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Tuesday, December 21, 2004

Recommended Reading: A Distant Prayer: Miracles of the 49th Combat Mission

A Distant Prayer by Joseph Banks and Jerry Borrowman (American Fork, Utah: Covenant Communications, 2001) is a gripping, troubling, and inspiring tale of a Mormon soldier in World War II, Joseph Banks. He was a flight engineer on B-17 bombers who was shot down on his 49th mission (he would have completed his flight duty on his 50th mission). He went through hell, but experienced many miracles as the Lord helped him to endure, survive, and eventually escape.

In a sense, his story can be viewed as a model of our own predicament here behind enemy lines in spiritual Babylon, where we must turn to the Lord daily to escape the threats that surround us and flee to Zion. Certainly the Lord could have spared Brother Banks from being shot down in the first place, just as he could place any of us far from whatever challenges he now face - but there is much to be learned and gained by taking whatever trials the Lord allows us to face, and doing all we can to endure to the end in faith.

I love the miracles in his experience. Below is one brief passage describing his miraculous survival after his plane was accidentally blown up by a fellow B-17 that dropped its bombs on his plane (the lead plane in formation took a hit on an engine right as it was about to release its bombs, causing it to slow down and come over the rear and lower plane in the formation as it released its bombs). He was knocked unconscious for a while after the first bomb struck his plane. Then when he came to,
". . . it took me a few moments to figure out what was going on. . . . I found myself in a tubular section of the fuselage that was open on both ends, spinning in the air as we fell towards the ground four miles below. . . .

I was relieved to feel that my parachute was in place, but I couldn't use it because I was stuck against the wall of the fuselage, held there by the centrifugal force. . . . I couldn't get out. I'd try to get up only to be forced back against the wall. In desperation I looked down and saw one of my crewmates lying next to me. I reached out and touched him, but he didn't move. Apparently the explosion had killed him. I knew that I had to muster every ounce of energy I had or I would go down to my death in that section of the aircraft. I tried several times, but to no avail. I was just too weak to pull free, and so the only thing I could do was pray. I asked the Lord to please help me get out somehow. I said it out loud, the words choking in my throat, but He heard me anyway.

Suddenly, as clear and as clam as if she was standing right next to me in the living room of our home, I heard the voice of my wife Afton say, "Joe, look down at your legs and you'll see that there's cable holding them. Pull the cable!" That's all she said. I looked around, but couldn't see anyone. Even though I was stunned, I looked down and sure enough there was a cable lying across my legs. I reached down and pulled it with all my might. At first nothing happened, but then I was suddenly sucked out of the fuselage and started freefalling. I later learned that the cable was attached to two pins that held an escape hatch door. When I pulled them loose, the door separated from the fuselage. Talk about incredible. It probably took a second or two for me to get over the shock of being hit by the wind, but then I realized that I was falling backwards through space.


And yes, his parachute worked, allowing him to land in enemy territory, where angry villagers surrounded him and probably would have killed him if a couple of German guards - also not especially nice - had not taken him away for interrogation. Things got incredibly tough for Brother Banks - but his example is inspiring. I strongly encourage you to read this book!

3 comments:

Words of a Mormon said...

I also heard this great story about German soldiers and British pilots who blessed the sacrament together...

Mormanity said...

I think that's an urban legend - but Joe Bank's stories are no legend, in my opinion. And the essence of it is supported with detailed and even documentation.

Anonymous said...

I contacted Joe Banks and he came and spoke to our youth in our stake. He had dinner before the meeting at my home with some deacons in my ward. His experiences are all true. He has been active his whole life and has been a stake president