The first significant generation of Eagle Scouts earned the rank in the late 1920s and early 1930s. These young men belonged to a Scouting program that had finally become nationally established, having grown considerably from the time of its founding in 1910. Three decades into the twentieth century, the Boy Scouts of America had nearly 1 million members, with troops registered in every state. The Eagles of this generation were shaped not only by Scouting, but by the heady success of the Roaring Twenties and the wrenching uncertainty of the Great Depression. As they emerged from the dark years of scarcity that marked the 1930s, they began to steel themselves for the greater challenge that lay ahead.
Bill Kemp, an Eagle Scout and a Scoutmaster for seventeen years, was among the generation of Eagles who came of age during the Second World War. He was also among the last Scouts to see Scouting’s founder, Lord Baden-Powell, and hear his message of peace. In 1937, Bill traveled to the Fifth World Scout Jamboree in the Netherlands where “B-P,” as Baden-Powell was called, gave his farewell address to the boys he loved. The eighty-one-year-old “Chief Scout of the World” urged his audience to be brothers with Scouts of all faiths and backgrounds. He hoped they would keep their memories of the jamboree alive, saying “It will remind you of the many friends to whom you have held out the hand of friendship and so helped them through goodwill to bring about God’s reign of peace among men.” He hoped that somehow, the brotherhood of Scouting would avert the war he feared would come. Regrettably, it could not.
“That’s the most vivid memory of my life,” Bill recalled, himself eighty-one when we spoke. “He stood up at that bonfire with a Jacob’s staff and he made a speech and said, ‘You’re my boys and before we meet again, we’ll probably be at war. It’s too bad the rest of the world can’t get along like you can.’”
The storm clouds outside the World Jamboree continued to gather, and the days ahead would indeed be as dark as Baden-Powell feared. Sadly, he would not live to see the conflict’s resolution, having died in 1941. Many of the 29,000 Scouts present at the jamboree also perished before peace was restored in 1945. But Baden-Powell’s boys served well. A short decade after their mothers pinned the Eagle medal to their Scout uniform, America’s Eagle Scouts led soldiers onto battlefields around the globe.
The founder of the worldwide Scouting movement, Lord Robert Baden-Powell, with Scouts from around the globe
COURTESY OF BOY SCOUTS OF AMERICA
Steven Liscinsky of the Second Ranger Battalion traded his Scout pocket knife for an Army combat knife, which he jabbed into the rocky cliffs of Normandy as he scaled Pointe du Hoc before dawn on D-Day, June 6, 1944. On the Pacific outposts of Guadalcanal and Roi Namur, Mitchel Paige and Jimmie Dyess—one an enlisted sergeant, one a commissioned captain—earned Congressional Medals of Honor as they rallied their fellow U.S. Marines against enemy lines. Nearby on the beaches of Tarawa, Corpsman Ken Rook used the skills he learned in First Aid merit badge to help wounded soldiers until a Japanese bullet found his shoulder, making him one of the 3,300 casualties of the infamously vicious four-day battle. With thousands of deeds like these, this generation of Eagle Scouts began to create a true legacy as the collective virtues of their youth carried the nation through the Second World War.
LEGACY OF HONOR Copyright © 2007 by Alvin Townley.Alvin Townley spent a year traveling throughout the country to explore the legacy of America's Eagle Scouts. In thousands of miles of travel, he met with Eagles from all walks of life. The result was Legacy of Honor, a uniquely powerful narrative of character and virtue in American life.