Monday, June 16, 2008

On my honor …

Reporters and editors are famously calloused. Covering car wrecks, suicides and awful crimes can occasionally cause a person to be flippant or cynical, if for no other reason than to deal with the shock to one’s system.

News this week that four Boy Scouts in Iowa were killed this past week when a tornado hit their campground was particularly striking for me and my family.

Our hearts went out to the families of Scouts Sam Thomsen, Aaron Eilerts, Josh Fennen and Ben Petrzilka, who died Wednesday, June 11, when a tornado hit the high adventure Little Sioux Scout Ranch.

In conversations with my brother and mother, we recounted some of the many great experiences we had in Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts, and were thankful that the spotty weather we encountered never got worse.

I’m the oldest of three brothers, all Eagle Scouts, who spent 10 days every mid-June at the H. Roe Bartle Scout Reservation in Osceola, MO. Camp Bartle is famous for the Tribe of Mic-O-Say honor society.

As the bugler for Troop 59 in Kansas City, MO, I was responsible for playing taps at the end of troop meetings and other ceremonies. It was a responsibility I upheld most of the time, except for the time I took a bet that I could stretch taps beyond four minutes.

Using every ounce of oxygen my lungs possessed, I did stretch the song to four minutes, earning whatever wager I felt was necessary.

“So Charlie – what took so long?” Scoutmaster Steve Walton’s voice boomed over the phone line later that day.

Telling him the truth and promising not to disrespect the troop was just one of many Scouting experiences I’ll never forget.

Being a Boy Scout allowed me to grow as a person at a critical point in life – bridging elementary school to high school – and provided another community beyond school and church.

During one 10-day backpacking trip to the mountainous Philmont Scouting Ranch in New Mexico, a group of us were caught in an afternoon storm with lightning strikes coming closer every few minutes. As we were told to take our packs off and instructed on how to situate our bodies so a lightning strike would leave our bodies as quickly as possible, I was reminded of the one-death-per-summer average we’d recently learned.

Fortunately, the lightning moved along as we approached a cabin on the vast, 130,000-plus acre ranch.

I’m thankful for experiences I gained at camp, such as spending a night under the stars with only my sleeping bag and a flashlight, winning intramural water polo games, and exploring caves.

Weekly troop meetings instilled the importance of showing up, and dedicated volunteer leaders reinforced respect of others and duty to God, family and country.

Many campsites are low-lying, near large bodies of water, and a lot of camping is done during storm season. I hope this week’s incident doesn’t discourage anyone from joining or participating in Scouts or camp.

I’m continually amazed at how often I’ll think back to lessons learned over time spent swimming, hiking on trails, or enjoying peach cobbler cooked in a Dutch oven.

Sam, Aaron, Josh and Ben were reportedly handpicked for their trip to the Little Sioux Scout Ranch based on their leadership skills and potential. Emergency workers noted their fellow Scouts were steadily efficient in looking for missing boys, and an Associated Press story here briefly details the boys’ interests.

A nation of Scouts of all ages mourns those boys lost Wednesday.