Sunday, March 16, 2008

Templar Commandery Not Responsible For Soldier's Death, But Questions Remain

U.S. Army Specialist Donald Anthony Wilder was found dead in his barracks in January 8, 2006, after a night of severe hazing while joining a Prince Hall Knights Templar Commandery in Mannheim, Germany. Today, more than two years later, the Army has released the details of its investigation. The story is spread across four articles in Stars and Stripes. Stars and Stripes has a paid circulation of more than 200,000 in 37 countries, plus its presence on the Internet.

At the time, Wilder was a member Perfect Square Lodge No. 88 in Mannheim, chartered by the Most Worshipful Prince Hall Grand Lodge of Washington and Jurisdiction.

On Jan. 7, 2006, three soldiers — one of whom was Spc. Donald Anthony Wilder — were initiated into the Knights Templar group in Mannheim. The soldiers were blindfolded and consented to being paddled on their buttocks during the ceremony. After the ceremony and celebratory drinking at Mannheim bars, Wilder was found dead in a barracks shower. His cause of death was deemed alcohol poisoning.



Andrew Morgan Commandery #9 Officers in November 2005 - from their website


According to one article, Andrew Morgan Commandery No. 9 of the Most Worshipful Prince Hall Grand Lodge of Washington and Jurisdiction, had its officers removed from their positions as a result of the incident.

Prior to the incident, Wilder had told his parents that he had been warned of the beatings, and that it was his intention to get so drunk beforehand that he would either not feel it, or be so drunk that others might take the brunt of the hazing. Details of the Templar initiation are given in another article outlining the timeline of Wilder's activities up to his death.
7 p.m.: The ceremony starts when nine Masons and the three initiates, including Wilder, are present.

7-10 p.m.: The candidates are taught about the Knights Templar. At some point in the ceremony, the initiates go outside the gym to drink the “five libations,” which involves sipping liquor from a cup. The initiates are outside in front of the high school and asked by a civilian Mason if they want to leave or not be paddled. All three say they would be hit. They are blindfolded, told to take off their shirts, pants and shoes and brought inside the gym to “walk a line.”

The line consists of Masons paddling or “touching” the initiates with wooden paddles, ranging in size from 6-by-8 inches to 4-by-15 inches.

“I think (Wilder) was hit about 20 times,” according to the statement of a sergeant in Wilder’s unit whose name was redacted from the investigation report. “I know one time he was hit one (sic) in the right leg. I’m not sure exactly how it happened, but I think he saw it coming and moved out of the way.”

A specialist from Wilder’s unit said he hit him a few times along with other people.

“The line was sort of like a staggered line — you walk down one line, turn and walk down another line,” according to the specialist’s statement to investigators. “As the person walks down the line, he is hit with the paddle two times. Spc. Wilder walked through the line and was hit with the paddle. Only four or five people hit Spc. Wilder with the paddle.”

The paddling lasts three to four minutes, after which Wilder says his last obligation, finishing the ceremony.

10 p.m.: The ceremony ends.

“After the ceremony was over, Spc. Wilder was happy he finished, happy he was a Sir Knight, but at the same time, he seemed a little sad he was leaving Germany,” according to the statement of a staff sergeant present at the ceremony. “He was giving everyone his e-mail address so we could stay in touch with him. Spc. Wilder even hugged most everyone who was there.”

Ten days later, the staff sergeant is shown a photograph of Wilder’s injuries and asked by investigators if the paddling was excessive. The staff sergeant replies: “A little, yeah.”

The investigator then asks the staff sergeant, based on the photo, how many times he thought Wilder was hit.

“More than 10,” the staff sergeant answers. “It also depends on your complexion. It does look bad.”


Photos taken of Wilder’s body in the barracks where he was found show large bruises and scrapes to his buttocks, thighs and scrotum. An autopsy report confirmed the injuries were present, but that they did not contribute to his death.

Instead, the Army ruled that Brother Wilder died of alcohol poisoning the next morning, after a night of drinking in downtown Mannheim, celebrating his initiation. Apparently, he had a past history of binge drinking and had referred himself for alcohol treatment several months befpre. Wilder drank so much that he passed out more than once in the course of the evening, and when he returned to the barracks, he passed out again in the shower. He was found in the same position the next morning, dead.

According to another article,
Based on their knowledge of what happened during the nearly two-year investigation, CID agents sought charges of aggravated assault, cruelty, maltreatment and dereliction of duty for those involved.

Army lawyers ruled out charges of negligent homicide and aggravated assault because Wilder consented to the paddling and the paddling injuries did not lead to his death. Officers also ruled out charging those involved with conspiracy, obstruction of justice or false official statement because those offenses were linked to the Masonic initiation and not Wilder’s death. . .

Among the three soldiers punished, on Aug. 16, 2006, the staff sergeant was reduced to sergeant, which was suspended; ordered to forfeit $1,385 a month for two months, which was suspended; restricted for 45 days, which was suspended; ordered to perform extra duties for 45 days; and received a written reprimand.

On Aug. 9, 2006, the sergeant was reduced to specialist, which was suspended; ordered to forfeit $1,136 a month for two months, which was suspended; restricted for 45 days, which was suspended; ordered to perform extra duty for 45 days; and received a written reprimand.

On the same day, the specialist was reduced to private first class, ordered to forfeit $846, restricted for 45 days and ordered to perform extra duty for 45 days. His fine of $846 was suspended.


Wilder's family does not believe the investigation exonerates the Templar group, which is still operating. His parents are offering a $10,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of those involved in the incident. They have set up an e-mail address to receive tips in the case.

His mother Diana Wilder is quoted as saying, “If this is the last thing I do, I’m going to find out what happened.”


Members and officers of Perfect Square Lodge No. 88 in Manheim, Germany, shown in 2005-6.

According to its website, the Most Worshipful Prince Hall Grand Lodge of Washington and Jurisdiction includes Canada, England, Germany, Iceland, Iraq, Kuwait, Turkey, Guam, Republic of Korea, Okinawa and Mainland Japan and the Republic of Philippines. With very few exceptions (the GL of Massachusetts being a notable one, with lodges in the Panama Canal zone, Guantanamo Bay in Cuba, and elsewhere), mainstream grand lodges have not established military lodges in foreign countries. Masonry that is often discovered by US servicemen overseas are the PHA military lodges, such as those established by the MWPHGL of Washington. Perfect Square Lodge was chartered in 1991.

In a letter issued January 18, 2006 by MWBro. Wendell O. Hutchings, then Grand Master of the MNWPHGL of Washington, he stated the following:

"Be it hereby known and acknowledged that there will be no hazing or un-Masonic conduct of any sort tolerated during degree work within the Jurisdiction of the Most Worshipful Prince Hall Grand Lodge of Washington and Jurisdiction. Any such behavior that is determined to be inappropriate will be dealt with swiftly and unequivocally per our code on un-Masonic conduct."

I hope MWBro. Harden M. Keys, Jr., current Grand Master of the MWPHGL of Washington takes the opportunity of the release of the Army's investigation to again deal sternly and publicy with the issue.

While I cannot speak to the ceremonies practiced in Prince Hall Commanderies, I can say without hesitation that the above account in no way describes what goes on in a mainstream Knights Templar ceremony. Perhaps it is a culture that has sprung up in some Prince Hall military lodges, or perhaps it is peculiar to some Prince Hall jurisdictions. I have seen online ads for Masonic, and even Eastern Star (!) paddles, and there is no place for anything of the kind in mainstream Freemasonry. Men shouldn't get beaten to become Masons or Templars, and I can't think of a reasonable excuse why any Master or Commander would condone it. In mainstream Freemasonry, it would be a punishable offense.

That said, I've seen firsthand during a PHA EA degree the notion that the candidate was "duly and truly prepared" meant he was punched in the chest full blast by the WM while blindfolded, after he had been told to fear no danger. And after the obligation, he had his face ground into the Holy Bible by the SD, the friend and brother he was told to trust, and was cheered on by the brethren to "kiss it like you love it, kiss it like its your ho'!" I frankly found the the situation offensive in the extreme. I can't for the life of me figure out just what lessons these acts are supposed to be teaching.

If it is a rare circumstance, that needs to be addressed. But if hazing is widespread in Prince Hall Masonry, I think that needs to be revealed as well. Freemasonry is not some college-style 'puking and paddling' fraternity. And even though the Commandery in question has been legally exonerated from responsibility for Brother Wilder's tragic and unnecessary death, the stain on the whole fraternity remains.

4 comments:

Dan said...

Brother Chris,

Perhaps it is a cultural phenomena, but this type of situation truly saddens me.

Tattooed Traveller

Chris Hodapp said...

The details of the actions of the Commandery have now splashed across the pages of 200,000 issues of Stars and Stripes worldwide, plus untold internet readers, and the message is clear:

the Freemasons and the Templars beat the crap out of their members.

It is highly probable that the situation in some of the military lodges is simply that young men without much Masonic experience or maturity are running them without any influence of older members and no guidance from their Grand Lodges. And they are bringing in frat style, or
even gang style influences (one brother has written of a PHA lodge that branded their Master Masons, for instance), along with some extreme military toughness thrown in to the mix. Maybe such "trial by fire" methods seem effective at creating bonding to these guys at the time. But
they are just a lawsuit away from disaster. Clearly, Wilder's parents aren't going to let this drop. So, a GM just issuing some limp anti-hazing statement isn't enough if it is regularly known that such things are going on anyway by the rank and file. And it's clearly not just in military lodges.

My own experiences in visiting PHA lodges, along with others experienced firsthand or seen by other PHA and mainstream brethren and related on other lists today, point up that this is not some minor, isolated incident. Perhaps some jurisdictions have dealt successfully with the problem, or perhaps they never had it. But I can't think of any place in Freemasonry where punching a blindfolded candidate after he's been told to fear no danger, or grinding his nose in a Bible and telling him to kiss it like a whore should be condoned or shrugged off. It's revolting, and making excuses for it is no way to deal with it. If this kind of hazing isn't widespread, it's certainly spread as far as from Germany to Indiana. Your location may differ.

Star and Stripes did investigate enough to specify that it was a PHA lodge and commandery. Other reporters won't dig much. If some homegrown group of ten nuts marching in their socks in rural Idaho call themselves Masons and shoot one of their initiates, the paper will call them Masons anyway. In the Long Island shooting several years ago at Patchogue Lodge, very few stories mentioned that it was a side group within the lodge, called the "Fellow Craft Club." It didn't matter - the Masons killed one of their own members. So what smears one group of us smears us all. The GL of New York was quite fast and public in its punishment of that sponsoring lodge. The GM of MWPHGLofW&J needs to come down hard and publicly on this matter, or it will happen again.

Wayfaring Man said...

You're absolutely right to be alarmed for all the reasons you cited.

I've heard some similar things, but never witnessed them. had I, I would have walked out.

Michael said...

I, too, have to wonder how much of this is cultural phenomena.

Within the larger world of college fraternities, there have been those who engage in hazing, including paddling and branding (branding is usually done by members, not initates, btw). While all national fraternities condemn hazing, hazing incidents still occur at the local levels.

Within my own fraternity, we have a subset group that was heavily influences by certain practicies within BGLO (black greek letter organizations) that emerged at HBCU (historically black colleges and universities). Too often those chapters who are influences by these practicies have engages in hazing. And there are many alumni within the BGLO area who feel that such practices are good and should be continued. (ie of proving your worth, earning your membership etc.). Many of these BGLO members also join masonry (often PHA), and probably bring over the same views. (I even hear terms by members of BGLO-influenced chapters using masonic terms which really have no place in my fraternity, such as refering to their initiation into our fraternity as having 'crossed the burning sands', etc.)