Major Mark L. Roberts, 32, USMC
In my memory, I can hear and see my uncle as he said to me, “Every young man should be a Mason.” I grew up in the Southeast Texas city of Beaumont and can recall attending funerals for relatives where men dressed in white gloves and aprons performed some ritual at the service that I could not understand. Afterwards, as I wandered through the cemetery, I always noticed the same strange emblems on many of the tombstones. Later on in life, I discovered these mysterious symbols identified the graves as those of members of the Masons and Eastern Star.
On February 27, 1973, when I was only nine years old, my daddy, whom I loved very much, was called to his glory in a tragic train accident. This left my mother, who was 52 years old, to raise my older brother and me. Losing my daddy in such a manner brought me face to face with death, and I vowed never to cry again at the death of someone I loved. William Avener Legg, my uncle, was there for us, and over the years, I would look forward to his visits, many of which coincided with Masonic activities in the Beaumont area or our annual family Thanksgiving celebration. My uncle was a Shriner clown and was known as “Blue” because of his blue nose. His greatest joy was to spend Christmas with the children in the Galveston Shriner Burns Center. During his visits to Beaumont, it was his custom to tell my brother and me, “Every young man should be a Mason.”
In 1981, at the age of 17, I enlisted in the Marine Corps and graduated from recruit training in San Diego, California. However, I had opted for a reserve program that allowed me to attend Lamar University in Beaumont. Over the next three and a half years, I attended Officers Candidate School and worked toward my degree.
My uncle, who had been on a destroyer during World War II as an enlisted sailor, was one of my biggest supporters. He always encouraged me to finish school and receive my commission, always reminding me, “Every young man should be a Mason.”
In 1984, I was commissioned a Second Lieutenant in the Marine Corps and began my career in the Corps. In January 1986, my uncle visited me at Ft. Sill, Oklahoma, during my training to become an artillery officer. He was very proud of me, and I will always remember his special visit. He was enthusiastic that since I was in the military there would be a good opportunity for me to become a Mason and, again, reminded me, “Every young man should be a Mason.”
As I prepared to leave Beaumont in June 1986 for assignment to Okinawa, Japan, my older brother, Alvin Eugene Roberts Jr., listened to my uncle’s advice and joined the Masonic Order that summer. My uncle attended the outdoor Degree ceremony in which my brother was selected to be raised. My mother then presented to my brother a 25-year gold Masonic pin she assumed had belonged to our grandfather. Now, I was being encouraged by both my uncle and brother with the words, “Every young man should be a Mason.”
In June 1987, as I was preparing to rotate back to the United States from Japan, I was using my new video camera to capture all the sights and sounds of Okinawa. It was then that I discovered the Masonic Lodge was right around the corner from where I had spent the past year.
I filmed the Lodge, eager to show it to my uncle and brother. I never imagined then, in 1987, that I would return to Okinawa and attend Lodge in that building. Returning home, I showed the video to my family and again found that I was being encouraged by both my uncle and brother with the words, “Every young man should be a Mason.”
Stationed in Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, and assigned to the Second Air and Naval Gunfire Liaison Company, I found myself continually deployed, in school or in training. However, on April 1, 1988, I found time to be married to my best friend from Okinawa, Shizue Uehara. Returning home to Beaumont that summer to introduce my new wife to all the family, my interest in family history was rekindled as I looked through the names of all the people who had attended my daddy’s funeral. Again I could not leave without being encouraged by my uncle and brother with the words, “Every young man should be a Mason.”
Over the next two years, I would discover in my family research that the 25-year Masonic pin had belonged to my great-grandfather, Thomas Jackson Roberts. I would also visit the grave of my great-great-grandfather, Samuel Sampson Sheffield, and as I noted to my brother, the Masonic emblem and inscription on the gravestone read, “He has crossed over the river and gone from labor to refreshment.” My brother said to me that he hoped someday I would understand. As we walked through the cemetery, he again stated, “Every young man should be a Mason.”
Finally, I had decided to petition a Lodge and sought advice from my uncle and brother on how to become a Mason. They both responded that by asking I had already taken the first step. Unfortunately, I was leaving on a six-month deployment to the Mediterranean Sea. I called all the numbers in the phone book under Masonic Lodges but never got anyone to answer. By then it was too late, and I was deployed.
In April 1991, my quest to become a Mason took a step forward when at a church I noticed one of the deacons using a Bible with a Masonic emblem on the front. That did it. I soon had a petition completed and was receiving the investigating team in my home. Again, however, I was deployed, this time to Chile. My journey down the Masonic path was once again delayed. For some strange reason I will never be able to explain, I called my uncle that night, and as we talked, he promised me that, when I was raised to the Third Degree, he would come to North Carolina with my brother.
Soon after my arrival in Chile, I learned that my uncle had a heart attack the day I left. It was the last time I would ever speak to him. I thought of my uncle often and prayed that he would recover, but he died before I ever returned home. When I returned to the U.S. for my next visit, I went through the Degrees at LaFayette Lodge No. 83 in Jacksonville, A.F.&A.M. Grand Lodge of North Carolina. I was initiated an Entered Apprentice August 27, 1991; passed to a Fellowcraft on September 10, 1991; and raised to the Sublime Degree of Master Mason on September 24, 1991. It was during this visit that my aunt presented me with my uncle’s Masonic ring. She said that as he lay dying in his hospital bed, he asked her to make sure I would have it.
Since the death of my uncle, William Avener Legg, I have experienced the loss of my sons, William Shin Roberts and James David Uehara Roberts, and my nephew Joel David Roberts. The vow that I made as a young boy never to cry again has been broken many times. As I look at the Masonic ring once worn by my Uncle Bill, I am reminded of him, my father, my sons, my nephew, my brother, my grandfathers, and many others who have worn the white apron. I now realize the truth inscribed on my great-great-grandfather’s headstone, that they have truly crossed over the river from labor to refreshment.
And I can still hear my uncle saying, “Every young man
should be a Mason.”
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