Vietnam Veterans and Freemasonry: MSA’s Hospital Visitation Program
November 11, 2019
Founded in the aftermath of World War I, the Masonic Service Association (MSA) has performed a number of services for Masons since 1919. The initial impetus for the MSA's formation was to coordinate U.S. Masonic efforts to provide aid to American military servicemen near the end of World War I. In 1966, the MSA published a book called Fifteen Years of Masonic Service to Hospitalized Veterans, 1952-1966, a copy of which is in the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library's Van Gorden-Williams Library & Archives collection. The book reprints the MSA’s bulletin, originally titled Army and Navy Masonic Service Center and, in 1960, changed to Your Masonic Hospital Visitor, a name it carried for years. Most of the reprinted bulletins feature news of Masons visiting veterans of both World War II and the Korean War, but the end of the book sheds light on service to a new group of veterans.
The lead article in the September 1966 bulletin is titled “A New Call for Service, The Veterans of Viet Nam.” The article begins:
Our sons and brothers are coming back from South Viet Nam, the sick and wounded, I mean. The war in Southeast Asia is a hot war; the build-up of men and material is increasing. A lot more boys will be going over before most of them come home.
At the beginning of 1966, the U.S. military personnel in South Vietnam numbered nearly 185,000. By the end of 1966, the United States had over 385,000 troops there – an increase of 108%. That year, more than 6,000 Americans were killed in Vietnam, and 30,000 were wounded.
The article in the 1966 bulletin is accompanied by three photographs of wounded soldiers being visited by Masonic Service Association staff. The men shown are Norman C. Weiffenbach, a member of Ft. Benning Lodge No. 579 (Columbus, Georgia), pictured at Walter Reed Medical Center; Johnnie S. Miller of Tarpon Springs, Florida, at the V.A. Hospital in East Orange, New Jersey; and Thomas E. Bennett of Atlanta, Georgia, at an unidentified hospital.
The work of the MSA’s Hospital Visitation program continues today, with Masons volunteering their time to assist disabled and hospitalized veterans. The MSA’s website describes the program as “much more than merely ‘visitations’ to the disabled and lonely patients in V.A. Hospitals, State Veterans Homes and Extended Care Facilities. It is the rendering of personal services to all our sons and brothers, Masons and Non-Masons alike, who now need someone to turn to for encouragement and to make life a little more pleasant.”
Do you have any items related to Freemasonry and your time in service during the Vietnam War or related to your time as a hospital visitor? We’d love to hear more about them. Please leave a comment below.
Fifteen Years of Masonic Service to Hospitalized Veterans, 1952-1966 (Washington, D.C.: Masonic Service Association of the U.S., 1966), Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library, 45.D614 1966.
A version of this post originally appeared in the August 2019 issue of The Northern Light.