Keeping the Secrets… One Mason’s Story

Freemasons are famous for their secrets. But what does this mean? What are secrets? Who are we really talking about? What does it mean to keep a secret?

There is perhaps no better answer to this question than the story of Brother John Bergmann, 99 years old and a 60-year member of Community Lodge, No. 684, in Columbus, Ohio.

Brother Bergmann served as a codebreaker during World War II. Early in the war, he lost an eye to combat in the Burma – China Theater while on a secret mission with Army Rangers. He then served for the rest of the war in Maryland with occasional trips to London to speak with his counterparts. His work put him in contact with General Dwight Eisenhower, Prime Minister Winston Churchill, and the famous mathematician – codebreaker, Alan Touring. His unit helped decipher Japanese and German messages and win the war. Today, the public knows about the Enigma Machine, the Colossus Computer, and the Turing Bombe code breaking computers. But for many years, long after the war, these were secrets.

Brother Bergmann kept these secrets from everyone – family and friends alike – until 1983. For thirty-eight years, he had a cover story about his military service and his injuries. It was only after the government lifted the restrictions that his story became known, and he began to share his experiences with veteran’s groups, schools, and others. In 2017, he was interviewed for the Veterans History Project of the Cincinnati Hamilton County Public Library. That interview can be seen on YouTube with a simple search for “Veterans History Project John Bergmann.”

The secrets of Freemasonry are generally understood to refer to the modes of recognition we inherited from the original medieval stonemasons – the signs, tokens, and words of the three degrees. We also understand that as Masons, we agree to respect and protect the privacy of our Brethren as well as the affairs of the Lodge. When a Brother tells us something in confidence or asks for advice on a personal matter, he does so with the trust and expectation that we will not tell others about his private concerns. Likewise, when the Lodge conducts business matters holds elections, and deals with charity and membership issues, the members of the Lodge will not make this information public. As Masons, we promise to exercise judgment and self-control and practice those truly Masonic Virtues of silence and circumspection. Brother John Bergmann exemplifies these virtues and is an inspiration to all.

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