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Stephen Andrew Childers: Power and Authority

By: Ardis E. Parshall - January 25, 2010

Stephen Andrew Childers, age 20, might have liked to have been at home in Alton, Illinois, when his little brother James turned 12 late in 1960. But he couldn’t be there, so he wrote a letter:

Dear Jim. Happy birthday! How does it feel to be twelve? if I were home, it would feel painful in a certain spot, understand?

By the time you get this you will be twelve. This is an important time in your life because you will be able to hold the priesthood now.

I wish I could be there when you are ordained. You must always remember that holding the priesthood is a great honor and privilege. You must always be true to it even if you see others who aren’t honoring theirs. The office of deacon in the Aaronic Priesthood gives you more power and authority in God’s kingdom than do the offices of President of the United States, Prime Minister of Great Britain, and leaders of all the other countries combined. It may be hard to realize, but it does.

Don’t think the seriousness of the priesthood will make holding it unpleasant, for you will find that the priesthood will give you great opportunities for service. Love of God and service to him, combined with love and service to people is the best road to happiness. You have a wonderful opportunity unfolding before you, make the most of it. Honor and magnify your priesthood. If you are in doubt whether something is right or wrong, sk yourself, “Would Jesus do it?” If he wouldn’t, don’t you, and you won’t be wrong.

I hope you have a Happy Birthday. Don’t bother your sister [Margaret] too much. Write me and tell me what you are doing.

Your brother, Steve.

Stephen was in a position to have thought quite a bit about power and authority, about presidents and prime ministers, about service and opportunities: he was in his first year as a cadet in the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. All reports are that he was a fine cadet. He graduated in 1963 in the solid middle of his class academically, and he was an award-winning athlete. A former classmate, Brig. Gen. Ramon M. Ong (Ret.), later recalled,

We entered West Point together and joined the Army Swimming Team together. He was a great athlete and set many Academy records. I was no match for him and so became the Team Manager who posted his records on the Gymnasium wall.

As for his moral character and religious activity, a local church leader (unfortunately anonymous in my source), wrote,

In the four years he was at West Point we came to know him well. We have never known one of “our boys” who radiated so much good or inspired so much confidence as Steve. Every cadet, and especially every LDS cadet, whose spirit needed bolstering was a better, stronger person for having known Steve. His testimony and faith were contagious and all the more inspiring because they came from a man who was an all-round person.

“June 5, 1963 was our Graduation Day,” wrote Ramon Ong,

and also my wedding day and Steve was one of my ushers who “crossed sabers” at the West Point Chapel. That was the last time I saw him because I returned to the Philippines to serve in my Army while Steve served in his. In 1966, we were both sent to Vietnam almost at the same time, but our paths never did cross.

Captain Childers, age 26, did cross paths with the enemy on 19 January 1967 in Bien Dinh Province. As commander of an infantry company, he directed some of his men to attempt the rescue of a group of women and children apparently being held hostage in a cave. When his men fell back, wounded, he entered the cave himself and was killed.

Ramon Ong, again:

I learned about his untimely death only several years later. Goodbye Steve, I know you would have become a great career officer if you had lived longer.

I shall always remember your competitive spirit, your infectious smile, your deep Mormon faith and most of all, your golden head bobbing in and out of the swimming pool, always many, many yards ahead of me.

Marion D. Hanks, now an aged emeritus general authority following service with the Seventy and in other leadership positions, and then deeply involved in service to LDS servicemen, reported that “letter after letter received by Captain Childers’ parents from many parts of the world spoke of his unusual love for children and of their great love for him, of his deep religious convictions, wholesome life, and selfless service.”

I’m one of those who remains conflicted by the political purposes for which presidents and prime ministers spend our treasure and use up the lives of young men and women, but I have no conflict when it comes to considering the generosity and selflessness of so many of those young men and women who offer themselves to their countries – especially when those young soldiers value their priesthood above all the temporal power at their disposal.

Stephen Andrew Childers would have had his 70th birthday on 14 March of this year. I suspect his family will remember him on that day. I will too.



16 Comments »

  1. I’m with you in your penultimate paragraph. Deeply conflicted, but this is a fine tribute to a deserving individual. Thanks.

    Comment by J. Stapley — January 25, 2010 @ 9:25 am

  2. Thanks Ardis. A moving tribute to an extraordinary young man.

    I might have made it through mostly dry-eyed, but you did have to post that photo of his name on the wall of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. I have never been there without being moved to tears at the thought of all those young men and women whose names represent such a terrible loss–and that photo this morning was enough to bring all those emotions flooding back.

    Comment by Mark B. — January 25, 2010 @ 10:35 am

  3. Thank you, J., for understanding. And Mark, you do, too. It’s always the names, isn’t it? Seeing them, saying them again, names have such power.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — January 25, 2010 @ 11:11 am

  4. Ardis:

    Thank you for your memorial to Stephen Andrew Childers. He clearly was a tribute to the Army and to his Church.

    I have always believed that the U.S. soldier is the heart and soul of America. Childers is a prime example of that claim.

    Comment by S.Faux — January 25, 2010 @ 11:50 am

  5. Ardis, thanks for this gift of another great example to follow.

    Comment by Stephen Taylor — January 25, 2010 @ 12:34 pm

  6. Lovely memories of the man, and what a wonderful letter to his younger brother.

    Comment by Researcher — January 25, 2010 @ 1:03 pm

  7. Don’t think the seriousness of the priesthood will make holding it unpleasant . . . Love of God and service to him, combined with love and service to people is the best road to happiness.

    I loved the way he explained it there. What a great gift to a brother.

    Thanks for this memorial.

    Comment by Hunter — January 25, 2010 @ 2:20 pm

  8. A wonderful story, Ardis. His younger brother must have treasured that letter. I have a hard time seeing the names on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial without becoming emotional.

    Comment by Maurine — January 25, 2010 @ 7:04 pm

  9. Moving tribute, Ardis. Thank you.

    Comment by m&m — January 26, 2010 @ 3:55 am

  10. Thank you for this lovely article on my Uncle Steve. My siblings and I often wonder what it would be like if our Uncle Steve were still with us. Although we never met him we all deeply admire and love him. I hope to make him proud in this life.

    Thanks again.

    Best,
    Lauren (Childers) Thorley
    Panama City, Panama

    Comment by Lauren Childers Thorley — July 12, 2010 @ 6:53 am

  11. Lauren, I’m glad you found this page so that the Childers family will know that Steve is remembered and still inspiring us all these years later.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — July 12, 2010 @ 7:46 am

  12. Thank you for the wonderful tribute, Ardis. Yes, I’m Steve’s little brother (now 62). You did an excellent job, and a great service, in providing a fitting followup to that letter my brother originally penned to me.

    Comment by Jim Childers — July 12, 2010 @ 2:51 pm

  13. Jim, I’m honored that you commented, and very pleased that you found this a fitting tribute. You probably recognize that I found Steve’s letter to you in the Improvement Era. It did take some searching to find the additional information.

    Steve is exactly the kind of Latter-day Saint that Keepa readers like to hear about — someone who is generally unknown to the world today but whose life and example adds as much to our heritage as any better-known pioneer or missionary. Saints like him should never be forgotten.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — July 12, 2010 @ 3:21 pm

  14. What a wonderful article about my Uncle Steve. I never knew him, but have heard about him all my life. His only sister, Margaret is my Mother. Steve is an example to learn from and follow even though not on this earth. I look forward to the day when I get to meet him and talk with him myself. We’ve always loved hearing stories about our Uncle Steve, and have visited the Wall in DC several times to seek out his name. It is always sobering, yet gives me a little bit of pride at the kind of man he was, and the reason his name is on that wall.

    It’s an honor to have him as an Uncle!

    Kara Mortensen
    Cleveland, OH

    Comment by Kara — July 12, 2010 @ 4:54 pm

  15. This just gets better and better, at least for me as a blogger. The main thing was finding out about your brother and uncle and writing about him, but to have the family respond this enthusiastically is a bonus.

    I probably won’t acknowledge individual comments if more family members stop by, but please know that you are all welcome and I appreciate your taking a moment to leave a comment.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — July 12, 2010 @ 5:45 pm

  16. Ardis, what a great article and tribute to my uncle, Steve.

    While I dont recall any of it, I was able to meet Steve while i was just a very young boy, and have often been told by my mother of the few, very special times we shared together. During some of the more challenging times in my life, I have felt what i believe to be his spirit there with me, supporting me and guiding me along. I have no doubt what a great man he was and is.
    What an honor to have been named not only after my grandfather, but my uncle as well; a tradition I proudly continued in his memory, with my son, Colton Stephen.

    Thanks again.

    Comment by Andrew Hopkins — July 12, 2010 @ 8:26 pm

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