Monday, August 6, 2012

Preparing for the Battle of Life (#47)

After raining most of the day on Friday and into the early hours of Saturday morning, we awoke to a mostly sunny sky and NO precipitation.  7:30 a.m. was our scheduled meeting time at M Dock for our youth conference trip to Peleliu; the theme for which was Preparing for the Battle of Life.  We were up at our usual 6:00 a.m.  Elder Johnsen was busy getting 10 gallons of ice cold filtered water into the big Igloo water cooler.  Both Elder and Sister Johnsen hurriedly made food for the day.  (due to the cost of the trip the attendees were to bring their own food and water bottles). By 8:30 the boat had arrived and our large group of 39 was safely boarded on the boat which was loaded to capacity.  Pushed along by twin 150 HP outboard motors, we made the 20 mile trip to Peleliu in about 50 minutes.
M Dock in Koror
Elder and Sister Johnsen just after landing in Peleliu. 
From there we boarded a bus and a flat bed truck and made it to our first site:  orange beach, one of the landing beaches for the marine corp invasion of Peleliu.  The plan for the day was to visit seven battle related sites.  Elder Johnsen, who has read extensively about the battle for Peleliu, would describe what happened at each site and then a speaker would use that Peleliu battle incident as an object lesson in our own Battle of Life.

At Orange beach, our first stop, Elder Johnsen described how the Japanese had, after their losses in the Solomon, Gilberts, Marshalls and Marianas, assembled a research team to develop a new island defense strategy. They chose to abandon the old tactic of stopping the enemy at the beach. For their new strategy they would only disrupt the landings at the water’s edge, and depend on an in-depth defense farther inland. Colonel Nakagawa, the Peleliu Japanese commander, used Peleliu’s rough terrain to his advantage, by constructing a system of heavily fortified bunkers, caves, and underground positions all interlocked into a "honeycomb" system. The old tactic of the banzai charge was also discontinued as wasteful of men and ineffective. This new strategy would force the Americans into a war of attrition requiring more and more resources. 

Unlike the Japanese, who drastically altered their tactics for the upcoming battle, the American invasion plan was unchanged from previous amphibious landings, even after suffering 3,000 casualties and two months of delaying tactics against the entrenched Japanese defenders at the Battle of Biak.  The marine commander predicted that the battle would be completed in 3 days—he missed his prediction by 70 days.  The battle for Peleliu had the highest casualty rate for U.S. soldiers of any battle in the Pacific War. The National Museum of the Marine Corps called it "The bitterest battle of the war for the Marines”.  Even after 2 days of heavy pre-D day bombardment the strong, well hidden fortifications were largely untouched.  Within the first 10 minutes 26 amtracks carrying men and equipment had taken direct hits as they crossed the reef; within the first hour and half sixty were damaged or destroyed.

Elder Johnsen then pointed out to the youth that unlike the Americans which didn't update their battle plan in response to what its adversary was doing, the church just updated “For the Strength of Youth” pamphlet.  “Work and Self-Reliance” has been added.  A lot of youth are spending so much time with new technologies—social networking, Internet browsing, video gaming so that they never really learn how to work.  He described how each of the standards will protect us from enemy of all righteousness.  One of the boys found a couple rounds of ammo right next to the beach.  

Elder Johnsen displaying the ammo 
The next stop was the main prize of Peleliu, the airfield.  By the end of the first day of fighting the Marines had advanced to the airfield.  At 4:50 in the afternoon the Japanese counterattacked.  A bombardment was followed by 20 tanks and about 500 supporting infantry rolling out of the hills behind the airfield to challenge the marines.  Fortunately, the attacking force was spotted by an aircraft pilot who relayed the information to US ground troops.  Also fortunately, a platoon of US Sherman tanks were on hand.  The Japanese tankettes were no match for the Shermans.  As they came out into the open the Shermans made quick work of the tanks and the supporting infantry.

Elder Early then described a story in the Book of Mormon where Lehonti was persuaded by the wicked Amalickiah to come down from his high place of security and fell into a plot that resulted in his death by degrees from poison.  He described how, in our battle of life, the adversary wants us to come down from our celestial or terrestrial high places and enjoy the pleasures of telestial living. Elder Early used such examples as premarital sex, betel nut, tobacco, alcohol and thus Satan poisons us by degrees, binds and enslaves us in his army.

 Elder Early beside the airstrip
Next, we headed to a favorite local site which has a 30 foot deep hole in the coral which is filled with about 20 feet of salt/fresh water.  We ate lunch and let the youth enjoy the water into which they jumped numerous times.  After an hour of fun and food, Sister Johnsen described an experience from the New Testament where a woman meets the Savior at the well.  She related to the youth how they know when their physical bodies are thirsty, but it is harder to know when our spirits are thirsty. We need to be giving them living water every day by learning about the Savior and following his example. She shared with the group a story about her son, Clark, who was in Russia doing 42nd Street. Shortly after arriving there, a theater was bombed. Some of the cast were so frightened that their theater would be in danger that they came back to the US. Others stayed but were scared to go to the theater every day. One young woman asked Clark why he was so cheerful and never afraid. He said he understood where he came from, why he was here on the earth, and where he was going when he died, so he has a sense of peace.  This is the living water that the Savior provides for his followers.
Sister Johnsen talking about living water
Jumping into the water hole

After lunch was over we headed to a memorial site where Elder Johnsen explained the staggering cost of the battle in deaths and battle wounds.  As we stood at the Japanese memorial, Sister Ramari described how the Savior offers first aid for our wounds during our battle of life.  We found, once again, in the Book of Mormon, a perfect example in the sons of Heleman who did not doubt—their fear was replaced by faith which protected them against their enemy.  The Savior has promised us He will support us in our trials in the battle of life.

Then up the hill we went to Bloody nose ridge; named by the 1st Marines who fought and died there.    Elder Johnsen described one particularly bloody battle for Hill 100.  Captain Everett Pope and his company penetrated deep into the ridges, leading his remaining 90 men to seize what he thought was Hill 100.  It took a day of fighting to reach what he thought was the crest of the hill, which was in fact just another ridge, occupied by more Japanese defenders.  Trapped at the base of the ridge, Pope set up a small defense perimeter, which was attacked relentlessly by the Japanese throughout the night.  The Marines soon ran out of ammunition, and had to fight the attackers with knives and fists, even resorting to throwing coral rock and empty ammunition boxes at the Japanese.  Pope and his men managed to hold out until dawn.  When they evacuated the position only nine men remained.  Pope later received the Medal of Honor for the action.

Rodney, our young men’s president then described the battle of David vs. Goliath.  David, armed with only stones and a sling defeated Israel's enemy.  He described how we can face and defeat our own Goliath's with our 5 rocks of courage, effort, humility, prayer and love of duty (see Monson's address in January 1987 Ensign).  

The last two spots we visited contained a hollowed out cavern in which the Japanese had placed a 150mm Howitzer; nearby was a U.S. LST armored vehicle.  The Howitzer was an example of the clever use of camouflage.  There are certain things that the adversary wants to hide from our view, including the “rod of iron”, the “straight and narrow path”, the “tree of life”, and the “river of filthy water” (that is the consequences of sin).  What the adversary wants us to focus on is the “broad and spacious building”.  We all recognize those images as coming from Lehi’s dream found in 1 Nephi in the Book of Mormon.  Evangeline, our YW president, encouraged our youth to not be deceived, but to hold fast to the word of God.
At the Howitzer
In front of the Armored LST, Rilong Roberto discussed each article of protective spiritual gear as described by Paul in Eph. 6:11. 
Elder and Sister J at the LST
After 7 stops and 7 talks by 7 different leaders it was time to have more fun.  We re-boarded our boat and on our way back to Koror made two different stops for swimming in the rock islands.  In the first location we had a sandy beach and beautiful clear water. Everyone had a great time swimming.

Our last stop was at a rock island location called the Milky Way—so named for the milky white clay that lines the bottom of the waterway and gives the water a milky blue appearance.  Again the youth swam, they dove down and scooped up handfuls of the white mud and spread it over their bodies.  Everyone who did so looked at least 5 years younger the next day!
The Milky Way
Milky Way mud
Beauty treatment with the Milky Way mud
Twenty minutes after Elder and Sister Johnsen arrived home another storm blew in, and it poured rain all night and the next day.  We felt so blessed to have a whole day of perfect weather.  It was also gratifying to have a number of the youth bear their testimonies on Sunday.  We hope they (and the rest of us) will remember the lessons taught and will always be preparing for the Battle of Life.

1 comment:

  1. what an incredibly memorable and spiritual experience you all gave the youth! It sounds so well prepared, well thought out, and well presented by everyone. I really enjoyed learning about the history as well, and found all of your allegorical connections to these battles extremely poignant! Well done!! Wish I had been there!