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 in the mesquite, pin oak country of Yellowstone National Park 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 , near Wichita Mountains , for two weeks during several summers. Ardmore, Oklahoma
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 Wichita Mountains . 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. Fort Lawton
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
. 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. Wichita Falls
"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
, 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. Graduate School
The first International Boy Scout Jamboree was held in
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 Washington, D.C. , as well as Vernon ; I suspect from the entire BSA District. Wichita Falls
The first International Boy Scout Jamboree was held in
We camped at
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 Wichita Park . 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. Washington
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.