved one' in the field in Vietnam is a real morale-builder."
The Saints at War Project at Brigham Young University will honor the memory of Elder Hanks, an emeritus general authority who died in August, by presenting his wife, Maxine, with a special award at a special conference for servicemen members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and their families on Veterans Day, Nov. 11.
The conference will take place at the BYU Conference Center from 10 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Elder Lance B. Wickman, an emeritus general authority who served two tours in Vietnam and received the Bronze Star, will be the keynote speaker.
The conference will also feature several other notable speakers in special breakout sessions, and attendees can choose from a variety of presentations and topics. A new documentary, "Saints at War: Vietnam," will also premiere at the event. Lunch and entertainment will be provided.
Eugene J. Wikle, Kenneth L. Alford and Sherman L. Fleek are among those presenting at the conference. Wikle presided over more than 700 members of the Kabul Afghanistan Military District for several years. Alford is an associate professor of Church History and Doctrine at BYU. He served in the U.S. Army for 30 years, including positions at the Pentagon and eight years of teaching at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. Fleek, who rose to the rank of lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Army, is an author and American military historian at West Point. During his military service, he was an aviator and Special Forces officer.
Robert Freeman, a professor of LDS Church history at BYU and director of the Saints at War project, said the campus hosted similar conferences in 2001, 2003 and 2006.
"This conference is something we have done a few times over the years," Freeman said. "We hope it's something that will resonate with the students. It also makes a suitable setting to have the veterans and their families. We hope the public feels a desire to come. We think it will be worth their while."
Freeman's research assistants, Scott Lovejoy and Heidi Lyman, plan to attend the event.
"It's interesting to learn about wars from a historical standpoint, but it's more interesting to me to hear about them firsthand," said Lyman, a BYU junior from Richfield. "Attending the conference is a great way to show support and gratitude for what veterans have done for us."
Lovejoy, a senior from Gaithersburg, Md., has served in the military and is involved with Army ROTC.
"Elder Wickman is fantastic. I heard him speak on his experiences as an Army ranger in Vietnam," he said. "He has fantastic advice and stories. I think the audience will enjoy it and it will do a lot of good."
To register for the conference, visit byu.edu.
The Saints at War project continues to accept firsthand accounts of veterans who served in any war. To submit personal histories and photos, call 801-422-2484 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. To learn more about the Saints at War project, visit Saintsatwar.org.
Statistics of the Vietnam War (1960-1972)
58,000 Americans died
300,000 Americans wounded
2,500 Americans listed as MIA or POW
1,500,000 Vietnamese killed in action
300,000 Vietnamese listed as MIA or POW
The LDS Church in the Vietnam War
Approximately 15,000 LDS Church members served in Vietnam during the span of the war. (Includes military uniform, civilians at the embassy and consulate staffs, civilian aid workers and civil engineers, repairman from many logistical air bases in the U.S., as well as Australians, New Zealanders and Koreans who were members.)
63 LDS chaplains served in the war.
200 Vietnamese LDS Church members, according to Saigon Branch records.
23 LDS Vietnamese families were found by VASAA and elements of 16 of those families were extracted or assisted to leave Vietnam between 1983-1997.
Total LDS Church membership doubled (1.6 million to 3.2 million) during Vietnam War.
85,000 full-time missionaries were set apart during the Vietnam War.
Three temples were dedicated (Oakland, Calif.; Ogden, Utah; Provo, Utah) during the Vietnam War.
Source: "Saints at War: Korea and Vietnam," 2003.