I grew up in the Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts, leaving Scouting only to join the Navy in 1974. My experiences in the Scouts form some of my best childhood memories and Scouting values helped shape me into the person I am today.
I’ve followed the controversy over the past years about the Scouts with increasing dismay. Then, on Monday February 17, 2020, the Boy Scouts of America filed for chapter 11 bankruptcy.
My parents got me into cub scouting as soon as I was old enough, around 1963. Our Cub Scout Den was sponsored by the Lutheran Church our family attended in Farmingdale, Long Island, New York. Our Den Mothers were a couple of lovely ladies a few blocks from my house (nothing in Farmingdale was very far from anything else). We had weekly Den meetings busy with craft-making activities and monthly Saturday outings. Once each year we held our Blue and Gold dinners. We all wore our Cub Scout uniforms to these events and took the patches we earned very seriously.
As I grew older, I worked my way up the ranks of Tiger, Bobcat, Wolf, and Bear. When I was old enough, I was promoted into the Webelos, the rank in-between Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts. I attained the “Arrow of Light” and became a Boy Scout in our local Church-sponsored Troop. Once again, we had a very active Scout Troop with weekly meetings and monthly weekend camping trips. We had our occasional fund-raisers and paid small monthly dues. But the dues weren’t much, and I now recognize our Church must have provided a lot of the funds we needed to operate as well as giving us a meeting place in the Church’s basement recreational center. At every weekly meeting we wore our uniforms and recited the Boy Scouts Honor Code:
“On my honor I will do my best to do my duty to God and my country and to obey the Scout Law; to help other people at all times; to keep myself physically strong, mentally awake, and morally straight.“
Followed by reciting the Scout’s Law:
A Scout is:
I started at the rank of “Scout,” and earned advancement through “Tenderfoot,” “Second Class,” and “First Class.” Then I made the big times. About six months before we moved away from Farmingdale, in June 1972, I attained the Rank of “Star.” I was also nominated by my entire Troop for the Boy Scouts “Order of the Arrow,” an honor that recognized me as one of the best Scouts in our troop. To earn the Order of the Arrow required a several-days initiation at one of the scout summers camps, but because we moved away from Long Island that summer, I never had the opportunity to participate and never earned the award.
I joined the Scouts in the town we moved to but the troop wasn’t the same as Farmingdale. I gradually drifted away from the Scouts during my last two years of High School and then left home for the Navy.
The Scouts were a refuge for me when I was growing up. It was about the only place where I was never bullied, and in truth all my closest friends in Farmingdale were also involved with scouting either in my troop or a neighboring one. Life on Long Island was all about extreme suburbia, but in the Scouts, I regularly went camping and learned to love the outdoors. The Scouts were a safe place for teenage boys to do stupid things without usually causing too much damage to ourselves, other people, and stuff around us.
As idyllic as I remember my scouting days on Long Island, I experienced one incident that was like a glitch in the matrix. I was studying for a merit badge (don’t remember which one) and the closest person who signed off that merit badge was the scout leader of a troop in a nearby town. I contacted him, and he invited me to his home to work on the merit badge. Mom had to drive me, and after the first visit she would not wait for me in his house.
The man was married, his wife was home at home when I was there, but there was something “off” about him. He would sit too close to me, and say and do odd things that made me very uncomfortable. I finally finished that merit badge and never had reason to see him again. A few months later I met up with some of the scouts in his troop at a local Jamboree. I mentioned their Troop Leader had helped me with a merit badge and the scouts looked at me oddly. One of them said “you need to be careful around him.”
It was something I never forgot.
Flash forward to about ten years ago, when I first started hearing of former Boy Scouts accusing Scout Leaders of molesting them. I would think of that one Scout Leader and knew that at least some accusations would be true. At the time I was active in Scouting, Troop Leaders were venerated and respected members of their local communities. More than just illegal; adults molesting young boys violated the Scouts honor code and should never have been covered up.
I followed the controversy about admitting gays into the Scouts with sadness and disgust. The Scouts honor code and Scouts Law were the values I grew up with and believed in, even if we teenage boys made a lot of fun of them at the time. Nothing in the honor code or Scouts Law precluded admitting Gay Scouts because why would anyone need to give a shit? They were boys who wanted to be Boy Scouts.
I felt heart-broken when the Boy Scouts of America decided to admit girls. I truly believe that teenage boys need a place of their own to grow up, without the social pressures that come from having girls around them. Girls already have the Girl Scouts, where they can grow up without the social pressures of having teenage boys around.
On Monday February 17, 2020, the Boy Scouts of America filed for chapter 11 bankruptcy. The reason; the huge number of lawsuits alleging that young scouts were sexually molested by adult troop leaders. Other reasons cited dwindling numbers of Scouts, and financial problems beyond the lawsuits.
I still have my Boy Scout Jacket as a memento of scouting life; a red wool jacket adorned with patches signifying the different Jamborees and events I participated in as a Scout. Sadly, the jacket no longer fits me. But I still live those Boy Scout values.
I only wish the Boy Scouts of America had lived those values.
Cross posted to my blog-space on Daily Kos
February 20, 2020: Made the “Community Spotlight” on Daily Kos!
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In Honor of Veterans Day 2011 : My discussion of values common to all warriors who ever served their country. Bonus clip of a roll call of ancient Chinese warriors.