They saluted. They shook hands. They embraced. And many cried.

These were among the emotions witnessed at the 10th anniversary reunion in Salt Lake City of the Veterans Association for Service Activities Abroad (VASAA), the culminating event of which was a fireside held in the Assembly Hall on Temple Square June 14.Although not officially sponsored by the Church, VASAA's membership is comprised largely of Latter-day Saints, many of whom are veterans of the Vietnam War. The association began in April 1982 when six LDS veterans banded together to help locate and assist Church members left behind in South Vietnam when that nation fell in 1975 to communist forces or who had become separated from their families during the war in Southeast Asia.

Registered by the state of Utah and by the Internal Revenue Service in September 1983, the organization is now comprised of 225 men and women of many faiths in several countries. The association uses legal means and programs to help people in nations torn by war. VASAA is also compiling the histories of Latter-day Saints serving in the military.

The anniversary June 12-14 brought together VASAA members from many parts of the world. Included in anniversary events were addresses by Elder Dallin H. Oaks of the Council of the Twelve and Elder Marion D. Hanks of the Presidency of the Seventy. Workshops on humanitarian projects and sessions at the Jordan River Temple for Latter-day Saints who are members of VASAA were part of the agenda. The final day's activities included a flag-raising ceremony at Ft. Douglas on Salt Lake City's east bench and a veterans' memorial fireside in the Assembly Hall on Temple Square.

Elder Oaks, speaking to about 100 people in a local LDS meetinghouse, praised the association for "your marvelous Christian service and charitable work with refugees from Southeast Asia and with our members in Vietnam. I wish to assure you that many leaders of the Church are conscious of enough examples of what you have done individually and through this organization to thank you and salute you for it. I speak for them in doing so."

Calling the association's work "charitable and humanitarian," he encouraged members of the Church to be involved in organizations such as VASAA, which are dedicated to serving others.

Then quoting from his book, The Lord's Way, Elder Oaks said: "Ancient and modern scriptures are clear in their commands to care for the poor and the needy. . . . The prophets of the Book of Mormon taught that the care of the poor was the only way we could obtain essential blessings. The prophet/king Benjamin declared that we must impart of our substance to the poor, `such as feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, visiting the sick and administering to their relief' for the sake of `retaining a remission of [ourT sins from day to day, that [weT may walk guiltless before God.' (Mosiah 4:26.)

"Many of us don't have the resources to support all charitable organizations, but I hope that Latter-day Saints are actively supporting good charity works in their communities," Elder Oaks added.

Elder Hanks, a veteran of World War II and a General Authority who visited Vietnam many times, offered the keynote address on the opening night of the gathering. He expressed amazement at the "strength, quality, commitment, love and ability" of the representatives of the veterans' association.

He related that although members of the Church today may have had little to do with the "cosmic problems" existing in the world, they can't ignore their commitments to lift the burdens of others.

Elder Hanks explained that he is not so much worried about whether people think that Mormons are Christians. "What I really worry about is that we live like Christians," he emphasized.

"I've been preaching one message my whole life - that Jesus Christ is our Savior and not only the exemplar, but the motivating power and the beauty and the life. But there is more to it than that."

He then read the words of President J. Reuben Clark, a former member of the First Presidency. "[Jesus ChristT left as a heritage to those who should come after Him in His Church the carrying on of . . . two great things - work for the relief of the ills and suffering of humanity and the teaching of the spiritual truths which should bring us back into the presence of our Heavenly Father."

"Who are those who we serve?" Elder Hanks asked. "Those who we are blessed to serve are God's children," he answered.

Both Elder Oaks and Elder Hanks were presented with plaques expressing appreciation for their support of VASAA.

Hugs and tears were not uncommon at the memorial fireside the final evening. About 130 people attended the event, during which a 32-member veterans choir performed and four addresses were heard.

Association president Virgil N. Kovalenko directed the choir. Among musical renditions performed were "Though Deepening Trials Throng Your Way," "Ye Elders of Israel," "Behold a Marvelous Work," and "Ye Who Are Called to Labor." The audience and chorus joined for "Onward Christian Soldiers" and "God Be With You `Til We Meet Again."

Attending the fireside and some of the other activities were several of the missionaries from the Hong Kong Mission who served in Vietnam from 1973-1975. These included the first four elders to enter Saigon, now called Ho Chi Minh City, on April 6, 1973: David T. Posey and James L. Christensen, both of Sandy, Utah; Colin B. Van Orman, of Calgary, Alberta; and R. Charles Holloman, who is stationed with the U.S. Air Force at the American embassy in Beijing, China. Former mission Pres. William S. Bradshaw, who accompanied the young elders into Saigon, was a featured speaker during the fireside.

Also speaking were Montie R. Keller, a retired Air Force lieutenant colonel and former district president of Saigon; Jerry Wheat, also a former Hong Kong Mission president; and Col. Peter M. Hansen, a U.S. Air Force chaplain.

The last branch president in Saigon prior to the fall of South Vietnam, The Van Nguyen, who now lives in Provo, Utah, also attended the fireside. Before and after the meeting, he was surrounded by VASAA members, many of whom had tears in their eyes as they hugged him and shook his hand.

The featured speaker during that morning's flag raising ceremony was Jay Hess, a retired Air Force lieutenant colonel and a former Vietnam prisoner of war.

Brother Kovalenko, who served in the U.S. Air Force during the Vietnam War as an adviser to the Vietnamese Air Force, said he was pleased at the outcome of the anniversary celebrations. He was emotional as he related to the Church News, "The strength of those who have served in the military and who are currently serving as military member missionaries has increased the richness of what VASAA stands for."

He cited the philosophy of the association: "Peace will be achieved when the power of love overcomes the love of power."