Installation & Memories of Vietnam

Don’s Diary

The August Installation of the Master and the Investiture of his officers was again carried out with aplomb by the Vietnam Veterans’ Installation Team. The esprit de corps that was evident in the Team will have been strongly influenced by the members’ time in military service.

Unfortunately I did not maintain a diary while I was in Vietnam but my mind remains crystal clear on many matters – all too clear at times as many former infantry soldiers experience. Training before embarkation was also the time for evaluation and for self-selection by the soldiers. Self-selection continued into the early phases of the campaign and allowed in a fair measure to occur. Being an infantry soldier is not everybody’s “cup of tea”. The infantry were the hunters. Spectators would look at the precision and obedience on the parades and remark that the discipline of the unit must be very good. However, their logic was wrong as the discipline that is needed is self discipline. It is a bit like looking at the ritual in a lodge and judging its success solely on that criterion. As in Freemasonry, the quality of the man and leadership are the most important ingredients for success.

I recall many long approach marches to maintain security and to achieve surprise. The last thing one wanted was a helicopter hovering over the top of your position. Prominent navigational landmarks were sparse and in my day movement was cross country for security by compass bearing and pacing. Artillery would be ranged in at night to 150 meters or less, with fuzes set on delay so that the shells were not detonated by the tree tops - this would give your position within 50 meters – it also enabled defensive fire to be brought in if necessary. The primary jungle, with its tall trees and relatively sparse undergrowth, when you were in it was your ally if you were well trained. The long nights gave you a lot of time for self examination and to think about your men.

In the tropics there are no long twilights. In primary jungle the nights are even longer as the tall trees screen out the light well before sunset and after sunrise. We posted sentries but your evening security depended largely upon the stealth of your approach march and your silence in position. It was a time to think. I thought about all the criteria in training – the peripheral matters of personal appearance, tidiness in the barracks, drill, and of course weapon handling, marksmanship and all those other military skills. But the conclusion that I came to at night in thought was, taking the military skills as a given, if a soldier such as those in the Team was loyal and tried, he had to have a lot wrong with him not to be a valued member of the company.

So it is, I believe, with a Freemason. To earn my respect he needs to be, as we say, a just and upright man and he needs to try. What more can we really ask of anybody? If we do, we begin to be judgmental, we start to introduce non-masonic values. Freemasonry will cease to be an open Brotherhood and become some sort of secular society. Nobody wants that.

Fraternal best wishes to all