By T.S. Akers
In 1917 the US Army established sixteen training camps across the country to train and integrate National Guard units for service overseas. One of those camps, Camp Doniphan, was established adjacent to Fort Sill on a 2,000 acre plot. The camp grew to have a capacity of 46,183 troops and consisted of 1,267 buildings, most of which were tents.[i] A young Harry S. Truman passed through Camp Doniphan with the 129th Field Artillery.[ii]
The Great War saw an increased interest in fraternalism as so many men came together. In December of 1917, over two-hundred soldiers from Camp Doniphan were given passes to journey to Guthrie for a special Scottish Rite Reunion; it was the first time Oklahoma Consistory No. 1 conferred all twenty-nine degrees. Due to the number of soldiers interested in being made 32° Masons, the number of passes that could be issued at any one time was limited. With this restriction on the number of troops that could leave camp, the Guthrie Scottish Rite Bodies erected a Masonic "club house" at Camp Doniphan for the purpose of communicating the degrees to soldiers.[iii]
Guthrie Scottish Rite "Victory Class" of 1917
The Scottish Rite was not the only branch of Freemasonry that responded to the needs of men in pursuit of Masonic light. In 1918, the Grand Lodge of the State of Oklahoma appointed a Special Deputy for Camp Doniphan. Lawton Lodge No. 183 had received more than three hundred requests for the degrees of Ancient Craft Masonry. While soldiers were passing through Camp Doniphan, Lawton Lodge No. 183 would confer 143 Entered Apprentice degrees, 214 Fellowcraft degrees, and 207 Master Mason degrees.[iv] Other Lodges across Oklahoma, seeing an increase in petitions for the Degrees of Freemasonry, were granted dispensation for one day degree conferrals for those men who would be entering the service.
It was at a one day degree conferral held in Muskogee Lodge No. 28 on March 1, 1918, that William Patton Fite would become a Freemason.[v]
William P. Fite was the son of Dr. Francis B. Fite, who served as mayor of Muskogee in 1905 and 1919. Francis B. Fite was also a Freemason and a member of Muskogee Commandery No. 2 Knights Templar.[vi] The younger Fite was born August 31, 1890, and graduated from the University of Virginia with a medical degree in 1916.[vii]
Fite was no stranger to military life, having entered the Shattuck Military School at age fourteen. He joined the US Army Medical Corps at Fort Sill on June 1, 1917 as a first lieutenant. During the Spanish Flu pandemic of 1918, Fite was assigned to the hospital at Camp Bowie. He would go overseas with the 36th Infantry Division in July of 1918 as a captain and serve on the front lines for eighteen days in October during the Meuse-Argonne Offensive. While at the front, Fite would oversee treatment for gas attacks suffered by the 36th Infantry Division.[viii]
Before his departure for France, the Brethren of Muskogee Lodge No. 28 presented Fite with a pocket sized Masonic patent which he carried throughout the Great War. The document, which was composed in English, French, and German, vouched for Fite as a Brother and read in part:
…commends him for brotherly care and lawful aid to any Mason who may find him in distress or need – incident to his service as an American soldier…
(From the collections of the McAlester Scottish Rite)
A total of 4,743,826 Americans served during the Great War. Around 84,000 Oklahomans comprised the American Expeditionary Force, of whom 1,317 never returned. Fite survived the trenches and was discharged from service on July 22, 1919. Coming back to Muskogee, he became Vice President of the Physicians and Surgeons Hospital, as well as surgeon for the MKT and Frisco Railroads.[ix] Fite would live until March 5, 1978.[x]
[i] “Camp Doniphan,” US Army Center of Military History, accessed April 30, 2018, https://history.army.mil/html/bookshelves/resmat/wwi/pt02/ch10/pt02-ch10-sec06.html.
[ii] “World War I,” Fort Sill History, accessed April 30, 2018, http://sill-www.army.mil/History/_wars/ww1.htm.
[iii] The Oklahoma Consistory (January 1918), Vol. 3, No. 1.
[iv] Proceedings of the M.: W.: Grand Lodge A.F & A.M. of the State of Oklahoma: Tenth Annual Communication (Oklahoma, 1918), 47-48.
[v] “Fite, William Patton” (member profile, Grand Lodge of the State of Oklahoma).
[vi] Liz McMahan, “Fite Family’s Legacy Remains Alive Here Today,” Muskogee Phoenix (Muskogee, OK), June 5, 2007.
[vii] John D. Benedict, Muskogee and Northeastern Oklahoma (Oklahoma: S.J. Clarke Publishing Company, 1922), 389.
[viii] Benedict, 390.
[ix] Ibid., 390.
[x] “Fite, William Patton.”