I’ve already written about the scripture just before this which reads:
“And I was led by the Spirit, not knowing beforehand the things which I should do.” (I Nephi 4:6)
But now I’d like to focus on the four words that follow this scripture.
“Nevertheless, I went forth.”
I don’t believe there’s a better call to action than these four words. They speak about being diligent, obedient, fearless, and true. How many times in your life have you been asked to do something you knew you should do, but really didn’t want to? I’m sure there have been many times, perhaps even just this week, when you may have felt this way. But Nephi set a great example for each one of us. He didn’t procrastinate – he didn’t question – he didn’t complain – he just “went forth.”
I’m sure there have been many who have been influenced by Nephi’s example of obedience and diligence. One I’d like to focus on today is a World War II hero. (As many of you know, I love World War II history and the many brave stories that have come from it.)
By way of background to this story; not long ago we were visiting the Salt Lake City cemetery to pay our respect and love at the graves of my mother-in-law and sister-in-law. (I love visiting cemeteries. They are so full of history, memories, and stories for the ages.) While we were there we stopped by President Hinckley’s grave site to remember him and his great example. Immediately to the west of President and Sister Hinckley’s graves I noticed a group of graves from the family of J. Rueben Clark. President Clark was a counselor in the First Presidency when I was born. He served in the First Presidency for nearly 29 years as a counselor to President Heber J. Grant and President David O. McKay. (Now that’s a lot of background information to the “rest of the story.”
Buried among the President Clark’s family members in that section of the cemetery is his son-in-law, Mervyn Sharp Bennion. I’d like to share with you the heroic story of Captain Mervyn Bennion - how he diligently filled his duty and “went forth.”
Captain Mervyn Sharp Bennion, US Navy
On the night of December 6th, 1941, U.S. Navy Captain Mervyn Bennion of the USS West Virginia enjoyed dinner at the home Ralph Woolley, relatives of his wife, in Oahu, Hawaii. Ralph Woolley was serving as Stake President of the Oahu Stake in Hawaii. As the evening came to a close, the Woolley’s invited Captain Bennion to stay the night in their home so he wouldn’t have to travel back in the morning to attend Sunday School and Fast & Testimony meeting. Captain Bennion, being the diligent and dedicated leader he was, declined saying he felt he needed to be on the ship with his men He graciously said he would return in the morning to attend church with them.
The next morning, December 7th, 1941, just before 8 o’clock in the morning Captain Bennion was shaving in preparation to go to Oahu for church. Suddenly, a sailor on watch on the bridge rushed to inform the Captain that they were under surprise attack by the Japanese. Captain Bennion immediately called his men “to Battle Stations.” The attack of Pearl Harbor had begun.
The first wave of torpedoes and bombs had caused major damage to the USS West Virginia. The USS Arizona, just astern of the West Virginia had taken a bomb directly in the ammunition hold and exploded, instantly dooming over 1,200 sailors to death.
Following the first intensive wave, Captain Bennion left the conning tower on the flag bridge to get a better look at the damage and to give orders to his men. Just as he stepped out of the doorway he was viciously hit with a splinter from an exploding bomb. The splinter ripped into his abdomen and through to his spine and hip. Collapsing on the bridge he courageously held his hands to his gaping wound while a pharmacist mate attempted to ease his pain. It was immediately and undoubtedly clear to Captain Bennion that he had no hope of surviving this mortal wound. But he never once indicated this to the pharmacist mate and quickly sent him to attend to the other wounded men of the West Virginia. He continued to give orders to his well-trained crew reminding them of their duties. Courageous until his last moment of consciousness, Captain Bennion was diligent to the very end of his life.
The USS West Virginia under attack at Pearl Harbor
December 7, 1941
The official report of the Secretary of the Navy honored Mervyn Bennion with these words:President Franklin D. Roosevelt posthumously awarded Captain Bennion the highest military honor possible. The Medal of Honor. The citation read:
“The dying captain of a battleship displayed the outstanding individual heroism of the day. As he emerged from the conning tower to the bridge, the better to fight his ship, his stomach was laid completely open by a shrapnel burst. He fell to the deck. Refusing to be carried to safety he continued to fight his ship.”
For conspicuous devotion to duty, extraordinary courage, and complete disregard of his own life, above and beyond the call of duty, during the attack on the Fleet in Pearl Harbor, by Japanese forces on 7 December 1941. As Commanding Officer of the U.S.S. West Virginia, after being mortally wounded, Capt. Bennion evidenced apparent concern only in fighting and saving his ship, and strongly protested against being carried from the bridge.
Captain Mervyn Sharp Bennion was laid to rest in Honolulu with many other brave men who were killed at Pearl Harbor that morning. His funeral services were conducted by his friend, President Ralph E. Woolley of the Oahu Stake.
Despite the opportunity to be in a safer place, Mervyn Bennion filled his duty to be with his men. It was that duty and diligence that put him in command of his ship when it was needed most. Despite the severe damage to the USS West Virginia, only Captain Bennion and one other shipmate were killed on board the battleship that day. Under the direction of Captain Bennion, even while mortally wounded, the West Virginia shot down between 20 and 30 Japanese planes during the attack.
I pray that when the most important times come in our lives that we will be ready to go forth. It may be a time when you are thinking about a friend and feel impressed to check in on them. It may be obeying your parents. It may be following the teachings of the Prophet to prepare for a mission or stay away from pornography. It may be not dating until you're 16 or not going to inappropriate movies no matter what they are rated. It may be as simple as getting up and going to Church on Sunday. Whatever it may be, I pray that we will have the courage shown by Captain Mervyn Bennion and that we will follow the example of Nephi, who didn’t shrink from his duty, but diligently, obediently, fearlessly and truthfully, “went forth.”