The following review of my book recently appeared in the Association for Mormon Letters:
Title: All Enlisted: A Mormon Missionary in Austria During the Vietnam Era
Author: Roderick Saxey, MD
Publisher: Haus Sachse Enterprises
Genre: LDS biography, LDS missionary
Year Published: 2013
Number of pages: 308
Reviewed by Roy Schmidt for the Association for Mormon Letters
“All Enlisted” is a book that emotionally involved me from the start. I joined The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in January, 1969. Roderick Saxey began his service as a missionary for that church in August of that year. As might well be imagined, the time during which Saxey was serving was a critical time for me as I was learning what it means to be a member of the church, and to become familiar with its doctrines and practices. I was aided by both missionaries and members. During this same time, Elder Saxey was teaching these same doctrines and principles to people like me thousands of miles away in Austria.
Saxey uses his missionary journals, letters to and from family members as well as those to and from missionary companions, members, friends, and others as basic source materials. He nicely fleshes these out and puts them into historical perspective with additional narrative, which results in a very clean story line. He includes a helpful glossary of German words and phrases that allows those readers not familiar with that language to more fully understand the thoughts expressed in the letters. A selection of photographs enriches the text.
Serving a mission in Austria was both difficult and rewarding. Elder Saxey had just one baptism during his service, and that was of his own mother just prior to his entering the mission home. Some may conclude such a mission was not very productive, but I disagree. There is a saying that you can count the number of seeds in an apple, but you cannot count the number of apples in a seed. This is so true in missionary work where so much of the time is spent in planting seeds and leaving the harvest to others.
Many Austrians were still feeling the effects of World War II when Saxey was in the country. Many were discouraged, depressed and had turned away from God. They instead embraced naturalism and philosophy. The state religion, Catholicism, left many of them cold. Some would talk to the missionaries because they were American, while others cursed them for the same reason. As I said, the trauma from the war was very evident.
Elder Saxey had three main areas in which he worked. His first assignment was in the city of Wels, a town of some 40,000 located not too far from Linz. He had lodgings with an elderly woman who was a member of the LDS Church. The house had no central heating, but there was a coal stove in the kitchen. As it happened, the winter of 1969 – 1970 was very severe, and the elders found it tough going. His other cities were Bad Reichenhall, a spa city in Germany in the Berchtesgadner Land district in Upper Bavaria, not far from Salzburg., and lastly Braunau, the city of Hitler’s birth.
Missionaries often have unusual experiences, and Elder Saxey is no exception. While serving in Wels, he and his missionary companion decided to get a drink in a restaurant. The waitress was a young blonde woman who flirted with the customers. She was talking to a “disreputable looking fellow by the cash register.” The elders heard a noise and looked up from the catalogs they were examining, and could only see the top of the man’s head above the counter. Thinking the fellow had knocked the waitress down and was robbing her, the missionaries went to investigate. When they got there the waitress stood up red faced and putting on her skirt. I doubt there was anything in the missionary handbook addressing this sort of situation.
Saxey enjoyed the various conferences he attended while serving. This was particularly true when a general authority was present. The two authorities visiting during his mission were Hartman Rector, Jr. and Thomas S. Monson. Elder Rector’s daughter lived in our ward, so Sister Rector and he would visit frequently. They were both outstanding people, and it was fun when they came. The daughter taught the Gospel Doctrine class in Sunday School. I remember her saying if she had questions regarding the gospel, she would always call her mother. Elder Rector got quite a kick out of that. Elder Monson was, I believe, the junior apostle at the time. While Elder Saxey was impressed with his visit, he made special note of “Brother Monson’s beautiful sixteen year old daughter.” Oh well, boys will be boys even when serving missions.
Roderick Saxey’s mission ended early when he developed a serious liver ailment, and had to return to the United States for treatment. It was very difficult for him, in part because he was so close to his release day when he was sent home. Besides he loved the work he was doing, and formed strong attachments to his fellow missionaries and mission leaders. My heart ached for him as I read that part of his account.
While Saxey was serving his mission, his brother, Edward, was serving in the United States Navy. As might be imagined, Edward’s military service was both a source of pride and joy as well as concern for the Saxey family. Edward was married, and his wife’s career allowed her to travel and visit with Edward often when his ship was in port. Fortunately, Edward Saxey survived the war in good shape. The letters he wrote his brother, along with those of his parents, added depth to my reading experience.
The only drawback to this work for me were the political overtones. I am a left wing bleeding heart liberal, and Saxey is an Ezra Taft Benson, W. Cleon Skousen, John Birch Society-type conservative. I admit to having cringed at Saxey’s praise of Richard Nixon and his handling of the Vietnam War. I cringed even more when I remembered my own support of Nixon at the time. That said, I appreciate the author’s candor in this area.
“All Enlisted” is a good book, and I recommend it. The years of Roderick Saxey’s mission defined not only his life, but a generation of Americans. Those who read this work will find their time well spent.