Women volunteer workers doing up clothing parcels at the ACF rooms (taken for Australian Comforts Fund), Sydney 1944/ photographer Sam Hood
Volunteers in America are one critical key to our rebuilding future. Volunteering around the world has changed drastically over the decades. In my own family an uncle with a law degree enlisted into the Navy immediately after December 7, 1941. He has since passed and in truth I am only in the last few years putting his life and memory together because he was the last of his family name, and he had a very lasting influence on my life.
In that search I located the actual newspaper that he kept from the next day detailing the bombing and its effects, from Des Moines, Iowa, cost 3 cents. My uncle went on to earn a commission and then went on to language school in Denver, Colorado for training in the Japanese language. He was in some way involved in the reconstruction effort with Douglas MacArther based on photos and letters that I also have acquired, rebuilding Japan into a united people again with an infrastructure after the war.
Many volunteers from America were needed for that rebuilding process.
I am also in possession of his entire language training manuals issued by the Navy from those days! So he joined the U.S. Navy, taking an enlisted position of Petty Officer 2nd Class when he warranted an officer status just as many volunteer of America have done through out history.
This is the kind of passion shown in his volunteering that was common back in WWII after the bombing of the U. S. Navy’s fleet, and many stories like my uncles can be heard from that era. That passion was exhibited in the rebuilding of American volunteer groups as well, with memberships soaring after WWII.
I so wish that I had known my Godfather much better than I did, he passed when I was fairly young. But his spirit of volunteering and those of his generation were part of what made this country great and I believe we need to recapture that spirit in order to rebuild American society into that same sense of family values and greatness. I see this endeavor as empowered volunteers rebuilding America, one individual member in one volunteer group at a time.
Why is it so important to our nation to rebuild these American volunteer groups? Well, mentally it is in our makeup as citizens, along with our history!
Every United States sailor soon learns that an acronym for NAVY is “Never again volunteer yourself”, something that signifies the historical nature of one service where usually the volunteers for service have outpaced those who joined by some other process. Today’s all volunteer U. S. Military reflects a completely different mindset from the days of enlisted men being “Shanghi’ed” and being referred to only as “strong backs”.
The empowered volunteer’s mental makeup in the posts I have presented so far is one of kindness and empathy for one’s fellow mankind, and one of caring for society at large and the world in its entirety. This is of course an ideal and where humans are concerned ideals are very hard to come by during conflicts on a national scale.
Ideals were very hard to come by in the days of WWII too. Various ethnic groups that had countries of origin which were not from that of the Allies were often surveyed in the eyes of public opinion as suspicious and even subversive. This was true of the German-American experience in areas like Milwaukee and Green Bay, to state just a few examples.
Grange Hall in Keene, New Hampshire
Volunteering in American fraternal groups in the United States reaches back to the founding fathers, but in this case I want to illustrate an example of a civic group which is not quite that old, but has an influence from the oldest fraternal organization in the world.
The National Grange of the Order of Patrons of Husbandry was founded after the end of the American Civil War, when rebuilding America was a very real national priority. It’s conception was one of need to bring together the defeated southern citizens in dire economic need with the resources of the northern states. This vision of seeing tremendous need and filling that void with a new American volunteer group was put into operation by a charter from Congress, but it was initiated by two American Freemasons.
The sadness of the national mind is easily seen in this unidentified girl holding her father’s military photo from the American Civil War.
It would take more than talk by Congress or by state political leaders to heal our nation after the war was over. Despite the old saying, “Time heals all wounds” I would submit it takes much more than that, it takes action by individuals, many of them American volunteers driven by a common purpose, to unite America by rebuilding social capital and reciprocation between individuals, even with visiting Yankees.
Oliver Kelly, appointed by President Andrew Johnson, was tasked to collect data on southern states status of agricultural capabilities. Kelly found that he was not received well by southerners due to his obvious northern affiliations. He finally found a way to penetrate the distrust of the southern farmers by using his affiliation as a Freemason to bridge the gap of trust still lingering for everything Yankee. Both President Johnson and Oliver Kelly were Freemasons, Johnson from a Tennessee masonic lodge and Kelly from a Minnesota masonic lodge.
Being a Freemason was universal and meant that no matter what the region of the world was, all people were worthy, including all groups of people from every region of America. Everyone sought to revisit their feelings and cooperate for their own benefits, making Kelly’s efforts to improve the outdated farming practices he observed in the southern states successful by the creation of what came to be called the Grange. Membership grew at a staggering rate and by 1873 there were 200,000 members, in 1875 there were over 850,000 members. Where a need existed for rebuilding southern farmers, the Grange filled it with volunteers and energy.
The American Freemason affiliation reflected with the Grange can also be traced to the Elks, the Moose, the Odd Fellows and to the Lions in one way or another. From worthy roots many branches will grow! However, these groups have all modified and updated their ceremonies and associated rules over the years to better reflect a changing American society. I will recite some of these groups worthy achievements in future posts.
The conception of the Grange by Oliver Kelley and it’s later creation with a group of other citizens is only one example of the power of an American empowered volunteer!
He created a solution to a monumental need, one that had to use a common denominator between the two groups of citizens in order to bridge the gap of suspicion and distrust left over from the war. To be honest, this masonic path was paved by the so called “military lodges” created during the war, with estimates listed in Allen E. Roberts book, House Undivided, the Story of Freemasonry and the Civil War of 94 traveling lodges in the Northern Armies and around 150 in the Southern Armies. Freemasonry was held in high esteem by many citizens in the south during that era.
Numerous examples of fraternal generosity between Freemasons on both sides of the conflict abound. An example is the burial of John E. Hart, the Captain of the USS Albatross. On June 13th, 1863 Theo. B. Dubois went ashore under a flag of truce looking for a masonic lodge near St. Francisville, Louisiana. He located members of the lodge, who were willing to participate in the masonic funeral, even one from the opposing side. For a short time masonic members and non-members from opposing sides united for a common cause, one of civility and courtesy. This is a hallmark of the fraternities history, with only small blemishes from time to time marring that lofty esteem in recorded history.
Volunteers of American groups in our history have had profound effects on our nation. One example is the American Legion. In June 22, 1944, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed into law the original GI Bill, or Servicemen’s Readjustment Act, ushering in monumental changes in U.S. society. Higher education becomes standard after 8 million veterans go to school on the GI Bill, find better jobs, buy houses in the suburbs and raise families. For every dollar spent on educating veterans, it is reported the U.S. economy eventually gets $7 back.
Volunteer groups work for their membership, aiming for improvement to their lot. It is unusual that these improvements don’t also improve American society as well.
The Grange was instrumental in the combined healing of wounds after the Civil War. Freemasons were behind both sides, reflecting the membership divide that American society experienced, however Freemasonry was often but not always successful in bridging gaps for their members, even if it meant collaboration with the opposition.
American volunteer groups have long sought to bring people together and they have the capacity to do so even today, with our nation divided by recent Presidential election politics every bit as much as we were divided by the Civil War so long ago. Some petitions were even conceived and constructed after the recent election with signatures to again have states succeed from the Union! This symbolism truly reflects the divide we faced in our past and if not properly addressed it can’t bode well for our future, it could possibly lead us to a divide and fall future.
This photo reflects the tension that was still present in families after the civil war!
If the social divisions between regions in America are not healed in some way and we are not united again as a nation and as a people, the negative impact may well be felt for decades or worse, make our divided house fall.
Many volunteer groups today are involved with our returning veterans returning from our wars just as they did in the past, helping them in many different ways. One of many groups who do this, Volunteers of America is particularly effective in helping American veterans that are in need of services or find themselves homeless. Recently Home Depot has agreed to sponsor veterans help projects with Volunteers of America, to the tune of over $2 million dollars!
See here for details:
In future posts I hope to reinforce the idea that America’s volunteer groups are not only a large part of what made us great as a country, but they have the capacity if we don’t let them die to help us reforge ourselves into an even better nation with a brighter future.