Three weeks ago, Eric Russell posted at By Common Consent a description of Going to Church in Iraq, featuring a photograph of the bright, well furnished chapel annex where his Al Asad Group meets. He described the order of their services, their equipment, the organization of the Church – these servicemen’s groups in a seemingly unlikely region of the world are part of a formal stake structure, and the Church has developed a rhythm to provide leadership by setting apart potential group leaders before Latter-day Saint soldiers are even deployed.
These servicemen’s groups are the modern successors to a long history of providing religious support to LDS soldiers. I suppose we could say that goes back at least as far as the Mormon Battalion of 1846, or even to the march of Zion’s Camp in 1834. Here at Keepa, we’ve talked about the World War I chaplaincy of B.H. Roberts and about a serviceman finding smoothly running LDS services in the jungles of New Guinea toward the end of World War II.
In the opening days of World War II, before many LDS chaplains were in place or even before the Church had really organized itself to support servicemen away from home, LDS soldiers still managed to find each other and experiment with ways of continuing LDS life in war zones. One such group of soldier-elders, calling themselves “The Three Musketeers,” formed an unofficial group at Fort Clayton, in the Panama Canal Zone, in the early summer of 1942.
These “Musketeers” were David Clow, Jarius Coward, and a young man named Irving, whose surname had unfortunately been forgotten by the time Captain Orlando S. McBride (1907-1947), LDS chaplain at Camp Paraiso, Canal Zone, recorded his discovery of their organization. It is possible that the “Musketeers” are still living, because I have been unable to identify them in either LDS or civil death records. If you know who they are, please comment!
These three men, their ages and hometowns unknown to me, found a private place to gather as church members, along with whoever else wished to join them, in an air-raid shelter at Fort Clayton, Panama. This was not the brightest, most cheerful place for services – underground, with a dirt floor, wedged between the supporting stone pillars of a building. Still, it was quiet and private – their personal Catacombs, Capt. McBride called it, comparing these soldiers to the early Christians who had met for worship in the underground burial tunnels of Rome.
Their “chapel” was furnished with a long table, a few heavy benches, and plenty of boxes and crates to serve as seats, and they had a few hymn books and copies of the scriptures.
Capt. McBride described the service he attended. David Clow called it to order and suggested they open by singing a hymn. The group of about a dozen men thumbed through the hymnals looking for a song they all could sing.
Several suggestions are made, which elicit dissents from some members. After a while one is found that meets no outspoken objection. The song leader … sings the first line alone. Then the others, recognizing the familiarity of the hymn (or its unfamiliarity), join in accordingly. Some sing, some hum, and others just look blankly at the words. The song service is considered a fair success if it merits a trio or a quartette on any one number.
Following a prayer, Bro. Clow climbed onto the center table and used it as his pulpit, sitting “cross-legged like Mahatma Gandhi.” He opened his Bible, and reminded the group that,
“Last time we discussed baptism for the dead but were left with kind of a question mark.” Thus the meeting is opened and in full swing. Baptism for the dead is settled with the unconvincing conclusion that St. Paul taught it, that it was probably practiced by the ancient saints and that the Christian church today should be doing the same.
Into the discussion then comes the “Nature of God, Sin, Heaven, Hell, Man’s Future State, Repentance, Will God completely Forgive Sinners if They Repent, The Holy Ghost, etc.” Scripture is quoted, looked up, read and applied. There are many noddings of heads in agreement, enthusiastic statements of “that is correct.” The harmony of spirit is outstanding.
Captain McBride’s evaluation of the service was,
It is remarkable how much truth is sorted out, mauled about, understood and accepted. God is not unconscious of what is happening. I am sure He is blessing this little group which meets every spare night within the confines of an air-raid shelter to study the revelations of Heaven.
Group meetings lasted an hour, or two hours, or whatever time the men had to spare from more formal duties. One or another of “The Three Musketeers” always took the lead in discussions – from notes of these men’s ability to quote scripture, and their testimony that they had never violated the Word of Wisdom, I wonder if Brothers Clow and Coward, at least, were not returned missionaries.
Capt. McBride was especially intrigued by Irving, whose full name he failed to recall.
For a while, at the meeting, he sat on the big bench. He said nothing. When discussion became more heated he arose and stood behind the table on which Dave sat, facing the audience of other men. This was Irving. He is small, with a heavy crop of thick, black hair. He is retiring, thoughtful, humble, repentant, having a heart full of sorrow for sin, hopeful and prayerful that God will forgive him of his past weaknesses and save him in his Kingdom. It is this Irving who … seemed to express the spirit of humility so characteristic of Jesus.
Their services may not have been as formal or as polished as meetings at home, or even as servicemen’s meetings became with more experience. But their hearts and souls were right, according to their chaplain.
The Three Musketeers: Dave, the serious and thoughtful; Jarius, the free and frank and fluent; Irving, the repentant and the humble. A splendid trio of young men, honest, upright, clean, fearless in their religious convictions, faithful to the light of truth they have so far gained, seekers of further light, prayerful and thankful to God for their fellowship one with another, sure that through keeping themselves unspotted from the sins of the world they will please the Lord and be saved in His Kingdom. They have learned much and have much to learn. They are an inspiration to me to know that there are such God-fearing young men in the army. They will do much good. May the Lord guide them.