Monday, June 27, 2011

Boy Scouts of America

                   Boy Scouts of America   

          Audie and I could hardly wait to join the Boy Scouts.  You had to be twelve years old to actually become a member, but you could start going to meetings (a sort of apprenticeship) three months before your twelfth birthday.  We joined Troop 22; it was sponsored by the American Legion and met in the basement of the American Legion Hall.  Our Scoutmaster was E. B. Star, an employee of Texas Electric Service Company, and also a member of the American Legion.  Sometimes, on overnight hikes, we would sit spellbound around the campfire while he told us tales of chasing Pancho Villa all over northern Mexico while he served in the horse cavalry under General "Blackjack" Pershing.  Our Assistant Scoutmaster was Mr. Oglesby; his son Billy was a member of the troop and a fellow football player in high school.

          Once we joined the Scouts, Audie and I studied together for all the tests: Second Class, First Class, Star, Life, and Eagle -- including studying for and taking the tests for the Merit Badges required for the latter three ranks.  I would like to think that we went up the ladder together, but more likely, with the cruelty of youth, I liked taking advantage of being able to join six weeks before Audie and beating him to every rank.  I do know that we both made every rank, except Eagle, in the minimum time stipulated in the Boy Scout Manual.

 I blew the latter because I had a real problem passing the requirements for the Lifesaving Merit Badge.  Audie could swim much better than I could; I had a real hangup with water, originating with my father carrying me, screaming in terror, far out into the surf in front of the Galvez Hotel in Galveston while attending a railroad convention.
          Troop 22 was the "camping" troop; we camped out at various lakes, rivers, or other exotic sites several times a month, winter and summer (there being only two seasons in North Texas).  The truth of the matter was that they were not exotic at all; there was nothing resembling the mountains, cold clear water, and pine trees of the Pacific Northwest or Yellowstone National Park in the mesquite, pin oak country of North Texas.  That didn't bother us; I suppose we figured that if that country was the choice of the Comanches, it was good enough for us.  However, we did enjoy camping in the Wichita Mountains, near Ardmore, Oklahoma, for two weeks during several summers. 

          The Wichita Mountains would be considered low hills by western standards, but they were mountains to us.  They encompassed a wildlife preserve, with numerous deer, elk, and probably the largest herd of buffalo existent at the time.  Nearby, if not part of the preserve was the Comanche Reservation, and a few aged surviving recalcitrant Comanche, Sioux, and Apache leaders were still imprisoned in adjacent Fort Lawton.  We LOVED summer camp in the Wichita Mountains; it was much cooler, the water in the rivers and lakes was clear and cold, and there were animals (reptiles, birds and mammals) and trees EVERYWHERE.  I have no idea of the sponsor of the Scout Camp there, but many of us appreciated it.              

          Our local BSA District owned a large, rustic building and campground on the bank of the channel just below Diversion Dam, thirty or forty miles from Wichita Falls. The District Administration ran a series of camps there during the summer, but individual Scout Troops could use it when not in use by the District, both in summer and at other times of the year.  We used it a lot, year round; fishing in the "spillway" below the dam was often spectacular and always exciting if you waded into the strong current.  A few people drowned there almost every year, but I wasn't afraid of the water as long as I had my feet on the bottom and my head above the surface.  I only panicked when I couldn't touch bottom and my head was under water.

"Chief" Creighton was our local professional Scout Executive and a real character.  He was huge, well over six feet and, probably, 300 pounds.  I never saw him out of uniform; he was always impressive in appearance, but more so in long pants than in Boy Scout shorts and knee length socks.  Chief Creighton, like a Commanding General, ran all the District Camps.  He also officiated at the monthly "Court of Honor" where all promotions were made.  Beginning with all the Tenderfeet who had passed the requirements for advancement to Second Class, then the candidates for First Class, Star, and Life were called, in groups, to the front where The Chief personally pinned their new rank on their scrawny, but proud, chests.  It was a heady experience for 12 and 13 year old boys, most of whom had never before been recognized for accomplishment, but it was HEAVY for promotion to EAGLE SCOUT.

It was the proud boast of the BOY SCOUTS OF AMERICA that no Eagle Scout had ever been sentenced to prison (that was long before a former Eagle Scout killed 13 people with a rifle from the Bell Tower at the University of Texas (autopsy revealed he had a malignant brain tumor that "was responsible for his aberration").  Eagle Scouts were paragons of virtue, incapable of evil and above pettiness.  Promotion to Eagle Scout combined the rituals of Knighthood and Priesthood. They actually turned off all the lights except for a spotlight that illuminated only the acolyte and, of course, THE CHIEF. The only thing missing was kneeling, kissing the sword and being tapped on each shoulder and "Dubbed Sir Knight".  I'll bet Chief Creighton would have worked it into the ceremony if he had ever read about King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table.

The first time I attended a Court of Honor that "anointed" an Eagle Scout, I knew I had to do it.  That was my most consuming passion until I accomplished it, even though it seemed, and was, a long, weedy row to hoe to a twelve year old.  I'm convinced that experience was tremendously valuable in such subsequent endeavors as Graduate School, research, and writing books.  One merit badge at a time prepared me for one course at a time, one exam at a time, one paper at a time, and one page at a time, never losing sight of the ultimate goal.  Fortunately, I didn't know all the goals to be faced at the time.         

  The first International Boy Scout Jamboree was held in Washington, D.C. in the summer of 1937.  Although it was in the depths of the Depression, my parents somehow found the money for me to attend.  It was possible only because my father could get me a Pass on the railroad, so there were no transportation costs, the biggest expense of the trip. Our "Jamboree Troop" was made up of kids from neighboring towns, including Electra and Vernon, as well as Wichita Falls; I suspect from the entire BSA District.

 We camped at Wichita Park for several days prior to our departure for indoctrination and learning the rudiments of close order drill conducted by my father and a few other World War I sergeants so we could march with some semblance of order when we got to Washington.  I remember it as chaotic, getting acquainted with dozens of new kids, strange new food, and the exciting anticipation of the experiences to come. Finally, the last inspection to make sure we all had the required uniforms, underwear, and toilet articles was completed and we boarded a train for the big adventure.

We carried all our possessions in a duffel bag and had our own passenger car for the entire trip.  The trip took about three days; we spent hours on sidings, waiting for other coaches loaded with Jamboree-bound Scouts.  By the time we reached Washington, the train was made up entirely of coaches of Boy Scouts, looking like troop train of miniature soldiers. 

The Jamboree campground was on both sides of the Tidal (Turning) Basin.  It was a beautiful site, open space, covered with grass and big trees along the bank.  A "Tent City" had been set up prior to our arrival and we moved into our assigned quarters.  There were thousands of Boy Scouts there from all over the world, representing most countries, races and colors, and speaking exotic foreign languages.

 Much of the free time was spent meeting and exchanging souvenirs with kids from other places. I no longer remember much about the formal program, but it was impressive.  There was a big Court of Honor, and my only regret of the Jamboree was that I missed being promoted to Eagle by Dan Beard because of lacking the Life Saving Merit Badge.  We saw all of Washington, D.C., marching to most places including The Capitol, Washington Monument, Lincoln Memorial, and Smithsonian Institution. Washington was almost a small town then; almost everything was within walking distance.  We also saw Franklin D. Roosevelt from curbside as he was driven in an open car down Pennsylvania Avenue.

 On the way home, we stopped over in St. Louis and were bussed to Sportsman Park to see our first Major League baseball game.  I do not remember the score or even who the Cardinals played, but I' certain that Dizzy Dean was the Cardinal pitcher.  I returned from the Jamboree a much more sophisticated and better educated individual; it was certainly the greatest experience of my life to that point.                

I continued with Scouting for several more years, attaining the rank Of Eagle, with all the pomp and ceremony.  After finally passing the test for the Lifesaving Merit Badge, the life I saved was my own; I damned near drowned from the ordeal of jumping, fully clothed, into 10-foot deep water, undressing underwater then "rescuing" some turkey, towing him by various techniques, hauling him out of the water and giving him artificial respiration. 

          Along with Audie and several other members of Troop 22, J.C. Olney, M. D. Pearson, J. W. Moore and others, I joined the Senior Scouts when eligible, and we formed an "Explorer Post."  We continued to camp, with less or no adult supervision, but, more importantly, we discovered girls.  The regular Boy Scouts organization was strongly “male chauvinistic”; we wouldn't have known what the word meant if we had heard it, and if you thought about girls you certainly didn't admit it to your peer group. The only members of the female gender recognized by the BOY SCOUT MANUAL were Mothers and Little Old Ladies who needed to be helped across the street, thus satisfying your "Good Deed ForThe Day" requirement.

           However, the National Headquarters of the BOY SCOUTS OF AMERICA recognized that the sap was rising in those teenagers, even if they were Eagle Scouts, and they were ready to rescue damsels in distress like Knights of the Round Table in preference to helping little old ladies across the street.  So we had wiener roasts with dates (girls not the fruit) -- properly chaperoned, of course -- Halloween Parties and at every other occasion we could contrive and talk some parent into hosting.   Not only were they all chaperoned, every mother KNEW she could trust her daughter with an Eagle Scout; I'm not sure all fathers totally accepted that concept.

          I eventually earned the Bronze Palm, an emblem pinned onto the ribbon of the Eagle Scout Badge and, if the rank of Eagle Scout was the equivalent of Brigadier General, the Bronze Palm was like being promoted to Major General.  I also earned the Silver Palm and had completed most of the requirements for the Gold Palm, the highest earned rank in scouting when I dropped out.  I don't know why I did that; it must have been one of my periodic rebellions against authority and the establishment.  In retrospect, I regret I didn't stay the full course, and I wish I still had my Eagle Scout Badge that was lost in a moving van fire.  

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