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December 2005 Commencement Address


  My first visit here was over 60 years ago. I was a pilot—a bomber pilot—and we were stationed at Barking Sands on Kauai. We were headed for the war zone out in the Pacific. I wanted to see the temple. I had graduated as a pilot six days before my twentieth birthday. World War II was in full fury, and we didn't know where we were going or what would be our lot. I know that a number of my classmates in high school, already, were casualties of war, and I know that in our county, there were more than 60 who had already fallen and in our stake about thirty. You take the young manhood in the stake where you are a member, and pick out thirty of the men and set them aside you might get the idea.

I wanted to see the temple in Laie. I'd heard about it, and so there was a USO Troop of Hollywood stars that had come to Kauai to entertain the servicemen. I got aboard the plane when they were brought back to Honolulu, and then I hitchhiked over the Pali and came to Laie. The college was not here then, the temple was. I walked around the temple and had a great experience because it was reverent and quiet; hardly anyone was there. Then in due time, I went back to Honolulu. I know the exact date of that visit; it was August 14, 1945.

They had next to the stake center in Honolulu, a large house that was used to serve the servicemen who were in Honolulu stay overnight. I had already made arrangements to stay there. I went down to the main boulevard in Honolulu and wanted to buy a present for my older sister who years before had been to Hawaii. That from our little town in Utah was a great event that someone from our town had actually been to Hawaii. I went into a little shop and looked for something and found a little box. I asked the proprietor, who was Chinese, to wrap it and I would pay for it. He went back through a door "there was a curtain of beads and I was waiting for him to come. Suddenly, he burst through that curtain of beads, came over, handed me the box, took me by the shoulders and ushered me vigorously out the door and locked the door.

I, of course, was startled. Then people came pouring out of every building and out of every shop into the street. Traffic was stopped. It had just been announced that the Japanese had surrendered, The war was over. You can't imagine what that meant after the terrible years of war. Germany had surrendered earlier.

So, I thought that I could go home. I have spent two Christmases away from home, and now for the third Christmas, I would be home with my family. But that was not meant to be. In due course, I found myself on a ship headed for the Philippines. The ship was packed with servicemen; we were going east instead of west. I didn't know then, but it would be another full year, I would spend another Christmas away; this one on the island of Hokkaido in Northern Japan. We had flown a B-17 up from Matsugi Air Field to pick up a beacon, and we were snowed in. It snowed for eight days and eight nights and there was eight feet of snow on the ground. The airport was closed and there were a few Americans at the base. We were there at Christmas, no presents, no letters, no telephone calls, but it was Christmas. That meant the third Christmas in a row that I would be away from home.

Looking back, I wonder how my life might have been different. In Japan, I was in an air/sea rescue squadron. The commanding officer, a captain, called me in a said that, "You're assigned to go down to Osaka to Hitami as operations officer of a flight that we're sending down there." I said something that you do not say in the military. I said, "I will not go."

The reason I said, "I will not go," is because in those days, you got a point for every month you were overseas, you got a point for every battle you were in, and a point for various other things. The war was over and there were literally millions of men to be repatriated. They took the high point men. Everyone in Japan knew how many points it would take to get on the next ship, and I finally went to the bulletin board where the notices were always kept and the points. I knew I'd be on the next ship out of Yokohama. That was the day that the commanding officer said that I would go down as the communications officer of the flight down to Osaka, and that was the day that I said I will not go. There was a conversation, and I quoted some scripture out of context, and he listened to me and finally said quietly, "That's alright Packer, but you're going."

The next day I was on a plane out of Tokyo headed for Osaka. Frustrated, angry, disappointed to no end, I knew that if I went there it would not just be for a few months. I was right. I asked the Lord why He would do this to me? I had earned the points, I was eligible to go, it was justly mine to take, and I tried to behave and tried to remain worthy. The thing I wanted most was to go home.

Well, looking back, it's interesting how the Lord works. If I hadn't gone to Osaka then, I wouldn't be standing here now in this capacity. While we were in Osaka, we held a meeting one night in the home of a Dr. Kawabi, who was a professor at Kansai Gakooen University. Some of the servicemen had become acquainted with him and when I went that night they were teaching him, but he was not interested at all. Two other servicemen brought a Japanese man named Tatsui Sato. We talked to him. I had a little notebook that I kept notes in. After that meeting, I wrote which I guess was a prophecy, that Brother Sato would join the Church and become important to the Church as a translator.

Well, we showed him a Japanese translation of the Book of Mormon, and I went through it, thumbed through it, turned the pages and handed it to him. He turned the pages and said, "This is wrong." He turned a few more pages and said, "This isn't right." Then he turned a few pages and said, "This is wrong too."

I thought he didn't like the Book of Mormon. Then two of the brethren who had been teaching him, got acquainted with him because they went out to a bazaar to buy trinkets and souvenirs to take home and selling in that little, kind of shabby, makeshift bazaar was this dignified Japanese gentleman, middle aged, and he spoke very excellent English. They went back two or three times, and one day he asked if they would go for refreshments. So the two of them, Brother Hanks and Brother Richards, went to the tea house with him. He ordered something and they said, "No thank you. We don't drink tea, we are Mormons."

He had said to them, "What's different about you? I invited you here; I want to know why you are different."

They didn't know they were different. They didn't know they had been unstated. They said, "We don't know why we're different. Why are we different?"

He said, "You don't cheat me, you don't abuse me, you treat me with all courtesy. You're not like the others. What's different about you?"

When they said, "we don't drink tea, we're Mormons," the key had been turned. He asked the question, "What's a Mormon?" They brought him to this meeting. That night in Osaka, and a few days later there was a conference. We went out to where Kansai Gakooen University had been, but it was gone, it had been obliterated. There was a swimming pool that had fresh water in it, and we went with Tatsui Sato and his wife, Chio, and they were baptized as the first members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints since the mission was closed in 1921.

What happened to me, when I wouldn't go but had to go, is that I learned to love my brother. Love those, love your enemy, and they certainly were our enemy. We saw Japanese, heavy burdened; carrying things off the ships, and some of the angry servicemen would push them off of the plank into the water. I couldn't ever do that even though that anger was understood if you had been through what we'd all been through in the period before. Love your enemy, bless those that hate you, pray for them that despitefully persecute you and use you. That's what I learned.

So, Elliot Richards baptized Tatsui Sato, and I baptized his wife, Chio. Their son, Yasuo, was six years old, just too young to be baptized and the work of the Lord was opened in Japan. In due course, the missionaries came. Most of the missions in the Pacific were opened by servicemen "Latter-day Saint servicemen. We looked for members of the Church in Tokyo and Japan, but we couldn't find them. Then when we had this conference, by word of mouth, there was one Japanese woman, in her early 40s, came to this conference and spoke flawless English. That was her first language.

She was Sister Iga from Rexburg, Idaho. She had gone to Japan in the late summer of 1941 to visit relatives. The war opened, and there was no way she could leave Japan. When the servicemen came back to Japan, she wanted to find a member of the Church. She kept asking, everywhere she'd ask servicemen do you know Mormons. It had been several months, she was on a bus and when she got off, there were military police there searching the people on the bus. She was carrying a bag, and they asked to go through the bag, and she surprised them by saying "What is it you want?" They told her they were looking for contraband cigarettes. She said, "I don't have cigarettes, I'm a Mormon." The military policeman said, "I'm a Mormon." She found the Church, and so she'd come to that conference.

Now, in due time, we sat on our back lawn, once with all of our children with the venerable Tatsui Sato who had become a translator for the Church. He had corrected the translation of the Book of Mormon, The Doctrine and Covenants, and the Pearl of Great Price. He'd gone to Honolulu to the temple, to translate the temple ceremony. We made arrangements for him to come from here to General Conference, and he never went back. His wife Chio had passed away, and he worked there as a translator, doing much of the foundation work of the literature, "particularly the scriptures for the Church" in Japanese. We, one summer day, sat out on the back lawn of our home with our children, with this venerable Japanese man, who was then about 90 and he told them about the visit to the tea house. He said, "If they had said, 'No thank you, we don't drink tea,' 'no Brother Sato.' But they said, 'No thank you, we don't drink tea. We're Mormons.'" He said, "Well, you have the rest of the story."

Now, last August, a year ago, I was in Osaka again. Brother Eyring and Brother Ballard of the Twelve, and six other general authorities were there "nine of us in the same spot, and we went out to find the university that was there. I went out to find the swimming pool; it was gone. There was a building there "moved on this spot. It was a sacred spot to me. When I saw Tokyo, it was gone; such devastation you can't imagine.

Now, this is the third visit to Hawaii I have made this year. Last March, I was here, and we came to this campus. Brother Bednar spoke to you. Then we made stops in Saipan, Guam and other places "but mostly we had gone to Sumatra, to the north end of the island "to Banda Aceh. The Coordinating Minister of the government is a friend of mine, a Muslim. He had been a professor of Islamic Studies at Harvard University. I got acquainted with him, and He visited to Salt Lake a few times. When word came that a tsunami had hit Indonesia, I had his cell phone number. I called him. It hit on Sunday, and I called him on Tuesday. He said, "I'm standing on Banda Aceh," never heard of it. He said, "You can not believe the devastation."

Well, last March, I stood at Banda Aceh, and I could not believe the devastation, a city of over a million people gone. In the course of what happened in that storm, there were 150,000 people that died. We offered help. I said, "Of course, we'll help. What can we do?" I was surprised. He said, "We need body bags." I said, "We'll get them for you." He said, "We've tried "we can't find body bags." I said, "How many do you need?" He said, "I think we'll need 10,000."

Within a few hours, we had located in China a source for body bags. The next day I talked to him and said, "We've found them." He said, "We need more." I said, "How many more?" He said, "At least 20,000." Well, when we stood at Banda Aceh, I stood next to a cemetery where there were 40,000 buried in unmarked graves. Now since then, that just last March, two visits to Hawaii "this is the third one "I have been to Beaumont, Texas and Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and to New Orleans. I have seen that city gone."

These are sobering times. You are going out into a world that is different than the world I faced when I was your age; when I was 19, on my first visit to Hawaii. The curtains are falling. The section of the Doctrine and Covenants talks about testimony; it speaks of, "the testimony, are the waves of the sea driven above the banks." You're old enough as college students to see what's going on. We watch it very carefully. Year 2005, if you go over the list of things that have happened, and I won't take the time to list them; it has been a year of unusual turmoil and difficulty "putting a pattern on a society that will be your place, as you go forward.

Now, you won't survive spiritually unless you know how to receive revelation. The Doctrine and Covenants, Book of Commandments, had been collected, and it was going to be published. The Lord revealed what is now the first section of the Doctrine and Covenants. In the beginning, it announces who's speaking, and the Lord spoke to them, it is I the Lord. And He said, "The weak things of the world will break down the mighty and strong ones." And then He said, in the course of concluded that revelation, He said, the Lord speaking, that every man might speak in the name of God, the Lord, the Savior of the world.

Now I don't know whether you know how to receive revelation, but you won't survivor without it. One example is Elijah the prophet, walked onto the pages of history in the Old Testament. We don't know where he came from. He was referred to as Elijah the Tishbite. Now there was a Tishbi area beyond Jordan, in the desert; perhaps he came from there, but his first introduction to us was when he went to the court of Ahab, king of Israel. Ahab was a wicked man and his wife was worse "Jezebel. He told King Ahab that because of what was going on, it will not rain in Israel until I say so. He did not say it will not rain until you behave and start being better; he said it will not rain except by my word. He was driven from the court and went over to the brookside and was fed by the ravens. The king took no thought of it until the rains stopped.

In due course, the seasons turned around and the rains did not come. The cattle were dying. They sent their horses and mules south into Egypt because they were of military value, and they were desperate. Then Ahab wanted to find Elijah. He sent a servant to find him, and he said, "I'll go one way through the country, and you go the other." The king's servant found Elijah and said, "The king wants to see you." He went to the court of Ahab, and Elijah wanted the famine to stop. He wanted to know what to do "he knew he had to have revelation from God. He knew he had to have contact with God. So in due course, he went out into a cave into the mountains, and he prayed, and he prayed. Then lightning started, and then he went out to see this great display of lightning, but the Lord wasn't in the lightning. Then there was a storm, and he went out to see if the weather was changing, but the Lord was not in the tempest. Then it happened "a still small voice spoke to him, and answered his prayer. When he went out after that, he saw clouds forming.

Well now, it's a noisy world, and you're going to have to learn personally, and privately and individually that revelation will come when the Lord can speak to our feelings. You have wonderful opportunities ahead. It is a marvelous time to be alive, to be young, and to be finishing school, to be looking to the things that the other speakers have told you about, but learn to receive revelation.

I was a seminary teacher for a lot of years, and then I was called to be a general authority. One of the interesting things that I learned was this "my wife and I were married, we decided to have a family, we wanted to welcome all the children that would come to us. We knew we couldn't provide them with much of anything, but we decided between the two of us that we could provide to our children a happy home life, and that was our goal. So I was content teaching seminary in Brigham City, and our life was changed when I was appointed as the supervisor. Then 44 years ago, I was called as a general authority. I was 37 years old "didn't know anything. Startled, and in the course of the years since then, finding myself here, one of the things I've learned that as a senior member of the Quorum of the Twelve, meeting with the prophet "I met with him yesterday morning "he said to take to them my good wishes and my blessings; that I convey that to you from our prophet, seer and revelator.

Standing shoulder to shoulder with the apostles, I've learned this: the pattern of our receiving revelation is no different than the pattern I had when I was a father teaching seminar a pattern that is available to you. So as you complete your work here, in a school that's dedicated to the principles of the Gospel, go quietly into the world, and quietly about your affairs "learn that in the still, small hours of the morning, the Lord will speak to you. He will never fail to answer your prayers. Sometimes, He may say that you are going to Osaka, and you will not like it, and you'll learn later that He is answering your prayers. As you go forward, carrying that thing, it isn't available elsewhere on the Earth, you're baptized a member of the Church, you've have conferred upon you the gift of the Holy Ghost to be a companion and revelator to you.

I invoke the blessings of the Lord upon you, that at this moment in your lives, you will have learned by the demonstration of this meeting the difference between what the world is, and what quiet is. Go forward to great lives, guided by the spirit of the Lord, to receive all of the blessings that you desire. As an apostle, I invoke that blessing upon you; that you'll move forward, guided by the spirit to serve the Lord as you go out into the world.

In the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.