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A Latter-day Saint in a German POW Camp

By: Ardis E. Parshall - July 17, 2008

A 1982 Ensign article tells how LDS soldiers organized “Stalag Luft III Branch” while they were held in captivity during World War II. Near the end of the war, Lieutenant Frank D. Bailey served as second counselor in the branch organization. Below is a talk Brother Bailey gave in October 1945 soon after his return home.

“My dear brothers and sisters, I feel very humble in occupying this position this evening. I pray that my Father in Heaven will so direct me that I will say the things that are in my heart.

“I would have given a great deal just a year ago next Monday to have known that I would be occupying this position this evening, for at 9:30 Sunday morning, October 15, 1944, I was floating toward the earth from 25,000 feet in a parachute over the city of Cologne, Germany. Our B-17 had been hit by three direct bursts of flak, and the crew had been forced to bail out. I had a ride of twenty minutes to get to the ground, and I did a great deal of thinking in that time. The thoughts in my mind primarily were those of my loved ones at home, and a great many of the teachings I had received from my parents and in Sunday School passed through my mind. I put all my faith in my Father in Heaven and prayed that he might protect me from harm and danger.

“Upon hitting the ground I was taken and put with the rest of my crew who had been picked up. Among them was Stanley Smith, a true Latter-day Saint from Salt Lake. And I was thankful to my Father in Heaven for his association. He and I had joined the air corps together and were fortunate to be placed on the same crew. We were taken from Cologne to an interrogation center at Frankfurt on the Main and put in solitary confinement for six days. During this time I found the joy and satisfaction that comes from the teachings I received when I was taught to pray and to offer most humble supplications to my Father. From there we were taken to our permanent camp at Sagan, about 100 miles southeast of Berlin.

“We hardly arrived in camp, on Sunday at about noon, when a young fellow approached me and asked if I were a Mormon. I told him I was, and he told me that they had a Sunday School organized, and asked if I would like to attend the meeting. That was one of the finest things that ever happened to me during the whole time I was there, to find that the young fellows from our Church had organized and had a very fine organization. We met at 1 o’clock. There were about 25 members in the class, and it had been organized a year when I arrived. At 10 o’clock were Protestant services, which most of the fellows attended. After attending the Protestant services, it was a great satisfaction to us to go and associate with each other and to express our own thoughts and desires, and worship our Heavenly Father and learn the truths of the gospel.

“Our lessons were taken from books received from President Zimmer of the Swiss Mission. We studied the Doctrine and Covenants, and Church History. Each of us took our turn giving two-and-a-half minute talks and presenting the lesson. Some of the most inspirational talks and testimonies I have ever heard were given by those young fellows there, whose only training, I am sure, was through attending Sunday School while here at home. Our Sunday meetings were a wonderful source of joy and satisfaction to me, and I looked forward all week to attending those meetings and exchanging our ideas and worshiping our Father in Heaven.

“We were taken from there to Bavaria, near Munich, when the Russians got too close. We took our Sunday School and some of the Church literature with us and continued our course, using The Way to Perfection as our source of lessons, and got a great deal of knowledge from that. Things were extremely crowded, and our commanding officer gave us permission to hold our Sunday School in his room when the weather was bad. We had a great many non-members who attended our meetings and became interested. One young fellow in particular became extremely interested in the gospel. When I had arrived he had been studying the principles of the gospel for a year and knew more concerning the truths and works of our gospel than most of the fellows who have been members all their lives. He had never heard of Mormons before he met them in prison camp. He roomed with one of the fellows from our group, and through observing his actions became interested in our religion. He has since returned home and has been baptized, and is now working hard to convert his family to the Church.

“During the time I spent in the army, I found the Sunday Schools that I was able to attend were a great joy and satisfaction to me. Whether it was a branch or a ward, or just an organization, a group of Latter-day Saint fellows who were meeting together to worship our Father in Heaven and gain the association of each other, the Spirit of the Lord was present in rich abundance, and great joy and happiness was found there.

“I ask the Lord to bless each and every one of you, and especially at this time I ask his guidance and direction over the fellows who are still away and who are meeting in small groups to worship him in many parts of the world. And this I do in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.”

["Joys to a Returning Serviceman," The Instructor, December, 1945, 573-574.]



11 Comments »

  1. Stalag Luft III near Sagan is the camp that Paul Brickhill wrote about in The Great Escape, the source of the excellent Steve McQueen movie. It adds another texture to think of the escape work that Brickhill chronicled interweaving with the gospel activities of the POW saints Lt. Bailey joined. (The escape was March 25, 1944, seven months before Bailey was shot down. Brickhill wrote that a new tunnel was underway when the camp was abandoned.) You may be interested in something I put up last year about “Goering’s Mormon Brother in Utah and USAAF Bomber Pilot Nephew.”

    Comment by John Mansfield — July 17, 2008 @ 7:11 am

  2. Thanks, Ardis. This is beautiful.

    Some of my favorite stories deal with people’s triumphs during times of war. Corrie Ten Boom’s “The Hiding Place” still is one of my all-time favorites.

    Comment by Ray — July 17, 2008 @ 7:28 am

  3. I remember your post, John! Didn’t realize when I saw Frank Bailey’s talk that it was the same camp, though. Thanks for the link.

    “Triumphs during times of war” — in the ’70s I was lucky enough to hear first-hand the talks of a number of POWs newly returned from Vietnam, and I have collected their written memoirs. Far more than any excitement over their adventures, the facet of their stories that moves me the most is the survival and growth — triumphs, really — of their humanity and faith and all their best characteristics under the most horrific conditions.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — July 17, 2008 @ 7:29 am

  4. Nice post, Ardis. “Are you a Mormon?” can pop up in the most unlikely of places.

    Comment by Dave — July 17, 2008 @ 8:58 am

  5. Thanks for this. I’m fascinated by all things WWII, and it is very interesting to see how this SS played out.

    Comment by Kevin Barney — July 17, 2008 @ 9:49 am

  6. It’s also interesting to see how Sunday School seems to come to the fore in these pieces. It stands to reason, of course, since The Instructor was the official magazine of the Sunday School.

    Still, I don’t think you’d find any young man or woman, back from the 21st century wars, praising the Sunday School for the strength it gave him to overcome. Maybe Seminary, maybe Girls Camp. Maybe even EFY. But not Sunday School.

    Re: Dave’s #4–my dad was asked the question by an elderly Viennese woman–complete stranger–sometime in September 1945, his first Sunday after arriving, as he was looking for the building where the Vienna Branch met. (They were still meeting there in summer 1970 when our family visited Vienna–one gold star to anybody who can tell me where it was!)

    Comment by Mark B. — July 17, 2008 @ 10:41 am

  7. Frank Don Bailey is my uncle: he also tells a great story about investigating Salt Lake’s opium dens and houses of ill repute with his fellow journalism student and best high-school pal, Jack Anderson.

    Don retired from the Air Force as a Lieutenant-Colonel after a long career in the strategic air command. I’m so glad he made it back, unlike the uncle I’m named after.

    Will Bagley

    Comment by Will Bagley — July 17, 2008 @ 10:55 am

  8. I just discovered Keepapitchinin, and am very excited. I have been a fan of Ardis’ stories of little-known saints for a long time. This blog is going to be great!

    Comment by Martin willey — July 17, 2008 @ 3:36 pm

  9. You made my afternoon, Martin Willey!

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — July 17, 2008 @ 4:00 pm

  10. Any have any info on Way to Perfection?”

    Comment by Eric Boysen — July 19, 2008 @ 1:42 am

  11. The Way to Perfection: Short Discourses on Gospel Themes (1931) was written by Joseph Fielding Smith, and is still in print from Deseret Book or is easily found (because it has been reprinted so often) in older editions from the usual online book dealers and auction sites; it’s on the GospeLink CD too. The Encyclopedia of Mormonism calls it one of JFS, Jr.s “classic expositions of the doctrines of salvation for the dead.”

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — July 19, 2008 @ 2:09 am

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