“In his devotion to the AFS, Mr. Masback exemplified that unselfish spirit and dedication on which the Service was founded and on which its future rests.”

– AFS Board of Trustees Resolution, November 1964

Ed Masback in WWII uniform

AFS World War II ambulance driver and Life Trustee Edwin (Ed) R. Masback, Jr. championed international responsibility and volunteer service, first as an ambulance driver in World War II and later as a founder of the AFS Scholarship Program.

Ed was born on September 14, 1917, in White Plains, New York. He is a graduate of Phillips Andover Academy and Yale University (class of 1940). In 1942, when Ed was 25 years old and the treasurer of a family-owned hardware and industrial supply wholesaler, he was rejected for medical reasons by the U.S. Army. After a year of trying to join the war effort, Ed found the AFS office on the ground floor of the Cotton Exchange Building in New York City at 60 Beaver Street and met Stephen Galatti. Ed explained his motivation in a 2002 interview; “I was never a pacifist. But I had strong, strong feelings about what was going on. A lot of people were conscientious objectors, and I would appreciate their feelings, but in 1938, I had been to Germany. My family name originally was Maasbach, and they came from the town of Maasbach, Germany. I remember driving from Germany with the Nazi storm troopers around, and recall being both attracted by the uniforms and repelled by what they represented. And by the time I joined AFS, it was apparent to many what was happening not only to Jews, but certain other people as well.”

Ed left New York with AFS Unit ME 37 in January 1943, arriving in the Middle East in March 1943. He was attached to AFS 485 Ambulance Car Company and served as section leader and “C” Platoon sergeant in Egypt, Palestine, Lebanon, Syria and Italy.

As the platoon sergeant, Ed participated in the battle of Monte Cassino. He experienced a tragic loss when his platoon’s lieutenant, Robert Bryan, was killed in battle in May of 1944. Ed named his firstborn son Bryan in honor of Lt. Bryan. Ed recalled his experience at Cassino: “The New Zealand Dressing Station, to which I was attached, lay just south of the Abbey of Monte Cassino, separated by a plain, tucked into an old stream bed flanked by slopes. We could see the bombing planes before bombs were released. When the bombs landed, we could hear the thunder and quite literally feel the ground shake.” For his service, Ed was awarded the Africa Star, the Italy Star and the War Medal 1939–45 by the British military. He was repatriated on March 26, 1944.

As one of the founders of the AFS International Scholarship Program in 1946, Ed has witnessed firsthand the transforming power of the AFS mission. Ed explained his decision to get involved with AFS: “I went back home and, for me, the experiences later on were more important than what happened in the war, except how the war affected my thinking. After the war was over, we had a Drivers Reunion and I decided to go into the student exchange field.”

Ed and Phyllis Masback with Frank Lichtensteiger, Tom Hale, Arthur Howe, Jr. and
Maureen Fenson of the Canadian Embassy at the AFS Drivers Reunion 2002

In a Legacy Project conversation with Eleanora Golobic in 2004, Ed recalled a seminal experience in the early days of the AFS program that deeply affected him and taught him the meaning of reconciliation. He was asked by Stephen Galatti to entertain two AFS college students, a New Zealander and a German from Dickinson College in New York in 1948–49. During their conversation, it turned out that both students and Ed were at the battle of Monte Cassino in Italy. Ed and the New Zealander served with the Allies, while the German, an officer in the Paratroops Regiment, was on the opposing side. Ed said that the meeting transformed him:

“Talking together and just sitting there, the three of us, it was some sort of an epiphany. I don’t know what it was, but my attitude completely changed after that and it’s right to say that I didn’t hold any resentment. The big thing I learned out of my AFS experience is that fundamentally, people are people. That episode really changed the nature of my life and I found it a very moving experience. I have spent a good part of my life since then involved one way or the other with AFS, including working there.”

Ed has served on AFS governing boards continuously since 1947. His passion for AFS is evident in the numerous leadership positions he has taken over the years. Whether serving as treasurer and acting director general (Ed headed AFS upon Galatti’s death in July 1964 until the election of Arthur Howe, Jr. later that year), chairman of the AFS Board of Directors, chairman of the AFS International Board of Trustees and AFS USA Trustee, Ed hasn’t shied away from the challenges facing AFS over the years. As treasurer, Ed developed financial procedures and provided financial guidance to AFS over a period of years. Ed also founded the AFS chapter in Scarsdale, New York, and was deeply and increasingly involved in program issues. Ed hosted three students who participated in the AFS year program and his family often provided a temporary home for AFS boarding school students.

Ed was part of an AFS driver delegation that accepted the Oscar Arias Foundation Peace Award at the World Congress in San Jose. Ed is widely known and respected by the AFS volunteers and AFS Partners throughout the world. A frequent guest speaker at many AFS Partner events, Ed was honored at the AFS-USA Gala at the United Nations in October 2005.

Ed retired as president of Masback Hardware Company and is currently an active Life Trustee of AFS International. He lives with his wife Phyllis in Greenport, New York. Ed’s three sons are Bryan, Dennis and Kevin and he has six grandchildren.

Ed’s lifetime of leadership and service to AFS is an inspiration to all. Through his vision and leadership, Ed has made a tremendous contribution to the lives of young people around the world. His lifelong support of the AFS Mission continues to affect the development of AFS programs and provides a source of hope and renewal for many. AFS takes great pride in Ed’s service and steadfast commitment.

This article originally appeared in the AFS Janus issue of September 2009. Read more about AFS history here and explore AFS Archives here.