Invited to Hear the Restored Gospel of Jesus Christ
I was not born a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. When I was 77 years old, a friend of mine came to visit. She wanted to know if she could watch the afternoon session of general conference on my television. I told her yes, but I was going to sleep during it. When it was over, she kneeled at my side and said, “I love you Mickey, but I wouldn’t be a friend if I didn’t offer you the chance to hear the gospel from the missionaries. Would you be willing to hear the missionary lessons?”
I told her that I would need time to think about it. Later that evening I phoned and asked, “What kind of questions do I have to answer?”
She said, “No, Mickey, you get to ask questions. Can I call Bishop Ken Holst and have him call you?”
I said, “Yes.” Later, I received a call from Bishop Holst, and we set up a time that week to meet. My friend never took part. She left it up to Heavenly Father and me.
Bishop Holst picked me up and took me to his home. At first, he spoke of the apostasy. Instantly, I knew that I was hearing the truth. If I had been challenged to baptism then, I would have accepted.
I decided to attend church with my friend the very next Sunday. I was so touched by what I heard during those meetings and how welcoming the members were. I knew that I was in the place where the Lord wanted me to be. Four weeks later, I was baptized and confirmed a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and my life has been greatly blessed.
A Family of Defenders
Three years later, I proposed to and married that dear friend who first invited me to learn more about the gospel. Thanks to her assistance and her work on my genealogy, I have learned a lot about my family. The Marko name goes back to the 12th century. The Marko Coat of Arms says that the bearer of the green is obliged to defend the peasant and all who work the land. The American branch of my family fought as US citizens in World War I. It has now been over 100 years since the signing of the armistice that was supposed to end all wars. Unfortunately, wars continue to this very day. No matter when or where, we Markos have always defended people.
My father (Alva Marko) and uncles (Rosco and Russell Marko and Irvin Jentry Wood) fought in World War II. After they returned home, I decided at the age of nine that I would join the Canadian Army if Canada ever needed men to fight. In my opinion I was a man.
Having been brought up on a farm, I was already doing a man’s work. I was strong, and I was tall as well—after all, I am 5’ 5” in my stocking feet! The Lord put me into a short, strong, fast package so that I would be a smaller target.
Volunteering to Protect Liberty
When I was 15 ½ I heard that Canada was looking for volunteers to fight in the Korean War. I knew I was too young to join, so I changed my birth certificate to say I was two years older. I joined the Canadian Army in Vancouver. I was trained as a member of the Canadian Special Forces Command and sent to Korea when I was 16.
My mother did not want me to join the army, but my father said, “Let the boy go.” When I was getting on the train to Vancouver (en route to Korea), my father gave me great advice that I follow to this day—“Do your duty and don’t do anything to embarrass your mother.”
In some ways, my experiences were similar to the young two thousand stripling warriors that Helaman described: “Now they never had fought, yet they did not fear death; and they did think more upon the liberty of their fathers than they did upon their lives; yea, they had been taught by their mothers, that if they did not doubt, God would deliver them” (Alma 56:47). It is always important to remember and revere our mother’s counsel.
Experiences in Korea
War can be rough. I fought on the front lines. Attacks would often last several days, and our ammunition supplies would get really low. I was wounded three times in three different battles: I was hit by shrapnel to my head; once shrapnel took a chunk out of my shin bone; and once I had shrapnel all around my left knee. With the shrapnel in my knee, a buddy named Boots Spence sat with me as we picked out the shrapnel pieces and put a military field dressing on it. That dressing helped me get by until I could get to the MASH unit a couple of days later.
Once when I was on light duties recovering from my injuries, it became my job to drive a deuce-and-a-half truck filled with ammunition and rations to the front line. I had to drive the truck backwards up the mountain because the weight of the supplies on the back would tip it over. Another time, I was training a man to replace me. We went up a mountain under heavy attack. As soon as we got to the front line, we jumped out of the truck and into the trenches until the incoming fire stopped. When we started unloading the truck, we noticed that the entire driver side had been shot off. When the trainee saw this, he said he couldn’t do this job. It had such a strong effect on him that they sent him home.
When I was on light duties again, I was assigned to be Lorraine McAlister’s driver and bodyguard. She was a well-known singer from Canada who came to Korea to entertain the troops. I have a video that my commanding officer took that had me in it singing with her.
My wife says I looked very “twitterpated,” and I guess she is right. It was Christmas 1951, and I was 16. My light duties were coming to an end, and I would have to go back to the front lines.
Coming back on the ship, we were all called on deck and told not to talk to anyone about what we had seen or done. They said no one would believe us anyway. I have only recently started talking about some of my experiences. Perhaps they can help people who are facing or will face the calamities and cruelties of war.
Blessings of the Temple
As I look back on the 84 years of my life, I can see how the hand of God has protected me. There have been numerous miracles in my life. If the Lord hadn’t been looking out for me, I am sure I never would have returned from Korea. I believe that the Lord has kept me alive so that I could find the true gospel. I know that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is true. I will one day leave this life knowing that the Lord blessed me to find the truth during my senior years.
Since becoming a member of the Church, I have been able to attend the Cardston Alberta Temple. I have had the opportunity of being sealed to my mother and father, sealing them to each other, and sealing them to my grandparents. Others have helped me to complete ordinances for many of my ancestors. It is a great blessing for me to know that when I leave this life I will be again united with many generations of my beloved family members—especially my father and my dear mother.
Editor’s note: In December 2018, Irvin “Mickey” Marko completed writing his personal history entitled: Canadian Child Soldier on the Frontlines in Korea.