Sojourners find fellowship

February 15, 1998|By RICHARD F. BELISLE

by Richard T. Meagher / staff photographer

click images for enlargements

Sojourners find fellowship

WAYNESBORO, Pa. - It was 1898. America was fighting Spain in the Philippines when some U.S. military officers from a North Dakota volunteer infantry regiment who happened to be Masons decided that they wanted a place to meet, someplace where they could be among their own kind.

They formed a club and, since they were travelers in a foreign land, called themselves Sojourners. One of their first meetings was interrupted by Spanish gunfire.

Today, what those men created on that South Pacific island nation in the middle of a war is National Sojourners Inc. with nearly 160 chapters across the country, including Pen Mar Chapter No. 532 in Waynesboro.


It remains an exclusive club for men. All of its members are Masons and with few exceptions, current or past officers in the military.

The Waynesboro chapter was chartered in 1994, sponsored by a chapter in Harrisburg, Pa. It has 35 members, mostly active and mostly in their late 60s or older. They meet monthly in a borrowed room at the Elks Club on West Main Street.

Bill Etta, 74, a member of the Harrisburg chapter and a Waynesboro native who still has close ties to the borough, was the catalyst for starting the local chapter.

He realized that many of his friends in Waynesboro met the Sojourners membership requirements, so he launched a recruitment drive.

"I was home one snowy night and I picked up the Waynesboro phone directory and started going down line by line," Etta said.

Jack Duffey, 64, of Waynesboro, a 33rd degree Mason, helped Etta fill out his list of potential members.

"We needed 18, but we got 20," Etta said.

Duffey, a former Air Force sergeant who served in the Korean War, joined as an honorary member. Each chapter can have one honorary member for every 10 regular members.

Etta, a retired Army colonel, flew 45 missions in a B-24 bomber in the South Pacific as a navigator during World War II. He saw the atomic bomb dropped on Nagasaki while he was flying on a mission over Japan, he said.

Stanley McIntire, 66, of Blue Ridge Summit, Pa., an ex-Army man, and Robert L. Myers, 84, of Waynesboro, an Army first lieutenant in Europe in World War II, said they joined the Sojourners because of the fellowship.

"It's a chance for us old guys to get together and rap," McIntire said. "Sometimes we speak about our war experiences."

William C. McCleaf, 70, of Blue Ridge Summit, said he joined because as a Mason it seemed like a natural thing to do.

Richard Gingrich, 76, a former Navy pilot and lieutenant commander during the war, said he didn't know much about the Sojourners until he joined.

"We have fun at the meetings and generally we learn a few things," said Gingrich, the current chapter president.

The men praised their organization and what it stands for. According to a brochure, Sojourners promote good fellowship, cultivate Masonic ideals and support patriotism and Americanism.

"We're a bunch of flag-wavers," Duffey said.

Sojourner meetings are known for their speaking programs. For such a small group, the members bring in some big talent. Recent speakers have included a scientist who worked on the development of the first atomic bombs and who helped arm the two that were dropped on Japan in 1945, and a Russian double agent who was an aide to Joseph Stalin.

Uppermost on most members' minds is their age and ability to keep the chapter going without new blood.

"I'm worried about the age of the members locally and nationally," Gingrich said.

Last year the national organization vetoed a plan to allow noncommissioned officers to join.

"They won't reduce the qualifications, but sooner or later it will pass," Gingrich said. "It will have to if they want this organization to continue."

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