Thomas S. Monson loves to teach through stories. He is noted for being widely read and loves to share stories from great literature as well as true stories about ordinary people who did extraordinary things. Following are a few of stories he has shared about acts of compassion, a favorite topic of the prophet’s.
Compassion During the Civil War
From December 11 to 13, 1862, the Union forces attacked Marye’s Heights, a large hill overlooking the town of Fredericksburg, Virginia, where six thousand Rebels awaited them. The Southern troops were in secure defensive positions behind a stone wall which meandered along the foot of the hill. In addition, they stood four deep on a sunken road behind the wall, out of sight of Union forces.
Soon the ground in front of the Confederate positions was littered with hundreds, then thousands, of fallen Union soldiers in their blue uniforms-over twelve thousand before sunset. Crying for help, the wounded lay in the bitter cold throughout that terrible night.
The next day, a Sunday, dawned cold and foggy. As the morning fog lifted, the agonized cries of the wounded could still be heard. Finally, a young Confederate soldier, a nineteen-year-old sergeant, had had all he could take. The young man’s name was Richard Rowland Kirkland. To his commanding officer, Kirkland exclaimed, “All night and all day I have heard those poor people crying for water, and I can stand it no longer. I … ask permission to go and give them water.” His request was initially denied on the grounds that it was too dangerous. Finally, however, permission was granted, and soon thousands of amazed men on both sides saw the young soldier, with several canteens draped around his neck, climb over the wall and walk to the nearest wounded Union soldier. He raised the stricken man’s head, gently gave him a drink, and covered him with his own overcoat. Then he moved to the next of the wounded-and the next and the next. As Kirkland’s purpose became clear, fresh cries of “Water, water, for God’s sake water” arose all over the field.
The Union soldiers were at first too surprised to shoot. Soon they began to cheer the young Southerner as they saw what he was doing. For more than an hour and a half, Sergeant Kirkland continued his work of mercy.
Tragically, Richard Kirkland was himself killed a few months later at the battle of Chicamauga. His last words to his companions were, “Save yourselves, and tell my pa I died right.” (Thomas S. Monson, “Mercy-The Divine Gift,” Ensign, May 1995, 54)
Making a Miracle
Long years ago a severe drought struck the Salt Lake Valley. The commodities at the storehouse on Welfare Square had not been their usual quality, nor were they found in abundance. Many products were missing, especially fresh fruit. As a young bishop, worrying about the needs of the many widows in my ward, I said a prayer one evening that is especially sacred to me. I pleaded that these widows, who were among the finest women I knew in mortality and whose needs were simple and conservative, had no resources on which they might rely.
The next morning I received a call from a ward member, a proprietor of a produce business situated in our ward. “Bishop,” he said, “I would like to send a semitrailer filled with oranges, grapefruit, and bananas to the bishops’ storehouse to be given to those in need. Could you make arrangements?” Could I make arrangements! The storehouse was alerted, and then each bishop was telephoned and the entire shipment distributed. (Thomas S. Monson, “The Fatherless and the Widows: Beloved of God,” Ensign, Aug 2003, 2-7)
Love For Strangers
A few years ago I read a Reuters news service account of an Alaska Airlines nonstop flight from Anchorage to Seattle, carrying 150 passengers, which was diverted to a remote town on a mercy mission to rescue a badly injured boy. Two-year-old Elton Williams III had severed an artery in his arm when he fell on a piece of glass while playing near his home in Yakutat, 450 miles (725 kilometers) south of Anchorage. Medics at the scene asked the airline to evacuate the boy. As a result, the Anchorage-to-Seattle flight was diverted to Yakutat.
The medics said the boy was bleeding badly and probably would not live through the flight to Seattle, so the plane flew 200 miles (320 kilometers) to Juneau, the nearest city with a hospital. The flight then went on to Seattle, with the passengers arriving two hours late, most missing their connections. But none complained. In fact, they dug into their pocketbooks and took up a collection for the boy and his family.
Later, as the flight was about to land in Seattle, the passengers broke into a cheer when the pilot said he had received word by radio that Elton was going to be all right. Surely love of neighbor was in evidence. (Thomas S. Monson, “The Way of the Master,” Ensign, Jan 2003, 2-7)
The example of a prophet
One who exemplified charity in his life was President George Albert Smith (1870-1951). Immediately following World War II, the Church had a drive to amass warm clothing to ship to suffering Saints in Europe. Elder Harold B. Lee (1899-1973) of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and Elder Marion G. Romney (1897-1988), an Assistant to the Twelve, took President George Albert Smith to Welfare Square in Salt Lake City to view the results. They were impressed by the generous response of the membership of the Church. They watched President Smith observing the workers as they packaged this great volume of donated clothing and shoes. They saw tears running down his face. After a few moments, President Smith removed his own new overcoat and said, “Please ship this also.”
But President Smith would not take it back; and so his coat, with all the others, was sent to Europe, where the nights were long and dark and food and clothing were scarce. Then the shipments arrived. Joy and thanksgiving were expressed aloud, as well as in secret prayer. (Thomas S. Monson, “The Master’s Blueprint,” Ensign, Jan 2006, 2-7)