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In Spite of Tarnish, Boy Scouts Shine

February 20, 2012


For a little over three years my brother Dave and I went every Tuesday evening to the basement of the Ralph D. Cole Post of the American Legion in Findlay, Ohio, for meetings of Boy Scout Troop 310.

Our troop was about the usual size, I guess. About 15 boys, 12-16 years old, in various degrees of uniform. Scoutmasters were Terry Gary and Mr. Treece: those were the days when “Mr.” sufficed as a first name for an older man.

Each week the meetings began nearly the same way. After some rough housing, we were called to order by a patrol leader or the Scoutmaster. We lined up to say the Pledge of Allegiance, the Boy Scout Oath, and a prayer led by the Troop Chaplain or Mr. Treece.

There was never a dull moment at Scout meetings. We were always doing something that would prepare us for the next camp out or the next service project or the next parade. Month by month, merit badge by merit badge, I moved from Tenderfoot to First Class and finally to Eagle.

The merit badges and ranks were fun, but the great experience of Scouting was at camp. Mindless, timeless days of whittling and chopping wood, canoeing and swimming, cooking over a fire and eating with hundreds of other Scouts in the Dining Hall.

What I failed to realize then was that I was being shaped into an American.  At flag ceremonies on the parade field at Camp Berry, there was a reverence as buglers played while the American flag rose in the morning sun. Retreat and taps in the evenings were just as moving, if not a little more antsy.

While the war in Viet Nam dragged to an end, I was oblivious (I was just 13, after all). My world consisted in the aroma of the pines at Camp Berry, in the war stories Mr. Treece told at campfires or in the amazing tests of a “Polar Bear” weekend or fire starting contests.

While protests raged in the streets and mean-spirited antics brought down President Nixon, I was unaware.  I was making oaths “to do my best, to do my duty, to God and my country.” I was putting into practice the Boy Scout slogan, “Do A Good Turn Daily.”

As the sexual revolution began to seep its destruction into the souls of an entire generation, I was learning the importance of being trustworthy, loyal, helpful, kind, and so forth. I was unaware that somewhere there might be inappropriate things happening between volunteers and youth because I had such good examples of Scouting practice and ideals in Mr. Treece and Mr. Gary.

Recently, there have been more and more news stories about molesters and malcontents involved with Scouting, and that is definitely terrible. It is always terrible when someone only gives lip service to ideals, whether it’s a Scoutmaster abusing Scouts or priests abusing acolytes or mothers aborting their children.

But that doesn’t negate those ideals. America was a better place when boys by the million were making weekly promises “to help other people at all times, to keep [themselves] physically strong, mentally awake and morally straight.”

We were a better culture when men and boys met weekly to discuss what it meant to be a good citizen, to vote, to serve, to take positions of leadership among peers, and to share what it means to be a man of character.

Individuals were better people when we learned how to fend for ourselves, to be self-reliant, to work as a community of strong individuals rather than erasing our individuality for the sake of a contrived community.

February used to be National Boy Scout Month, and all over the country, Scouts wore their uniforms to school, to Church, and in public doing good turns for others. I suspect that happens very little now. But we very much need for it to happen again.

Our weekly meetings of Troop 310 always ended the same way. We made a circle of joined thumbs, with right hands raised in the Scout Sign and we’d repeat  slowly and intentionally the 12 Points of the Boy Scout Law:

A Scout is trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean, and reverent.

Scouting still shines, inspite of its dents and dings, in spite of malefactors who find their way in and malcontents who try to bring it down from without. I hope many more boys and young find its ideals, subscribe to its principals, and find the meaning and character that the Boy Scouts gave to me.


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One Comment
  1. Well, as another barefoot Christian, that has been an Eagle Scout for over 40 years, and is a Wood Badge trained scout leader, I really appreciate your comments.

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