A Conflict That Changed My Life
AS TOLD BY MICHAEL MOLINA
‘The Republic of Viet Nam awarded Petty Officer Molina with the Vietnam Cross of Gallantry,’ reported the military newspaper “Tester,” of Maryland, U.S.A. ‘Later Molina earned a gold star in lieu of a second award of the Commendation Medal for his courageous and tenacious actions during another heavy gunfire engagement. On June 6, 1968, Molina earned a second gold star when he prevented the loss of an important outpost to Viet Cong guerillas.’
ALTOGETHER, I flew 284 combat missions and was decorated with 29 medals. Now I serve as a Christian minister in a different kind of warfare, about which the Bible says: “The weapons of our warfare are not fleshly.” (2 Corinthians 10:4) Let me explain how it was that I made such a change in my life.
Chicago is situated in northern Illinois, U.S.A., which always seems to have strong wind off Lake Michigan. On February 1, 1947, the day I was born there, it was not only windy but also freezing cold. Since my father had recently served in World War II, two military doctors helped my mother bring me into the world. When I was ten years old, my parents moved our family to Los Angeles, California, where they sent my older brother, my sister, and me to a Catholic school.
I grew up playing baseball and football in the streets and in vacant lots, but I also played soldier with homemade wooden rifles and machine guns. The 1960’s, when I entered high school, were years of radical thinking and changing attitudes. Assassinations of social and political leaders, including the 1963 shooting of the president of the United States, as well as protest marches, burning of the American flag, and violent demonstrations, were the scenes of the day. While in school, most of my classmates and I worried about the military draft.
Shortly after graduation from high school in 1966, I received a call to report for my physical examination, which I passed. However, instead of being drafted into the army, I joined the navy. Since I was fascinated with helicopters, I volunteered for a new squadron of navy attack helicopters. In November 1967, soon after receiving basic training, I found myself in Vietnam’s capital city, Saigon.
Initial War Experiences
Shortly, I was shipped to a small airstrip, where there were four Huey helicopters. Some of our detachment of 30 sailors slept at the airstrip, while others of us were accommodated ten miles away in a two-story building. On my first night, I awoke abruptly as bullets began piercing the building. I rolled out of my cot and lay flat on the floor for a few seconds. When I heard shooting above, I found my way to the stairs and made it to the roof, where someone gave me a rifle. We fought for the rest of the night, barefoot and in our underclothes.
After three days of heavy fighting—surrounded and completely cut off—we ran out of food and water and most of our ammunition. The officer in charge gave the order, “At the first light of day, we will make a run for the airstrip.” We had to cross a small town that was in flames. We could hear gunfire, including that of machine guns, as we made our way through the town. There were dead bodies everywhere.
We finally made it to our airstrip, where the situation was not much better. We dug foxholes around the airstrip and tried to hold our ground. On several occasions the Vietcong broke our perimeter and invaded our airstrip, killing many, including our commanding officer. I stayed in my foxhole for several weeks without a change of clothes or a shower. Then a helicopter evacuated us to another outpost.
After those initial days of combat, I was determined to become a helicopter door gunner. I was given a few days’ training and became part of an aircrew. Combat firefights were routine; sometimes I flew three or four missions a day.
The Effect of the War
I was shocked to see so much killing. At the same time, I thought about the protests against the war back home. Were we not fighting for freedom? Were we not risking our lives so that others could live better lives? Still, I wondered where the justice was in the war. Who would benefit from it? The Vietnamese? They had endured many years of war even before we came. Now there was only more death and suffering.
I was young and didn’t understand the politics behind the war. I didn’t have time to think about it either. I just knew that I had missions to fly and a job to do because that was what I was trained for. Sailors would say, “We were trained to fight, not to think.” I did promise myself, though, that if I survived, I would do some serious investigating to find out why we were there.
The Vietnam conflict exposed me to something else that I was not prepared to handle—drugs. As an adolescent, I smoked cigarettes, drank beer and whiskey on weekends, and went to parties. But I had never used drugs. In Vietnam things changed. Some of my companions said: “Why not, Mike? You’re going to get your head shot off tomorrow anyway.” So, on occasion, I complied.
Combat, though, is no place for the use of hallucinogenic drugs, and I swore to myself that I would not take them before going on a mission. When I returned home, however, I carried the urge to take drugs, and I got involved in that world.
Back From the War
When I returned home to California from Vietnam in October 1970, my outlook on life had changed drastically. Although I had joined the military to help the cause of freedom, I felt I had been used. I came back bitter and full of hate. I was a misfit and was no longer patriotic.
I spent days smoking marijuana and taking other drugs while working on my motorcycle in my parents’ garage. Brooding over my situation and thinking about what had happened in Vietnam only depressed me further. My conscience started to bother me. My desire to investigate the reason for the Vietnam War grew.
The government gave veterans education benefits, so I enrolled in a city college and later entered the California State University at Los Angeles. There I acquired friends who had demonstrated against the war in Vietnam, as well as others who had been in the war. We had long discussions about the war and world conditions. Not one of us had satisfying answers; we were all quite confused.
Efforts to Help and Find Help
Many of us, in fact, had emotional and psychological problems. I was moved to try to do something to help. So in school I majored in abnormal psychology. Since I had been so involved in war and killing, I decided to work to make amends. Thus, I started working in hospitals for the mentally disturbed.
Drugs were all over our university campus, and I came to see that they were the root of many problems. I wanted to make progress with my studies and help those in the hospital who were having psychological problems. So I quit all use of drugs and dedicated my time and energies to study and work. Yet, as a therapist, I could see only limited progress with my mental patients.
Completely frustrated with the system of things and with my own tormented conscience, I sought relief from my anguish. I started to pray and go to church. Mass in the Catholic Church was of little instructive value to me. So I started attending church at night. I would go in, light a candle, and pray in front of the images. These included Jesus hanging on a cross as well as Mary with a dagger in her heart and other images of so-called saints.
I began to think: ‘What a cold and morbid place the church is! Could God’s spirit really be here?’ I needed answers and encouragement. I had seen enough suffering. So one night I left the church and went to pray in the park. I looked up at the stars and probably for the first time in my life tried earnestly to communicate with my Creator.
Learning Bible Truth
I escaped from the stress of working at the hospital and visited my old friend Gary for a weekend. One day we spent some time in his living room watching TV. The news was about efforts to impeach President Nixon. We talked about the corruption in all aspects of life, and I mentioned that I had felt deceived regarding the war in Vietnam.
Alva, my friend’s wife, overheard us and came out from the kitchen. She said that events such as those we were discussing were in fulfillment of Bible prophecy. “What could the problems of a president have to do with Bible prophecy?” I asked. Alva explained that soon God’s Kingdom in the hands of Christ Jesus will replace all corrupt governments and that people will live forever in peace on an earth that will be transformed into a paradise. (Daniel 2:44; Revelation 21:3, 4) Alva spoke about the Lord’s Prayer, in which we ask that God’s Kingdom come and that God’s will be done on earth as it is in heaven.—Matthew 6:9, 10.
I could see that we truly do need divine guidance to realize better government and true peace on earth. (Ecclesiastes 8:9; Jeremiah 10:23) Regarding the possibility of living forever, I remembered learning that the atoms that make up our physical body are replaced in relatively short periods of time. Even though some things Alva said seemed far-fetched, my curiosity was aroused. I wanted to make amends for the many injuries I had caused and to help ease the suffering of others. Alva suggested that I go to the Kingdom Hall, where I could learn more.
Bill Akina was a full-time minister in the congregation. He had been in the navy during the second world war, so I could relate to him. Above all, he knew the Bible, and he and his wife answered my many questions by using it. As my studies with Bill progressed, I could see that although my efforts to help those in the hospital were well-intentioned, I could give them only temporary relief. On the other hand, helping people acquire an accurate knowledge of the Bible would mean everlasting life to them if they had faith and lived in harmony with this knowledge.—John 17:3.
Bill studied the Bible with me using the study aid The Truth That Leads to Eternal Life. I was baptized in symbol of my dedication to God in July 1974. Six months later I became a pioneer, as full-time evangelizers among Jehovah’s Witnesses are called. In the meantime, I quit my studies at the university and discontinued my work in the hospital. To support myself in the ministry, I worked as a janitor cleaning banks at night. (1 Thessalonians 4:11) My friends and family thought I had gone crazy.
After pioneering in California for about a year, I began to wonder how I could be used more fully in Jehovah’s service. I decided to set missionary work in a foreign territory as my goal. After serving as a pioneer for a few years, I received an invitation to attend the Watchtower Bible School of Gilead, which was then located in Brooklyn, New York. I was part of the 66th class of that school and graduated on March 11, 1979, in Long Island City, New York.
Changes of Assignment
I was assigned to Guatemala, Central America, where I served as a missionary for about a year. Then I was invited to work in the small printery at the branch office of Jehovah’s Witnesses in the capital, Guatemala City. In 1981, I married Lupita, a local pioneer, and she was invited to join me at the branch office. Later, in 1996, our printing in Guatemala was discontinued when we began receiving all of our publications from the Mexico branch.
Our little girl, Stephanie, was born in 1984, yet I was able to continue serving at the branch office. This was true even after Lupita gave birth to Mitchell in 1987. Living in a residence apart from the branch office and commuting about six miles [10 km] to the office each day has not been easy. But it has been a privilege to serve in this capacity, and my family has been very supportive.
Lupita and Stephanie are now pioneers, and Mitchell is a baptized minister. He will finish his studies at a trade school this year, and his goal is to pursue the full-time ministry. I know that we enjoy these special privileges, not because of personal abilities, but because of Jehovah’s undeserved kindness. He is a loving God, and he will use anyone who has a willing spirit and looks to him for guidance.
Sometimes we are asked how we as a family manage to share so fully in the ministry and at the same time support ourselves. We do work secularly during our vacations. But beyond that, we have always tried to have a ‘simple eye’ as regards material things, looking to Jehovah for help, trusting in him, and constantly seeking his guidance.—Matthew 6:25-34; Proverbs 3:5.
Carrying a gun gave me a sense of power, so I can see the need constantly to work on developing humility. Satan’s system of things taught me to hate and kill and to be suspicious, aggressive, and defensive. But Jehovah has extended mercy and loving-kindness to me, for which I am very appreciative. Now I am determined to continue to learn war no more and to have love and compassion for all.—Matthew 5:43-45; Isaiah 2:4.
It has not been easy for me to make changes. However, I have learned to live a more peaceable life. With God’s help I have also been able to cope with the nightmares resulting from my war experiences. I truly look forward to the time when wars and conflicts will cease. (Psalm 46:9) Until that time comes, I am grateful for the opportunity to serve in the lifesaving work of helping people to learn about our grand Lifegiver, Jehovah God.
[Pictures on page 12]
I was a helicopter door gunner
[Picture on page 14]
With Bill Akina and his wife, Eloise, 1978
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Working in the printery at the Guatemala branch, 1982
[Picture on page 15]
Preaching with my wife
[Picture on page 15]
Today with Lupita, Mitchell, and Stephanie