On Armed Forces Day, May 15, the Masons of Pennsylvania honored all veterans who served this great country by presenting the new, fully equipped Freemasons Pavilion and monument in a landscaped park area to the Veterans Administration's Pittsburgh Health Care Center at Aspinwall. After a parade through the grounds of the VA hospital, R.W. Grand Master James L. Ernette and the Grand Lodge officers laid the cornerstone, dedicated the facilities, and presented the gift to benefit the residents there.
In the dedication oration, Grand Master Ernette said, "We cannot, must not, and will not ever forget those whose valor made possible the birth of this nation, and those whose dedication and fortitude sustained liberty and justice for us through more than two centuries. Our veterans are special people to whom we will be forever grateful."
Well before the ceremonies, hundreds of people gathered. Seating in the new pavilion was filled to capacity and some people stood outside. Many more veterans, families, friends, and members of veterans organizations lined the curb of the street on a hill overlooking the patio where the ceremonies were held.
A Pennsylvania State Police Mounted Unit, a U.S. Marine Corps Color Guard, the Grand Master, and Grand Lodge officers led the parade of district deputy grand masters, Blue Lodge officers and members through the hospital grounds and passed the pavilion and the audience awaiting the ceremonies. The Syria Shrine Temple Highlanders Pipe and Drum Corps set the musical pace for the parade.
It was a stirring patriotic event from the moment the Marine Color Guard raised the colors and everybody joined in the "Pledge of Allegiance to the Flag" and "The Star Spangled Banner" during the ceremonies, and at the conclusion when all sang "God Bless America."
The Freemasons Pavilion was built on approximately two acres of hospital grounds. A new entrance provides access from the hospital to the courtyard setting with lighted walkways leading to private, furnished meeting areas and a 3,000-square-foot, covered pavilion with an additional 1,400-square-foot patio. The pavilion contains a full kitchen and facilities wired to the hospital nurses' stations to ensure the comfort and safety of the patients and their families. It will provide a place for residents of the VA hospital and their families to visit, an outdoor place for entertainment, and a focal point for special activities. A beautifully landscaped, fiber optic-lighted, granite fountain pool with seating areas fronts the granite monument with three bronze plaques that pay "Tribute to American Veterans."
About two years ago a group of Masons who volunteer their time to visit the veterans told the Grand Master that the veterans at this VA hospital had no place for social activities out-of-doors. They asked if the Masons could do something about it. Grand Master Ernette said, "The more we looked at the need, the better we liked the idea until it became a passion a destiny for the Masons of Pennsylvania to fulfill."
William M. Kratzenberg, D.D.G.M., 54th Masonic District, was named Project Director and Chairman of a committee to have a pavilion constructed and a monument placed as a tribute to veterans. Grand Master Ernette said, "The Masons of Pennsylvania are highly honored to be able to undertake this project. We are filled with the gratitude and joy of achievement that comes from a job well done. May that facility and the monument that is there with it serve the veterans well and be a long-standing declaration that 'We will never forget the veterans who served throughout the history of this great nation.'"
Bro. Kratzenberg said that the contributions received from lodges and brethren that helped make this possible have been very much appreciated. He noted that contributions continue to be welcome even though the facility is in place. He also noted that the contributions are not eligible for participation in the Matching Charity Grants Program because it is to a program of the Fraternity.