“It was pretty cool. It was just a great experience.”
That’s how Tipp City fourth-grader Mason Hughes, 10, described what it was like to lay a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Va., an honor he had April 19.
Mason, the son of Jeffrey and Bridget Hughes and a student at L.T. Ball Intermediate School, had been invited by his grandfather, Dennis Hughes, of Sidney, to take part in the ceremony. Hughes is the Right Eminent Grand Commander of the Knights Templar of Ohio, the first Sidney resident to so serve since 1841. He was nominated to lay the wreath. The three people he then selected to assist him were two other knights from Ohio, Grand Aide Charles Adams, of Greenville, and Grand Generalissimo Gerald Pugh, of Marietta, and Mason.
The opportunity for the public to take part in wreath-laying or other memorial services at the tomb has been made a part of federal law, according to the cemetery’s website. Requests are accepted six months to a year in advance of a group’s visit.
“It was awesome. It was just awesome,” Hughes said. “We got there and met with the guards who guard the tomb. They were so polite.” The group was given instructions, and the four walked to the tomb with the sergeant-at-arms of the guard. The three adults were dressed in full Knights Templar regalia.
“My grandson and I were the ones that held the wreath,” Hughes said. “As a veteran myself (of the U.S. Air Force), I have to admit, I had a lump in my throat. When I turned around to look at Charlie, a World War II veteran, he had tears running down his face.”
A crowd of about 250 people witnessed the ceremony. Many of them wanted photos afterward with the group.
“People stopped us. There were pictures all over. Some wanted autographs,” Hughes said.
Mason said he wasn’t nervous at all to be participating in such a solemn rite. A member of Webelo Cub Scout Pack 285 in Tipp City, he wore his scout uniform for the occasion. The wreath-laying was his favorite part of this, his first visit to the nation’s capital. He and his family also toured the National Mall, sightseeing at monuments. They went through the Smithsonian Museum and attended a sunrise Easter service at the Washington Monument.
“The weather was perfect,” Hughes said. “(Saturday) was a great, perfect day. It was such an honor. I’ll remember it as long as I live. I’m sure I’ll cherish it the rest of my life. And I bet Mason will, too.”
The Knights Templar, who were organized in the early 12th century, had as their stated mission the protection of pilgrims on their journeys to visit the holy places. Today, they exist as a nonprofit, philanthropic group who donate to charitable organizations under the umbrella of the Masonic fraternity. The groups worldwide donate more than $2 million a day to their chosen charities, Hughes said in an email.
The primary charity of the Templars is the Knights Templar Eye Foundation, which gives several million dollars to eye research each year. The Templars also promote the youth with scholarships and Holy Land pilgrimage tours. These tours send ministers to the Holy Land “to walk where Jesus walked.”
Today, there are nearly 9,000 Knights Templar in Ohio, the largest contingent in the world. Hughes was installed last October as the head of the Ohio Grand Commandery.