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Scout’s Honor

February 8, 2012

the Cub (me) and the Cadet, West Point

Today is the birthday of the Boy Scouts of America. It was born in this country in 1910, though its beginnings trace back to England and the organization started by Robert Baden-Powell. It may seem odd, but I choose to acknowledge this day because Scouting was a huge part of my life growing up, one which has influenced me to this day.

Yep, I was a Boy Scout. Some of you may have been, too. Others may be scowling at the very idea. I realize that there are many impressions of what Scouting is. To one of my friends, the Boy Scouts of America is nothing more than a neo-fascist anti-diversity subversive association of chauvinist American youth. Others think of it as a bunch of nerdy kids tying knots and helping little old ladies cross the street (whether they want to go or not). I suppose in certain cases there may be some small element of truth to these, but that was not at all my experience with scouting.

I was in the Scouts for the better part of my youth, starting with the Cub Scouts when I was in elementary school all the way through Explorers in high school. It was such a positive experience for me not only because of the friendships formed and the many memorable activities we did together, but because of the leaders that we had.

The first of my Scout leaders was the dynamic and creative mother of two of my classmates, twins named George and Steven. I still remember the den meetings in the basement of her house on Wilbur Road in Bergenfield where we spent much of our time learning about the intricacies of arts and crafts and the wonders of the natural world. We traveled to New York to see the circus and to West Point to explore the military academy. I’m sure there were the organizational necessities as well like memorizing The Scout Law and such, but all I remember is that it was fun, and the reason for that was our wonderful leader.

our "den mother" Mrs. Dolainski teaching us Cubs to skate

My good fortune continued when I graduated to Boy Scouts where one of our leaders was a rather robust ex-Navy man who made Troop 176 the most active around. We would go on weekend camping trips once a month in the wooded parklands of the tri-state area. One summer he began what was called our  “Great Adventure” trip, a week-long expedition to destinations both distant and exotic for a twelve-year-old, such as Cape Cod and the Outer Banks of North Carolina. As if that were not enough outdoor adventure, there was the week at Camp No-Be-Bo-Sco in Sussex County each summer.

at Kitty Hawk, Wright Brothers memorial

The third and final phase of scouting was the Explorers. We were a small group of maybe six, but again because of a committed and active leader, the experience was terrific. He was the father of the oldest guy in our unit, Dickie. Both he and his dad, Dick senior, were car guys, and that was very cool. Better yet, they had a small cabin upstate New York at Lake George, not in the touristy southern tip of the lake, but further north outside the tiny town of Graphite on a wooded hillside overlooking the lake. We’d go up there for weekends. In the summer we’d swim and fish and try our hand (rather unsuccessfully) at water skiing. In the fall we’d hike through the woods, leaves crunching underfoot as we looked for deer and other wildlife. In the winter it would be massive snowball fights and cross-country skiing. Some kids would ask why we still bothered being in Scouts. One trip up to that cabin would have answered the question with finality.

at Valley Forge, pant leg rolled up (swell, huh?), Nash Rambler (!) in background

There are so many memories wrapped up in Scouts, and as I look at the items I’ve saved, they come tumbling back: the merit badges worked for and earned from swimming to camping to soil and water conservation and the real knowledge acquired from doing them, the all-night vigil in the cold at Valley Forge to better understand what it was like for the soldiers of the American Revolution, the discovery of new and different places and the rich diversity of our land and its history, the friends and the adventures (and misadventures) we shared during our wonder years.

artifacts of my Scouting life

The Boy Scout handbook (which I still have) says, “Yes, it’s fun to be a Scout — to hike, to camp, to live in the open…to swim and paddle a canoe…to follow in the footsteps of pioneers who led the way into the wilderness…to look up at the stars and dream.” After listening to others who had a less than satisfying Scout experience, I am ever grateful that my Scouting life lived up to that description in the handbook. My appreciation for the efforts of Mrs. Dolainski, Mr. Harriman, and Mr. Frazier to make this so has grown over the years. Each of them sowed the seeds in me for my love of learning about nature and the outdoors and seeking out new places to explore.

I hope that there still are kids receiving this same inspiration. I know it may sound corny, but being in the Boy Scouts was responsible to a great degree in forming my character. The Scout Oath pointed the way:

“On my honor, I will do my best to do my duty to God and my country…to help other people at all times…to keep myself physically strong, mentally awake, and morally straight.”

These are traditional values that seem old-fashioned, but to me they are the bedrock of a simple code of being, a way of life worth following. Though admittedly there have been some lapses, I have always tried to follow it. And I still try my best to do so. Scout’s honor.

Camp No-Be-B0-Sco, 1962

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2 comments

  1. I was in Cub Scouts, and my youngest is in Cub Scouts now. I had a great experience with it, but stopped at Boy Scouts. Just a change in focus and interests. My youngest loves it and is really learning a lot. He’s not very into sports, so this is something he and I have together and it is all our own. We are doing our Pinewood Derby car now and are looking forward to the big race this weekend. Despite generational changes, I believe Scouting is a timeless activity.


  2. Ah, yes, the Pinewood Derby! I am so heartened by your statement “this is something he and I have together and it is all our own.” The same was true of my dad and I, and it is something I will always cherish. Timeless, indeed.



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