It was in October of 2000 when this old man came into my auto parts store looking for a replacement part for his very old motor home. Well, the only other one like it would be in the Smithsonian. So, I took a little super-glue and epoxy and fixed his old part, a little Boy Scout handyman work.
Then, while he was paying for the supplies I used, that's when it all happened. He looked over my shoulder, pointed, and asked with an old rough voice, "Is that a Boy Scout shirt I see hanging there?"
I looked over my shoulder into my office and said, "Yes, I just got it back from the cleaners."
"Are you a Boy Scout leader?" he asked.
"Well, yes I am. I have a troop here, right up the road," I said.
Then he asked, "Can I ask you a few questions about that?"
"Sure!" I said, thinking what's this all about?
He asked, "Do you still have meetings every week, where the boys learn their skills, like knot tying, knife and ax, and fire building?"
"Yes we do. Ours are on Monday nights," I said and added, "Knot tying and fire building are still some of the first things a Scout gets to learn."
"How about outings? Do you guys still do that, you know, go on hikes and campouts?" he asked.
I said, "Sure we do, at least once a month, sometimes more." Then I went on to explain some of what our troop had done and where we were going next.
He then said, "I was in Boys Scouts! That was a long time ago, during the Great Depression. It was real hard to be a Scout then. We didn't have any money to buy food, let alone a Scout uniform. So our Scoutmaster let us wear what we could. I wore an old work shirt of my Dad's. I would sew all our patches that we earned on that old shirt and boy! It looked real sharp! Do you still earn patches like that?" he asked.
"We sure do!" I said.
"You know we had a meeting every week, learned new skills and things. On the weekend, once a month, our Scoutmaster would take us for a hike. We would go out in the forest somewhere he had planned out. We boys would set up camp and get a big fire going. That was our job. Then that old Scoutmaster would pull out some hot dogs. Where or how he was able to get those, I don't know, but all us boys would roast them over our fire. Oh, they tasted so good!" he said. I could almost taste them myself. By now I noticed the old guy was red in the eyes.
He went on and said, "Those were great times. I had to leave Scouts because my family had to move. I lost contact with that Scoutmaster after that. Then came WWII and I went to fight the Japanese on some island." He didn't tell me the name of it or exactly what had happened.
But he said, "A few of my buddies and I were trapped by ourselves on that island, for a little more than a week. It was because of my Scout skills that all of us survived. They asked me how I learned to do those skills and I told them it was my old Scoutmaster that had taken the time to teach me. We all agreed that if we made it back, I would have to go and thank him for saving our lives and I promised I would."
Then he said, "Well, when I did come home, the first chance I had, I went to see him and tell him thanks. But when I got there I found his mother and she told me that he, too, had gone to war, only he went to Europe. He was one of the first to land on the beaches of Normandy."
Then with tears in his eyes, he said, "You know, he died a hero there!" He paused for a moment then said, "I never got a chance to thank him for saving our lives. I'd like it if I could to thank you, for him, for all of us?" he asked. I was speechless and all I could do was shake my head yes.
As I put my hand out to shake, he took my hand and pulled me in close to give me a hug. I could hear him cry as he said, "Thanks, from all the guys." Then he whispered, "You keep helping all those boys like you do. They don't know it, but they need you more now then I did then."
Letting go, he turned and started to walk for the door, then he stopped, turned around and pointed his old finger toward me. Then, with tears in his eyes he said, "You know! I'm 84 years old, my wife died eight years ago. It's because of Scouting that I've been camping ever since. Those years as a Scout were the best years of my life!"
I've not see him since that day. But, I will remember him all my life!
Scoutmaster, Troop 787
Mission Viejo, CA