Vol. XIX No. 1 — January 1941

Masonic Welfare Work with the Armed Forces of the United States

During World War I, Raymond B. Fosdick, civilian assistant in the War Department in charge of all training camp activities not military in character, told Most Worshipful Townsend Scudder, chairman of the welfare mission of the Grand Lodge of New York:

I understand that the Masonic Fraternity in the United States is a disjointed organization, every state being a separate jurisdiction, in addition to which there were numerous other Masonic bodies, none of them in this country owing allegiance to any one head organization.

The United States War Department cannot issue forty-nine separate permits to as many different Masonic jurisdictions. The best it could do would be to issue one permit to the fraternity under which all would have to come, for which purpose a single head or committee would be necessary which would represent the entire Masonic Fraternity in this country with which the government could deal and which it could hold responsible. (Report of the Masonic Overseas Mission, 1919 — pp. 9,10)

Thus was Freemasonry bound and helpless during World War I to give aid, comfort, and help to its craftsmen in khaki. The result was the formation of The Masonic Service Association of the United States in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, in 1918 and 1919.

With every hope that this nation may never engage in armed conflict; with every principle of Freemasonry striving for peace with honor, it nevertheless appears essential that the Fraternity prepare for the dreaded eventuality of war — even as the nation, hoping for peace, is preparing for war.

This Association has made the plans which the grand lodges of the United States can use, if, in their wisdom, they desire to engage in welfare work among the armed forces of the nation in the event that war comes, or prior to that event in peacetime mobilization and training.

A year ago the Association queried all grand masters, the heads of the two Supreme Councils of the Scottish Rite, the Grand Encampment, the General Grand Chapter, the General Grand Council, the Shrine, and the National Sojourners, asking:

1. In the event that this nation is drawn into war, should Freemasonry ask the Government for an opportunity to serve as a welfare agency, to comfort and aid Masons, of course according to Army and Navy regulations, and in cooperation with the armed forces of the nation?

If your answer to the above question is in the affirmative:

2. Will you join with your sister grand lodges in commanding this Association to do your will?

3. Will you attend, or send a representative to attend, a meeting of the Grand Masters (or their representatives) of all grand lodges, coming yourself with power to act, or delegating such power to your representative, so that the results of such a coordination meeting may be authoritative?

Thirty-seven grand masters and five of the seven National organizations replied in the affirmative.

In July 1940, the Association queried all grand masters: Should the Masonic Fraternity engage in welfare work with the armed forces, trainees, etc., during time of peace? Answers in favor were only eighteen.

In November 1940 the Association sent the Report on Masonic Welfare Work, of which this Bulletin is an abbreviation, to 1306 grand masters, deputy grand masters, grand secretaries, past grand masters, present and past other Grand officers, in every state in the Union — together with a postal asking opinions as to whether these plans should be put into effect now, for draftees and the National Guard in training; or wait until we are actually at war; or do no welfare work at all. The replies were: 86 percent for welfare work now; 10 percent for welfare work only in time of war; 4 percent for no welfare work at all.

With the nation at peace, millions of men have registered for conscription. The law calls for training 900,000 men for a period of one year. How many more men will he drafted and trained if this nation goes to war is a moot question, but obviously the number will be far larger.

During World War I Masons in various branches of the service were from six to twelve percent in number. If only one million men at any time are in training camps and corps areas, and if the average percentage is taken as the lower figure, there will yet he 60,000 brethren in uniform all the time, and at least half as many more will he sons or blood-brothers of Masons.

The posts, camps and stations of the regular army are wholly inadequate to receive, equip and train a great army. Consequently, training camps similar to World War camps are being established in many states, mostly in the South where an all-year training program can be completed.

A majority of these camps are not near large communities. They thus lack entertainment facilities other than those provided by the Morale Division of The Adjutant General’s office, which are all within the military reservations.

Draftees, craftsmen or not, are young men. Many of them will be away from home, most of them far from home, for the first time. All will be among strangers, and longing for friendly contacts. All will have the usual temptations inseparable from any great group of men cut off from home influences and kept under strict discipline.

In spite of the best efforts of civilian and military authorities, the brothel, the prostitute, the gambler, and the bootlegger have always followed concentrations of soldiers and sailors whether in war or in peace. The counter-attraction of a clean, orderly, inviting place in which a brother may meet his brethren; to which he can ask his buddy, whether Mason or not; in which he can find a sympathetic ear for his troubles, whether real or fancied; to which he can send word if ill or in trouble, is great. The establishment of such centers for brethren in uniform may be demanded not only by them, but by their families, in the next conflict as in World War I; that they may have them is the object of these plans, made for the use of grand lodges if and when they desire to put them into effect.

Almost all units will go into camps far from home. The further from home, the more difficult it is to return on leave, the fewer the possible visits from family and friends, therefore, the greater the causes of homesickness.

Military and medical men know that homesickness is a powerful factor working against good morale (any experienced army officer knows that homesickness is the cause of the vast majority of suicides among men newly in the service.) When it does not deplete a man’s morale to such a point, it frequently incapacitates him for work, sends him to a hospital, and, if too long continued, completely destroys his value as a soldier.

Nothing cures homesickness quicker (except of course, a return home) than a friendly contact with, talk about, influences from the home.

Masonic contacts are home contacts!

It is because of this that welfare and morale work by civilian organizations in general, and the Masonic Fraternity in particular, is welcomed by army and navy authorities.

To be well-prepared in advance of the need, this Association secured the services of Major and Brother Charles S. Coulter, U.S.A. (Retired) and since June 1940, he has been actively at work devising the necessary plans for Masonic Welfare work with the armed forces, should the grand lodges of the nation want to engage in such labors.

The first move was the formation of the advisory committee of military leaders of the armed forces of the United States Army, Navy, Marine Corps and the Coast Guard and Public Health Services.

The distinguished craftsmen who enthusiastically cooperated in giving their names and services to this committee are: General Charles P. Summerall, Brig. Gen. Robert S. Abernethy. Maj. Gen. Randolph C. Berkeley, Maj. Gen. Washington Bowie, Jr., Capt. Willis W. Bradley, Jr., Maj. William Moseley Brown, Lieut. Gen. Stanley H. Ford, Maj. Gen. Amos A. Fries, Rear Adm. Harry G. Hamlet, Maj. Gen. James G. Harbord, Maj. Gen. Merritte W. Ireland, Maj. Gen. John A. Lejeune, Dr. Bolivar J. Lloyd, Maj. Gen. Charles H. Lyman, Maj. Gen. Hugh Matthews, Brig. Gen. Henry G. Mathewson, Maj. Gen. Frank Parker, Maj. Gen. Morris B. Payne, Maj. Gen. Walter C. Sweeney, Lieut. Col. George F. Unmacht, Maj. Gen. William H. Wilson, Capt. Thomas Withers, and Rear Adm. Clark H. Woodward.

The beloved and revered General of the Armies, Brother John J. Pershing, felt himself too advanced in years to accept a position on this committee, but gave it and these proposed Masonic morale and welfare plans his unqualified approval and good wishes.

The plan is to establish Masonic centers where Masons may receive fraternal contacts and service. These are planned for all major training centers, cantonments, posts, concentration and/or embarkation points.

Regulations of the armed forces prohibit the establishment of any welfare agency (except by the Red Cross) within the boundaries of any military reservation. Therefore, all such must be established in the nearest town.

They will be, wherever possible, set up in rented quarters; house, store, any available building. They will be clean, comfortable, home-like. No standardization is attempted, since different conditions, sizes of military establishments, distances of towns from headquarters, etc., demand different facilities. But, in general, it is planned to have writing desks, loafing chairs, games, magazines, hot showers — the enlisted man’s greatest luxury! — some kitchen facilities where enlisted men, usually hungry, can prepare their own picnic meals when on leave — and in some cases, living quarters for those in charge.

Masonic Centers will be in charge of Field Agents; selected Master Masons well above draft age, of such character and disposition as will make them acceptable counselors to visiting craftsmen and their friends.

It is planned to render any service to a brother or his friend that legitimately can be given. As men’s wants are as many as the men, no complete list can be given, but services contemplated include: Initiating personal contacts between strangers, recreational facilities, roster of Masons in the command, visits to Masons in hospital, notification of family in case of sickness, notification of home lodge in case of sickness, transportation for visiting families, transportation to lodge meetings for small groups, advice about location and meetings of local and nearby lodges, complete list of all nearby Masonic bodies and bulletin board of Masonic activities, assistance in drawing legal papers, temporary financial assistance in need, notification to nearest Masonic Service Center, (on transfer) home service investigations for the Red Cross, (involving Masons), legitimate aid to Masons in military difficulties, aid to chaplains in Masonic cases and civil or military legal aid when requested.

No canteen features are contemplated; cigars, cigarettes, tobacco, food, etc. will not be kept, sold, or given away. Such activities are beyond the scope of any Masonic plant, as they are already the province of other organizations.

The cost of establishing and conducting forty such Masonic Centers for the first year is greater than for conducting them in successive years since equipment, once obtained, is good for a considerable period with but small depreciation. It is not possible to fit all centers into the same cost-frame, since transportation, local facilities, rents, etc. differ in different places. The average however, has been worked out.

To establish a Masonic center will cost, for the first year, including establishment and operation, slightly more than five thousand dollars. Completely to cover the training areas will require forty such centers. Adding costs of administration, supervision, etc., the total cost for the first year — less for subsequent years — will be two hundred and fifty thousand dollars.

If every one of the 2,500,000 Master Masons of the United States contributed ten cents, one years operation (plus establishment) would be financed. Or, if every one of the approximately 16,000 lodges contributed $15.50 each, the plan would be financed.

Grand lodges might appropriate their proportion from their reserves. Most would appeal to their lodges, or ask their lodges to appeal to their members.

There should be no difficulty in securing the necessary funds if the plan is adopted. This Association has repeatedly appealed for funds for relief. The response has always been generous. In the Mississippi flood disaster more than $600,000 was contributed by the Fraternity. The two great Florida hurricanes of 1926 and 1928 drew $114,000 and $107,000 respectively. For five great disasters the Fraternity contributed through the Association nearly $1,000,000.

Contributions from lodges generally exceed the amount asked. In 1937 an appeal was made for the relief of the flood-stricken Grand Lodge of Kentucky. One and one-half cents was asked; an average of two and one-half cents was received. One grand lodge asked its lodges for contributions at the rate of one and one-half cents and received an average of nine cents. Another, asking for one and one-half cents, received more than thirty cents!

War and Navy Department officers handling morale and welfare welcome the opportunity for civilian cooperation through the Blue lodges, which exist in every community where military reservations are established. They believe in the necessity of Masonic welfare work and approve these plans.

One of the principal reasons why Masonry was not permitted to engage in public welfare work during World War I, although sums of money were raised by different grand lodges, and an Overseas Mission was appointed by the grand master of New York, was failure to recognize that the War Department works under definite written regulations based upon Acts of Congress. A statutory provision is inflexible, so far as officers of the army are concerned. When Masonry asked for the privilege of doing welfare work, a decision was made that only under certain definite conditions could it be granted. Freemasonry could not meet those conditions.

The mistakes of 1918, plus an intimate knowledge of War Department regulations, customs and procedure, have been considered in making these plans. As they are based on army and navy needs and desires the Association stands high with the officers handling the work in the two departments.

"The Masonic Service Association of the United States is a servant of Freemasonry. Formed of and supported by American grand lodges, it is a voice that may command to speak, a hand they can move to action, that the great heart of the Fraternity may be made manifest and that the will of a united Craft may be done."

The opportunity, the need, and the plans are before the Masons of the United States. It is for all Masons to say, by informing their grand masters, of their desires to have Masons (a) engage in Masonic welfare now: (b) engage in Masonic welfare work only in time of war: (c) not engage in Masonic welfare work for the armed forces at any time.

The Masonic Service Association of North America