Vol. XX No. 3 — March 1942

Right Hand of Fellowship

At its Annual Meeting in 1941 the Delegates to the Masonic Service Association voted overwhelmingly to engage in welfare work for the armed forces without waiting for war.

A call for funds was sent to all grand lodges. A majority responded and plans, made long in advance, were started toward execution.

Acting as agent for its member grand jurisdictions, and for other grand jurisdictions and national organizations contributing funds, the Association has in operation Masonic Centers at Columbia, South Carolina; Jacksonville, Florida; Anniston, Alabama; Alexandria, Louisiana; Lawton, Oklahoma; Rolla, Missouri; Newport, Rhode Island; Jamestown, Rhode Island; Portland, Maine; and up to the fall of Manila, two erected under its plans were in operation in the Philippines. Centers are planned in Columbus, Georgia; Trenton, New Jersey; Neosho, Missouri, and Washington, D.C.

Surveys have been made as to other needs, and as money becomes available more Centers will be established.

Could the lodge to which a serviceman belongs follow him into camp, it would provide Masonic assistance, visit him in the hospital, comfort him in trouble, attend to his wants back home, aid him in making Masonic contacts, help him to form a Masonic Club, and so on through a long list of services which a lodge renders its brethren. As a lodge cannot follow its members, grand lodges use the Association as their lodges’ agent to carry Masonry to the men in the services.

Some have believed that because the government provides recreation facilities and morale officers within the camps, there is no necessity for Masonry’s help. That this is a mistake is proved by the multiplied thousands of servicemen who use Masonic Centers and are aided by Masonic work within the cantonments. One lodge reported that 54 of its members were in one camp. From two lodges came lists of 28 and 24 members respectively. The original estimate of 10% of the officers and men being Master Masons was too low; registrations show that 12.45% of soldiers are Masons. Sons and blood brothers of Masons were estimated at another 10%, again too little. Members and relatives in the services are greatly out of proportion to Masons in the population, who form but 2% of the total.

Afew jurisdictions believe that Masonic welfare work wholly within their own borders, conducted by their own lodges, sufficiently can cover the field. But could forty-eight standing armies of forty-eight states defend the United States? Could forty-eight Red Cross organizations successfully do the work of that great relief agency? The greatest need for Masonic welfare work for the armed forces is in the Southern states, which have most of the training areas on account of climate. Few grand lodges are sufficiently wealthy alone to shoulder the burden. Brethren from all over the United States are in most of the camps and training areas. Masonic welfare work should be in at least sixty-five of these.

Again and again Masons in the services have written asking why there is no Center at their camp. Masons and non-Masons have asked the Association to establish at many places where the need is great.

Local Masonic assistance is expensive. States which depend entirely upon voluntary services or think it necessary only to refer a brother to the nearest lodge have learned during a year of hard experience that everybody’s business is nobody’s business. Many local lodges near great camps are so swamped with calls for assistance that in self-defense they refuse to do more than open their doors to visiting brethren.

Only a national agency successfully can act for the forty-nine grand lodges. Only through national contributions can such a system be financed. Many grand lodges which conduct local Masonic welfare work recognize the national need and contribute to it, proving anew that Masonry does not consider jurisdictional lines when offering Masonic assistance.

These Centers have the whole-hearted approval of the War and Navy Departments and the officers of both services, and the cooperation of the officers and men at the various camps, posts, and stations served. The formula is simple: service to Masons and their relatives; no exploitation of enlisted men, through canteens or other money-making devices; nothing for sale; everything free. When this nation entered a shooting war, Military Intelligence and the Morale Branch were consulted in the War Department; Domestic Security and the Morale Division of the Bureau of Navigation in the Navy Department. Regulations were discussed, conditions were described, and a formula was worked out whereby Field Agents are enabled to carry on within the posts, camps and stations as they had been doing, but now equipped with identification cards which bear their photographs and the seal of the Association. Local commanders recognized these as official.

Community relations are excellent. Blue lodges, Order of the Eastern Star Chapters, DeMolay, and Rainbow cooperate. Centers have the support of the clergy, especially Protestants, although several Catholic chaplains have been good friends. In several communities no other welfare agency placed an establishment until the Association started a Center. Then the other agencies hurried their preparations, frequently asking Field Agents for assistance.

In general, a Masonic Center is a hall, equipped with pool, billiard and tennis tables, dart games, checkers, chess, and other amusements; writing tables, free stationery, comfortable chairs, toilet facilities, and other means by which a soldier or sailor may rest and refresh himself, write letters home, or amuse himself in company with his kind.

Centers are staffed by from two to four Field Agents The term ‘‘Field Agent” was selected with care as having no connection with any similar officer in World War I.

The system must succeed or fail entirely by the character of Field Agents. Consequently the greatest care has been used in their selection and training. All come in on trial; if they fail to meet high standards they are dropped. All are members of Masonic lodges. Many of them are members of the other Rites and some have distinguished records as craftsmen. Several clergymen are in this service; some are veterans of the first American Expeditionary Force (AEF). Field Agents are men in middle life and of a character to win respect from young men. Their experience and qualification win the confidence of the men and they are thus enabled to help in trouble, actual or mental.

They visit post hospitals daily and bring small comforts to the ill. They write letters home. They communicate with the home lodge and bring communications from the lodge.

Having the full confidence of post commanders, the Field Agent is able to enter into the counsels of morale officers and chaplains and has frequently been able to bring forth facts which materially have assisted these officers.

If relatives desire to visit, the Field Agent puts the Association’s facilities at their disposal, to take them to the camp, helps them locate their relatives, or through proper military channels arranges to have the soldier come to the Masonic Center and there provides wholesome surroundings for as long an interview as maybe possible.

Young sons of Masons have found the Masonic Field Agent a strong arm to lean upon and a very present help in time of trouble. Field Agents have been of untold comfort to parents in locating lads who had failed to write, or who had failed to receive letters from home.

Masonry itself benefits greatly from these activities. The record bristles with Masonic helpfulness to officers and men. Hundreds have asked "How can I become a Mason?” and been told by Field Agents: "Apply to the lodge in your home town. If you are elected, it may be possible that through your grand lodge the local lodge will be asked to give them to you here. When you leave the service you will then be a member of the lodge in your own community and not of one hundreds of miles away.” Many brethren who have allowed themselves to be dropped for non-payment of dues have inquired of the Field Agent how they might be reinstated, saying that they wished to support the organization which was doing something for them. Many such have been reinstated by contact established with the Masonic authorities back home.

Scores of youngsters away from home for the first time have found these Centers a homelike haven from the monotony of military life. Other scores have been visited daily in hospitals. Field Agents have carried many men in station cars to post, bus station, station hospital, or where duty called. Frequently these trips have been late at night when men attending lodge or other gatherings have missed the last bus.

A crying evil of any young army is homesickness. Let no one laugh at the idea; homesickness is as much a disease of the mind as measles is of the body. A man suffering from a severe case of homesickness is of no use as a soldier.

Masonic contacts are home contacts. The homesick brother who can talk Masonry with Masons under Masonic auspices, who in a Masonic Center can meet his brethren and discuss Masonic matters of mutual interest is frequently revitalized. While an intangible, this part of Masonic service must not be undervalued.

All Masonic Centers are open to all men in uniform, whether Masons or not. This is a requirement of the armed forces. Masonic Service Centers serve many who are not of the Craft, but without them Masonry could not serve its own. Many a Mason or son of a Mason has a non-Masonic comrade; soldiers and sailors invariably travel in pairs or larger numbers. Any organization which attempts to exclude one class in favor of another is due to fail.

This system of Masonic help is being supported by contributions from a majority of grand lodges and by several national organizations. The Northern Supreme Council of the Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite sent five thousand dollars immediately after the Annual Meeting of 1941 and has since duplicated that generous gift. The Imperial Council of the Shrine sent a thousand dollars as a preliminary contribution and promised more. The National League of Masonic Clubs is collecting from its 28$ clubs and contributing heavily to the support of this movement. The Order of Rainbow asked the privilege of contributing to this same cause, and the little sisters and daughters of Masons throughout the United States and their friends have so far turned in more than six thousand dollars and are still contributing. The Grand Encampment, Knights Templar, gave a thousand dollars. A large number of individual donations ranging from ten cents from a little girl in Brooklyn to five hundred dollars from a grand master, from countless chapters of the Sojourners, the Order of the Eastern Star, the lodges not satisfied with their contribution through their grand lodges, lodges in states not supporting this movement, from Chapters of the Royal Arch, and from Commanderies and Grand Commanderies of Knights Templar all add to the fund.

A substantial reserve fund has been established to cover the spread between grand lodge payments and to take care of the winding up of this system when the national emergency ends. There will be no aftermath of debts for grand lodges to pay in this work. No commitments are made without the money in sight to pay for that which is contracted for or bought.

A comparatively small amount of money has been made to go a long way by the cooperation of brethren who have quoted low prices on games, newspapers, magazines, pool tables, automobiles, furniture. Field Agents are loyal Americans who serve more for the love of serving than for the small salaries paid. If it were not for these facts the Association could not have done as much with the money contributed as has been done.

The need for the future is plain. That Masonic Centers are of vital use and value has been demonstrated. At the beginning of last year, the Association assayed the need as for a quarter of a million dollars for the establishment of forty Masonic Centers. That was prior to the increase in prices of the past year, and now that the nation is at war, forty Centers is short of the necessity. A quarter of a million dollars seems small change for an organization of two and a half million men to contribute in the only way they can contribute as an organization.

No one questions the patriotism of Freemasons; they serve in the armed forces and in the factories; as taxpayers they supply the sinews of war; as good men and true they influence public opinion; as citizens they are concerned with every good work.

But as an organization Freemasons have this opportunity. Masonic welfare work for the armed forces is the most immediate and practical way in which Freemasons can help the United States.

This work has the approval of the secretary of war, of the secretary of the navy, of a long list of distinguished generals and admirals who have expressed themselves as proud to serve upon the advisory committee of the Association, and their labors have the approval of General and Brother George C. Marshall, Chief of Staff of the United States Army.

Many facts support the belief that Masons throughout the nation will wholeheartedly support this movement when the facts are brought before them. No grand lodge which has raised funds by voluntary contributions has had any difficulty in getting the sum for which it asked. Within grand lodges supporting this movement is a unanimity of opinion that this is Freemasonry’s great opportunity.

Complete unanimity in this matter may be as great a contribution to morale as any gift Freemasons could make.

The work is successfully going forward. It has done great good. It will do more good. The credit which must come to Freemasonry from her brethren, as a result will go to the loyal Freemasons and grand lodges which have contributed to its support.

The Association has not made any appeal for funds. Facts are stated; the opportunity presented. Any brother or any lodge who may wish thus to "help, aid and assist a worthy brother” should send contributions, which will be promptly acknowledged, to:

The Masonic Service Association of North America