Two Living Reasons Why Scouting Still Matters

Boy Scout Honor Medal with Crossed Palms

Boy Scout Honor Medal with Crossed Palms

Last night, my 16 year-old grandson was awarded the Boy Scout Honor Medal with Crossed Palms for saving his younger brother and himself from drowning in a sudden squall and rip current in the Pacific Ocean. The Boy Scouts of America gives this award only “in exceptional cases to a youth member or adult leader who has demonstrated unusual heroism and extraordinary skill or resourcefulness in saving or attempting to save life at extreme risk to self.”  Fewer than 300 of these medals have been awarded since the recognition was established in 1938.

My grandson has been a Boy Scout for 5 years, and has internalized Scouting’s “Be Prepared” motto. On that particular day in the Pacific, he understood the importance of remaining calm in an emergency. He knew how to approach and assist a drowning person. Most importantly, he lives the concept of service to others, a cornerstone of the Scout Oath,“…to help other people at all times.”

It could be argued that without his Boy Scout training my grandson may have displayed similar skill and courage in rescuing his brother. But Scouting’s positive influence cannot be denied in this near tragedy, or in the countless efforts of boys who strive to live up to the Scout Slogan, to “Do a Good Turn Daily.” Most of their acts of daily kindness, including some that may also be deserving of Scouting’s Honor Medal, go largely unrecognized.

Similar to other religious and civic organizations, the Boy Scouts of America has attracted depraved individuals who’ve preyed on their youth, and has been forced to wrestle with tough 21st Century social and moral issues, where public opinion is always divided and rancorous. Because Scouting’s local chartering organizations represent such a range of ethnic, political and religious diversity, finding acceptable solutions to those thorny issues is particularly challenging. And BSA’s responses to those obstacles, however well-intentioned, have often been ham-fisted or inconsistent.

Scouting’s visible and very real shortcomings, however, don’t justify the broad scale ridicule and disrespect the program has received over the past decade. The gradual demise of Scouting – validated by dramatic membership decline – is a loss for our nation, for our families and for our youth. There is no other institution serving American youth that for more than 100 years has combined training in practical skills, respect for the environment, teamwork, leadership and personal values. No sports team, marching band or school club even comes close.

Regardless of how far a boy progresses on the trail to Eagle Scout, he’s likely to benefit from Scouting in some lasting way.  Long after he’s forgotten how to tie a clove hitch or apply a tourniquet, a Boy Scout often retains something more meaningful, whether it’s self-confidence from serving as a patrol leader, or appreciation of central plumbing from roughing it on camping trips.  Forty-five years after I last wore a Boy Scout uniform, the 12 Points of the Scout Law continue to influence my life, in ways that are far more tangible than any lesson I took away from 16 years of Catholic school education or from decades of listening to sermons in church.

My grandson’s unvarnished account of his heroics gives me goose bumps. He wrote, “As the big waves kept coming, I was trying to stay near my brother. I then began to panic more than before, because I knew the situation was serious. Finally, I grabbed him and tried to swim toward the shore. I felt exhausted and worried. I knew how scared he was and I had to face the fact that we weren’t going to be able to get help, and that it was up to me to get us to safety.”

For me, my grandsons are two living reasons why Scouting still matters. Parents looking for an organization that’s prepared to help them to instill in their son strength of character and practical life skills would be well served to measure Scouting’s worth with a clear lens; without all the current noise regarding membership criteria, and ignoring the vitriol of critics who often know little about Scouting.

Those looking to use the messy politics of Scouting to keep their son from becoming a Boy Scout will always find ample raw material to justify that decision. But when your son or grandson is struggling in troubled waters 100 yards from shore, none of those moral objections are likely to seem very important.


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19 responses to “Two Living Reasons Why Scouting Still Matters

  1. One other thing about Scouting. I’m still in touch with many of the people I met when I was a scout 40 years ago. They have been lifelong friends even now I live on the other side of the world.

  2. J. T. Mullin, IV

    Fantastic story about your grandsons Gordon. As for the fraternity aspect, even though my troop 648 in Baltimore has folded, there are still a number of us that try to get together at least one a year to remember the good old days.

  3. Nathan Bernhardt

    Adult sex, be it homosexual or heterosexual, is not part of the Boy Scout experience. I am an Eagle Scout, and I do not think sex, of any type, has a place in scouting.
    This conversation needs to end, it is so off-the-mark. I am torn in my overall opinion about it, but I am certain that I am WORN OUT BY THE DEBATE.

    • Nathan, This post has absolutely nothing to do with sex. Zero. It takes an agnostic position on the BSA admissions issue. If you are WORN OUT by the debate, I suggest that you not participate in it.

  4. Michael V. Sailor

    Thank you for this insightful article that gets to the core of Scouting’s benefits. Scouting was a large part of my youth (I’m now 62) — Eagle Scout, Order of the Arrow Vigil, Sea Explorer Quartermaster, BSA summer camp counselor, 1969 National Jamboree and numerous leadership roles throughout. Even today I find my daily activities remain guided by the motto “Be Prepared” as well as the elements of the Scout Law. Many of my favorite past-times and hobbies have their roots in my scouting experience. Scouting is the manifestation of an ideal that has much value to offer today’s society. It’s sad to see its demise and is a loss to society as a whole.

    • Michael, We’re from the same era of Scouting. I was unable to attend the 1969 National Jamboree, but I had the honor of attending the 1967 World Jamboree in Idaho. I’m hopeful that once Scouting determines a direction on the membership issue, and after the new “Are You Tougher Than a Boy Scout?” TV series raises public awareness of things that are “right” about Scouting, that the organization will regain some lost momentum, and membership will increase.

  5. Alan Tounsand

    Amen! I agree 100% and words cannot describe the anger I feel when I hear scouting put in a negative context. I made Eagle in 1969 and served my country in Navy for 24 years. I can assure you I could tell which of my young sailors had Scouting experience.

  6. Donald

    Well said. We should be justifiably proud of and grateful for Scouting and its influence, regardless of our individual opinions on the number of issues that you so eloquently stated are divisive and full of rancor. To say congratulations to your grandson for his calm and collected demeanor and bravery in the face of great danger seems at best pithy, so I will simply say, “well done.”

  7. Mike Doyle

    Gordon: Well said and could not agree more. I joined Scouting in 1959 and I know it made a difference in my life. I have seen it make a difference in young men’s lives today and I expect it will in the future. No matter the decision of National, Scouting can make a difference in ALL young men’s lives! Congrats to your grandson. That took a lot of courage. I am familiar with rip tides. Thanks for your comments. Mike Doyle

    • Mike, Thanks for taking the time to respond. The boys were swimming in the Pacific off the coast of Ecuador, and were on boogie boards. A sudden, violent squall came up that ripped their boards away, and the current was so strong it pulled the bathing suit off my younger grandson. They were separated by large waves three or four times, but Will went back each time to locate his brother. Will claims that, “Anyone would try to save their brother.” But it takes a special kind of courage to put someone else’s welfare over your own, whether he is your brother or a stranger. I believe that Scouting saved their lives.

  8. Kurt Hibbert

    The world is full of naysayers……Thanks for a positive story of true scout spirit at work! The good far out weights the ability of critics to destroy. Press on Boy and Happy Trails to you all!

  9. Bucc18 Eagle Scout circa 1974

    Amidst the current membership debate and rancor, this is a REAL story whose author summarizes and embraces the true meaning of scouting.

    I am sure those goose bumps are real. And let’s not forget that statistics show the high percentage of leaders (in all walks of life) who were Scouts and Eagle Scouts.

  10. Spike Langenderfer

    Gordon, I am proud to be afiliated with a group that honors heroes like your grandson. I am glad he was there to act.
    You have much to be proud of, and you are right, some of it was taught in the BSA!

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