Alf Gunn Badge

Brasulista #130 WWII SERVICE


Brasulista - Originally titled, "The Brazilian South Mission Newsletter"
Newsletter of the early Brazilian missions, #130 WWII Service
Compiled in 2010

Missionaries served God and country in WWII

Service information compiled by Alfred Gunn, 2010

Brothers and sisters, I am not an historian.  I write newsletters.  But I hear some pretty good stories along the way, and enjoy sharing them.  Please recognize that what I am about to share is incomplete and inadequate, but worth telling.  It is about some of the missionaries who served in Brazil before World War II and some of what they did after their missions. I want you to hear their names. We honor them today by remembering who they were and the sacrifices they made for God and Country. You will recall that the Brazilian Mission was organized in 1935.

Six years ago I stood on Corcovado Rock, overlooking Rio de Janeiro— at the foot of Brazil’s iconic statue of Christ the Redeemer, the magnificent representation of the resurrected Christ, arms outstretched, the marks of atoning sacrifice in his hands.

In my tour group was Barlow Briggs, then a spry 86 years old, who had been a missionary in Brazil as a young man. He recalled how one Sunday after church he and his companion rode the Corcovado train up to admire the statue, which had been erected only 10 years before.  The next day, he said, bold newspaper headlines announced “Guerra no Pacifico!”-- “War in the Pacific!”  Pearl Harbor had been bombed that Sunday.  No more young missionaries would be called to Brazil.

Barlow’s mission president, 39-year old J. Alden Bowers who had served a mission in Germany ten years earlier, was a reserve artillery captain in the U.S. Army. He was replaced five months later and went almost directly to Europe, never expecting to come back.

President Bowers and his replacement, 67-year old William Seegmiller, who became a caretaker mission president, counseled their young American missionaries to return to the U.S. and serve their country.  Many, many did just that—returning and enlisting in the armed forces or reporting to their draft boards.

Barlow signed on for Marine Corps OCS and was commissioned a Naval Officer to train gun crews on ships. John Koch used his mission German language as an Army interrogator in France and Germany.  Alma Kruger was a Sergeant in the Army infantry.  Dick Platt shut down the Brazilian Mission in 1943 and served as a radio operator in the Air Force during the war.  Mel Morris was an officer with the 7th Infantry Division and the Chemical Warfare Service, and later served during the Korean conflict.

Jim Imlay was a 2nd lieutenant in the Philippines.  Levier Gardner served as bombardier and 2nd lieutenant in the Air Force during the war. Ferrel Bybee would win two bronze battle stars in the Army and Davis Grant would serve in WWII and Korea.

I don’t know many of their stories. Mostly just what a widow or family member tells me or an obituary mentions.

Esbee Orin Myler, one of the earliest Brazilian missionaries, was in the Army. Ellis Packer was in the Army.  Quentin Andrus, Rulon Haacke and Howard Taylor joined the Navy.  Ray Zenger was an Army officer. That’s all I know about their service.

Ross Christensen served in the European Theater in the Army.  Norton Nixon served in both Europe and occupied Japan in the Army.  Wayne Johnson fought in Italy alongside Brazilian troops and retired a lieutenant colonel.  Ensign Grant A Fisher served on ships in the Pacific Theater.

Jim Asper served with the 10th Mountain Division and received the Brazilian Service Cross in 1951.  Because he spoke Portuguese, Jack Turner was sent to Washington DC and then guarded President Roosevelt at Camp David.  Franklin McKean was in occupied Japan and went on to become a 2-star general in the Army Reserves.  Orson Pratt “Bud” Arnold enlisted in the Army Medical Corps and served 4 years at a disembarkation hospital.

Army soldier Wayne Call landed in Normandy six days after D-Day.  Don Ashworth, also Army, entered the European Front at France on Omaha Beach the day after D-Day and went into Germany, and later served in Korea.  Kenneth Boss served in the U.S. Air Force in the China, Burma and India Theater of the War.  Howard Robinson was in Italy with the Army.

What impresses me was the courage of these men to serve God and then country, some at the cost of their own lives. David Herman Plewe was killed in action on January 6, 1945 in France.  Arthur Carl Zollinger’s headstone says “Private, 161st Infantry, World War II.”  He died on April 26, 1945.

While Dee Wilson was a missionary he lost his brother in the war, but Dee went on to serve in the Merchant Marines, as did LeGrand Forsyth and Ted Beck.  Daniel B. Harrison was sought for his language skills and went back to Brazil to work for the U.S. Consul General.  Nevertheless, he was drafted into the U. S. Army and served as a translator and interpreter during the war.  Jack Tittensor was in Europe in the Army. Asael T. Sorensen landed at Normandy on D-Day plus two with the Army Intelligence Corps attached to Patton’s Third Army.

Some of these brothers instructed that they not be made to sound like war heroes at their funerals.

Willard Call served as a bombardier navigator during the war, and later as an intelligence officer during the Korean War and became an LDS Chaplain in the Army Reserves.  Ralph Charles Gunn was selected to study Japanese and Military Intelligence at the University of Michigan and took part in the liberation of Europe and the occupation of Japan.  John Rich enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps in 1941 and was a member of Carlson’s Raider Battalion in the South Pacific. Lynn Sorensen was a navigator and bombardier on a B-29 during the war.  

Ted Benson served in Okinawa and with the Army of Occupation in Japan. Later he was Secretary to the Joint Brazil U.S Military Commission in Brazil and was awarded the Order of Military Merit by Brazil. In Vietnam he was a decorated Green Beret commander.

Roger Rose went into France after D-Day with the Army Signal Corps.  Heber Stevenson was in Casablanca and followed Patton across Europe.  Earl Norman Keate was an artillery and intelligence officer in Germany and France, and said the German language he learned in Brazil helped save his life during the war.  Captain Max Shirts and 1st Lt. James Faust served in the Army Air Corps in Intelligence and were at New Orleans and Baltimore together. Lloyd Hicken piloted a B-24 Liberator on 27 bombing missions in the Pacific Theater from New Guinea to China.

You will recognize some of these names.  As a rule, almost all of these men went on with lives of service to family, church and community.

Grant Bangerter was a U.S. Army Air Force pilot and training squadron commander.  Major Calvin “Gail” Cragun flew 21 bombing missions as well as the Berlin Airlift and received the Distinguished Flying Cross.  Warren Cromar served in the South and Central Pacific theaters and was a Lieutenant Colonel when he died in 1953.  Paul Harmon went to Harvard for officer training and served three years in the South Pacific in the Navy.  Jay Smart was in the Army until the malaria he had contracted in Brazil returned.  Lester Taylor served in the Air Force Intelligence Corps in the Azores during the war.  Gerald Werrett enlisted in the Army Air Force and served during the war.   

1st Lt. Hal Johnson was a bombardier on a B-24 and flew 43 missions in the South Pacific.  Paul R. Merrell married and joined the Navy, earning five stars during many battles in the Pacific.  Seth Alder served in the Coast Guard during the war, before returning to the Idaho ranch and a lifetime of church service.  

Ralph Jones assisted in the war effort in translation and espionage investigations as a Special Agent of the FBI.  Master Sergeant Warren Porter served in the Military Intelligence Service as a translator and interpreter for Brazilian army officers being trained in the United States.

“Bim” Holbrook served in the American Embassy in Brazil and in the Merchant Marines during the war.  Jay Byron Hunt joined the Army and served in the Intelligence Service in Europe as a German-speaking prisoner-of-war interrogator. He rose to the rank of Lt. Colonel in the Army Reserves.

I honor these missionaries-turned-soldiers, most of them gone now. They served God and Country.  

I spoke with Mirl Hymas last week. He joined the U.S. Army Air Corps and was stationed at Recife when called into the Army Counterintelligence Corps. He served the rest of the war in Africa and India.  Robert Scott tells me he was in Okinawa on the USS Pine Island, a Navy sea plane tender. Lee Anderson says he went to France with the Army Transportation Corps to bring home the troops by ship at the end of the war.  

“When all is said and done,” said President Gordon B. Hinckley in 2003, “we of this Church are people of peace. We are followers of our Redeemer, the Lord Jesus Christ, who was the Prince of Peace. . . . This places us in the position of those who long for peace, who teach peace, who work for peace, but who also are citizens of nations and are subject to the laws of our governments. Furthermore, we are a freedom-loving people, committed to the defense of liberty wherever it is in jeopardy.”

Barlow Briggs’ generation proved that.  God bless those who so serve today.

Note:  I am indebted to Frederick S. and Frederick G. Williams for the list of names of those who served in Brazil pre-WWII, found in their book “From Acorn to Oak Tree,” Et Cetera, Et Cetera Graphics, 1987, pp. 363-366.

Alf Gunn     (BSM 62-65) - Gig Harbor, WA - - 253-851-1099

62 persons named

Last updated  3/14/15.  Reconciled with Gateway Pearl Harbor.

Comments (0)

There are no comments posted here yet

Leave your comments

  1. Posting comment as a guest. Sign up or login to your account.
0 Characters
Attachments (0 / 3)
Share Your Location