Lessons From War

General Douglas MacArthur

General Douglas MacArthur

General Douglas MacArthur taught Bill Stacey an important lesson; well, in a round-about way.

Bill knew he had good parents. He had a good family and a good life. At the end of his mission, in February of 1941, he boarded a train in Duluth, Minnesota to return home. It was two months after the United States had declared war on Japan. “I thought a lot about life on that train ride,” said Bill. “I wanted to have my own family. That meant I needed to know how to be a husband and father, but I didn’t know how I would do it. All I knew was farm work and missionary work. How would I know what to do when the time came to be a successful adult? It was a long train ride.”

Knowing he would soon be in the armed forces, Bill kept a close watch on events in the war, and his own service in the Air Force focused his mind on leadership. He often said to himself, “If I’m going to be a good husband and a father, I’d better learn good leadership. I don’t want to lead like some of these people in the war.”

There were plenty of bad examples which caught his attention. One was the French leader, Phillipe Petain. He had an army as big as the German army and an air force as big as the German air force. But He didn’t know how to run it, and he didn’t anticipate what happened. The Germans destroyed his whole military in thirty minutes. German Stuka dive bombers came down on every French airport and bombed until there was nothing left.

"I have returned." MacArthur in October of 1944 came back to the Philippines.

"I have returned." MacArthur in October of 1944 came back to the Philippines.

“The US leaders General MacArthur and General Short were not ready for war either,” said Bill. “The admiral in Hawaii was discharged because they wouldn’t listen to the young man who cracked the Japanese code. He told them there was something big coming to the United States but they didn’t believe him. The Japanese caught our military at Pearl Harbor with every airplane on the ground and every ship in the dock, and they destroyed them all in one sweep.”

“At that point, the US leadership was terrible,” said Bill. “The army was in charge of the air force and they had a huge setup in the Philippines early in the war. After Pearl Harbor, General MacArthur in the Philippines knew the Japanese would take them over any minute, which apparently paralyzed his thinking. Instead of getting out and directing his people to get his army ready, he locked himself in his apartment and couldn’t be contacted for two days.”

Bill never forgot the surprise of the American people when they found their military was so unprepared for war. “It took General MacArthur a long time to become the leader the US needed if we were going to be protected from the Japanese. Even after the disaster in the Philippines, the US Air Force was caught off guard. Bomber pilots on US fighter planes went after the Japanese fighters, but couldn’t find them. Feeling as if the Japanese planes had gone home, they came back to the base for breakfast. But the Japanese were always prepared. They spotted the US planes and followed them back. When the US pilots flew in and went to breakfast the Japanese bombed the mess hall, killed almost all our pilots and destroyed most of our airplanes. By then we all knew if our generals didn’t learn what to do, we would be next.

“I began to see it takes real leadership to do anything and I worried that I wouldn’t know what to do either. For a long time I was afraid as I watched our smart generals mess up and our country placed in jeopardy.

“It was about that time I realized our Father in Heaven gave us all the tools to do exactly what I was afraid I couldn’t do. He had been teaching me all along to keep the Spirit with me, so I would know what to do in every situation. It isn’t a matter of luck to be a good general or a good pilot or a good father. It’s a matter of keeping the commandments so we can have the spirit with us all the time. It’s the Spirit which teaches us what we need to know.”

After the war Bill and Velma settled down, and their children began to grow older. It was then Bill learned something else about keeping the Spirit in the home. He found that being critical of family members was a sure way to lose the Spirit, especially if he was angry or offensive. If he was unforgiving, or if he openly condemned or complained, the Spirit left in a hurry. It was a lesson he never forgot.

Bill with the children at Val Verda, 1953

Bill with the children at Val Verda, 1953

“Long ago I made up my mind I was going to keep the spirit with me inside and outside my home. If my wife did something I didn’t like, I was going to do something really nice for her. If my neighbor did something I didn’t like, I would do really nice things for him. I was never going to let myself get angry. I learned a little trick. When I felt myself getting angry I’d get off to myself and get on my knees and pray and the anger would just leave me, like putting down an umbrella or something. I learned to control it and I’ve never really been angry since then–and that was a long time ago.”

Keeping the spirit in his home was one of the most important things Bill learned. He said, “It would have saved General MacArthur too. If he’d have talked to the Lord, he’d have heard, ‘Get out of this room and get your airplanes lined up and spotters arranged to tell you when the Japanese are coming so you can shoot them down and they won’t kill your men.’ Because MacArthur did nothing, he lost all his fighter planes at once.”

Stuka Dive Bomber (Courtesy PCAviator.com.au)

Stuka Dive Bomber (Courtesy PCAviator.com.au)

Bill often described a better lesson he learned from watching the British in the war. They put their aircraft spotters along their coast when the Germans began bombing England. Those sentries watched for German airplanes, so the British air force could launch fighter planes and go after them. Germany had the upper hand right then. They had air bases in France and Belgium, and sent their Stuka Dive Bombers to destroy the British. But the air raid spotters reported, and the Stukas fell out of the sky like rain.

“That’s what we have to do to keep the Spirit in our lives,” Bill said, “It’s like posting a sentry. We watch for anything which could drive it away or cause us to become discouraged or lose our faith. But we’ve got to do it God’s way. You can’t miss church if you can possibly help it. My wife and I made a little pact at one time. Two things would keep us from going to church: one is sickness and one is death. You can’t fail to pay the Lord a full honest tithing. I had a friend who thought because she gave the Lord $1,000 that ought to be enough. I said, ‘Tithing is not $1,000; it’s a full 10% of everything you earned.’ Some people think they can’t get along without some way of breaking the Word of Wisdom. They think they can have a roving eye toward the opposite sex or for pornography. But you can’t do any of those things and keep the spirit.”

His formula worked: Bill and Velma in 1992

His formula worked: Bill and Velma in 1992

Bill had learned well the way to success. He learned from watching others in World War II how not to do it, and he noted the differences when they learned how to protect themselves. Experience taught him best. Having the Spirit in your life is the best way to learn what to do and what plans to make. It’s the only way to have confidence in what’s ahead–even when the sky looks dark and ominous.