From Marine to Mason

by Brother John J. Stanz.

I recently attended a friend’s initiation, which officially began his journey as a Freemason. Days before the event, while preparing for the ceremony, I had a discussion with the Brothers of the Lodge that made me reflect on “From whence I came” before being made a Freemason myself on November 16, 2017.
Having been Medically Retired from the United States Marine Corps after 10 years of active-duty service, with nearly six of those years being a Recon Marine and later, after Force Recon became Marine Special operations Command (MARSOC), I spent my final four years as a Critical Skills Operator (CSO) in the unit that is now known as 2nd Marine Raider Battalion. I loved my job and all that it entailed, but even more than that, I loved the camaraderie amongst those other poor souls that were suffering with me during each of the separate difficult stages scattered throughout the duration of my career.

From the strong bonds shared between me and the other men who were seeking further fulfillment than the standard front line missions that the Marine Corps normally offers, by sacrificing ourselves to the torturous training involved in earning such specialties as Recon Marine, and Critical Skills Operator. To the men I bled alongside in battle, including those whose lives I would hold a key role in protecting and saving as an acting medic on my Raider team, when filling such a billet was necessary.

My career ended with the simple push of a button on 15 August 2009.

The trigger man who was responsible for the blast, I was told months later, was found amongst the corpses of enemy combatants who were killed during the two-hour gun fight that ensued as a result of the ambush that the explosion was used to initiate. Having lost all memories from 1 August to 31 October 2009, I was informed of all the details of that fateful morning at various later dates…
While returning from a successful building takedown that led to the capture of several high value enemy combatants, I’m told, I was manning a mounted machine gun in the bed of our Ground Mobility Vehicle (GMV), which is basically a “tricked out” Humm-vee that is used during special operations missions. The Improvised Explosive Device (IED) that would come to end my military service sent my vehicle reeling in a flame engulfed fireball over 21 and a half meters. Two teammates on the driver side of the vehicle died immediately and my Team Chief who was riding in the rear passenger seat manning the computer and radios that rode on the front passenger seat would die of his horrendously tragic injuries years later on 20 December 20151.

I was lucky enough to survive the incident, but only after over 50 days in a coma with many broken bones down the right side of, and several torn nerves down the left side of, my face and body, torn right ACL and PCL, two bruised lungs, and a very severe Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI). Needless to say, I was a mess, and I was given a 0% chance of survival by the doctors at the Regional Medical Center in Landstuhl, Germany after my head had destabilized on two attempts to fly me back to America, forcing the plane to land and return me to the hospital. After these failed attempts my family was flown in from Buffalo, New York, to be at my side as I would unquestionably succumb to death. After only 10 days of having my family by my side, it was decided that my head was stable enough to attempt a third flight, but with my brother flying with me, as I would most likely die in the Trans-Atlantic flight. My brother is afraid of flying and the humor of seeing him flying in a military C-17 is something I’m sorry that I had to miss.

Spoiler Alert… I didn’t die! I made it to the Naval Hospital in Bethesda, Maryland. The Medical staff worked on bringing me out of my coma for 29 days. After those 29 days they told my family that nothing more could be done for me medically, I would never wake up from the coma, and I should be put into a rest home so that I could drift to death in peace. Instead, my family brought me to another hospital just outside of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania called Moss Rehab where I woke up from the coma after 11 days. During the next 67 days of “inpatient” rehab and therapy post coma, I had to relearn to walk, talk, write, basically everything about life all over again. Until finally I was discharged from the hospital and walked out the front door unassisted on 12 December 2009.

Although I had defied all scientific expectations and not only lived, but woke up from the coma, then on top of that, was able to walk, talk and eat on my own, I was still deemed, “too injured to continue serving.” Thus, against all my attempts to stay active duty and continue deploying to the war zones as a CSO, I was medically retired on 28 February 2012.

Shortly after retiring, I moved back home to Boston, New York (a very tiny suburb of Buffalo, NY) to begin a new chapter of my life. Retiring at 30 years old, could easily be seen as a blessing, sure, but with so much life left to live (I hope anyway), I knew I must find ways of filling my time with more meaningful actions than just traveling the world and partying every chance that I got. And while partaking in such activities was quite fun for a young immature guy with a pension ensuring financial security, I felt deep down that there is more to life than the material pleasures involved with such things. I eventually found myself returning to my life long predominant personality trait that is the need to provide help to those unable to help themselves. So, I set forth in volunteering to help physically and mentally handicapped children get out on the snow, be it in a sit ski, with the assistance of a ski slider, with verbal cues for blind skiers, or with any other necessary adaptations required to allow someone to fully enjoy the snowy hillside beneath them. Later the years of volunteering would culminate in me becoming an Adaptive Ski Instructor through the Professional Ski Instructors of America (PSIA). During the summers of this work, I would become a Volunteer Firefighter which would provide me another way of protecting others from some of the dangers involved with living in this world.

One day, while enjoying some time off at my favorite local bar, I overheard a gentleman speaking about the help he and his brother Shriners provided to the children of the community. Naturally this piqued my interest, and I began a conversation with him discussing what the Shriners do and for whom, and how I might get involved and help those local families in need. He offered to bring me to a luncheon at the local Shrine (Ismailia Shrine in Buffalo, NY) and I gladly went with him. Almost immediately I began feeling a sort of “rekindling” of the brotherhood that had been lacking since departing the Marine Corps a few years prior. I would continue to attend these weekly luncheons and enjoy the company of the Shriners, cheesy Dad jokes and all! After several of these lunches, one of the Shriners would joke to me and say, “You know John, you have to become a Freemason so that you can join the Shrine officially then stop coming to these lunches for free and start paying your dues!” We laughed and I told him that I really did want to, and that way I could help in the community and start driving children in need to the hospital for them to receive the care that they deserve. It was a relatively short time after meeting these Shriners that I started learning what was required to enter into the fraternal order and thus, I kicked off my life as a Freemason. To be one, all I had to do is, as it’s often said, ask one!

I still joke to this day, that, while only a Freemason can become a Shriner, I joined the Fraternity in reverse… “I was a Shriner that later became a Freemason”. I joke of course, as literally doing so would be impossible, but I am very happy that I was introduced this way. It showed me early the many many layers of this onion that we call Freemasonry, which has led me to meeting so many new brothers around the world, and even many close to home, whom I would most likely never have met without taking these further steps toward light in Masonry.

The brotherhood that has been formed while taking the steps of Freemasonry has unquestionably filled the void of brotherhood that has been missing in my life that I was forced to leave behind when I had been retired from the Marine Corps. And on top of that, the good work that I now help our Fraternity to carry out, definitely answers any questions of doubt that I might have had about whether or not I am making a positive impact in the world for future generations.

While introducing my in-laws in Bavaria, Germany to our perfect baby girl, I researched lodges in the area that I’d be able to visit. One can try to imagine how excited I was when the Grand Secretary MW Paul Curran gave me the contact to Bavaria #935; an English speaking Lodge working under the American Canadian Lodge (ACGL) in Munich! “What luck!” I thought, as, although I’ve been married to a Bavarian “Mädel” for several years, I still cannot speak Deutsch very well. Difficulty learning new languages is one of the many complications caused by my TBI. However, I have no doubt that, even if only German was spoken that night at the lodge, the amazing brothers who I met there, would have unquestionably, Brought me to Light, so to speak.
I’d like to take this opportunity to send out a big Thank you to all my Brothers! Not just to the Brothers at the Lodge to which I belong, Livingstone Lodge # 255, and to the equally great Brothers of the lodges to which I have traveled, but to everyone involved in Freemasonry in any way, for providing me (and every other man who is willing to take the necessary steps), with the amazing opportunities that have ensured that I have a great and completely fulfilled life! A life that I am able to use to ensure that other people’s lives are at least equally fulfilled, hopefully even more so than my own!

Br. Johnny

  1. References to MSgt. Eden “Mosh Pit” Pearl USMC
    Washington Post
    Buffalo News ↩︎

Post First Publication Author’s Note:

I would feel a bit remiss if I were to neglect mentioning another Lodge at which I was fortunate enough to attend a meeting since writing this article.

While being filmed at a gold mine just outside of Dawson City, Yukon Territory, Canada, during Season 13 of Gold Rush on Discovery Channel, I did a little research and discovered that Yukon Lodge Number 45 in Dawson City was having one of their meetings on a weekend that I had free. Come to find out, this was one of only three meetings that they hold each year due to restrictions, such as weather and distance that the brothers must travel to attend, etc. Come to find out, this meeting was the 2022 Installation of Officers to boot!

Upon strict examination of lawful Masonic information, the brothers accepted me into the lodge as one of their own. It felt almost immediately like I had been a member there for years. Each of the brothers was truly great!

I was awakened, of course, to some of the differences between the American and Canadian Grand Lodge traditions. One instance I recall, was when Grand Honors were called for the outgoing Master of the Lodge and I was the only brother clapping! I quickly caught on after a lonely first three claps, stopped and folded my arms, imitating what I saw as I looked around at all the other brothers… A brother near me gave me a quick lesson on the fly and I picked up how to give Canadian Grand Honors quite quickly.

Anyway, the brothers of Yukon Lodge Number 45 are Great Brothers and their lodge a true place of Brotherly Love! I just wanted to do the right thing and give them a shout out! And just as with all the brothers I’ve met around the world; I hope to see you all again one day!

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