Earlier this year, the Grand Lodge of New Jersey hired me to create some artwork for their dedication ceremony of the U.S. Coast Guard Enlisted Memorial. Along with the commission came an invitation to join the Grand Master and other Grand Lodge officers on a special tour of the U.S. Coast Guard Training Center base in Cape May, New Jersey. I have never served in the military, so the opportunity to learn and experience something new enticed me to make the trip down from Massachusetts and show up at the base on that cold April morning. We boarded and explored some of the boats, saw recruits training and visited the barracks before being directed towards a parcel of land that would eventually be developed for the Memorial.
After the tour, the Grand Lodge officers and officials from the Coast Guard base convened to the nearby Cape Island Lodge No. 30 where a small crowd had gathered for the cornerstone ceremony. Before the event began, the Grand Master pulled me aside to ask if he could call me to get up and speak to everyone. I had half-expected to be called upon going in, but I still didn't have any remarks prepared when the time arrived. In searching of what to say, I found myself looking towards the men in military uniforms seated around the room. I thanked them for their service. I then explained that not only had I not served, but that prior to becoming a Mason, I had known very few people in my immediate circles that were members of the armed forces. After joining the Craft, it seems that 3 out of every 5 Masons I meet have some kind of military background. I now count some of those men among my closest friends and kindred spirits. I wondered out loud about the common thread that draws us all to join Freemasonry. On the military end, there is certainly an ordered structure, patriotism and an instilled sense of “Brotherhood” that carries over within the Craft. But beyond that, a more universal element seems to be that Freemasonry attracts those who desire self-improvement by being part of something bigger than themselves. We, as Masons, all answer a call to service. Afterwards, I was relieved when several Brothers approached me to say that they appreciated the sentiments.
I don't have a graceful end to this anecdote. I just thought of it on the occasion of Veteran's Day, when I saw that many friends were sharing photos of themselves and loved ones in uniform. If you're in the vicinity of Cape May on the southern coast of New Jersey, construction of the U.S. Coast Guard Enlisted Memorial has been ongoing and should be nearing completion. If you're a veteran who also happens to be a member of the Scottish Rite NMJ, I'd encourage you to contact your Valley and let them know. Recently, the Sovereign Grand Commander established the “Sammy Lee Davis Peace & Freedom Award” which is to be presented to all Scottish Rite veterans with an honorable discharge.
Travis Simpkins is a freelance artist with clients throughout the United States and Europe. He currently works on projects for the Supreme Council, 33°, NMJ in Lexington, Massachusetts. He also serves as a portrait artist for the Grand Lodge of Massachusetts, Grand Lodge of New Jersey and other jurisdictions across North America. His artwork is in many esteemed collections, including the Harry S. Truman Presidential Library & Museum in Independence, Missouri.
Bro. Simpkins is a member of Morning Star Lodge A.F. & A.M. in Worcester, Massachusetts. He is a 32° Mason in the Ancient Accepted Scottish Rite- Valleys of Worcester and Boston. He is also a member of Eureka Royal Arch Chapter, Hiram Council of Royal & Select Master Masons and Worcester County Commandery No. 5, Knights Templar.