I am browsing a shelf of antique books. I come across the “Official Boy Scout Handbook” published in 1945.
The binding is cracked with age. In the back pages are ads for Louisville Slugger, “Boy’s Life,” and Goodyear bicycle tires. It’s a tiny book, it would fit easily into the back pocket of your Levi’s. The cover is illustrated by Norman Rockwell.
I flip it open.
Chapter One. “What Is a Scout?” the title reads.
“A Scout!” it begins. “What fun he finds hiking into the woods! He tells north from south by the stars. East from west from the shadows… His Scout ‘good turns’ to someone each day make him many friends, for the way to HAVE friends is to first BE one.”
I was in Boy Scouts. Every boy my age was. We had meetings at the Methodist church. We sat in the front pews and tried to impress each other with bodily noises and anatomy tricks. My father was a Scoutmaster and a lifelong Scout. He knew how to swallow his own tongue.
“Scouting,” it says in Chapter Two, “knows no race or creed or class. Troops are found in Catholic Parish, Jewish Synagogue, and Protestant Church. It is available to both farm and city. It is found in schools—it serves the rich and poor alike.”
There was an all-Black troop across town that went camping with us. We were all friends. Their Scoutmaster was a Church of God preacher. He led our hikes by teaching us to sing “In the Sweet By and By.” He showed me how to use a whetstone. He taught us to say grace like we meant it. That sweet man came to my father’s funeral with his whole troop.
“Our America is a melting pot,” the handbook says. “Our strength has come from every people… In a world which blacks out individual freedom, our America must stand as a lighthouse to freedom—loving men [and women] everywhere.”
There was a poor kid in our troop named Todd. He didn’t have enough money for a uniform, and he had no mother to sew patches onto his uniform. He was being raised by his father, a millworker. So we all chipped in to buy Todd a uniform and neckerchief.
Then, one night at Scout meeting, several local mothers taught us to sew. Every boy helped sew patches onto Todd’s uniform that evening. Then we ate pound cake.
“The Scout helps others as he would want them to help him—but does it with no thought of return—just for the pleasure of doing it.”
I remember when Charlie Atkinson’s family didn’t have the money to send him on the camping trip with the rest of the troop. Camp admission cost $35.
Our Scoutmasters announced that either we all went to camp together, or nobody went. So that summer, 22 of us mowed lawns for cash. We wore our uniforms when we went door to door, drumming up business. We sweat like dogs.
Chapter Nine. “To perform artificial respiration, turn patient face down with one arm extended overhead… Do not quit! Even if no immediate results are seen, do not give up until at least two hours’ effort has been made…”
Last year, in Columbia, Missouri, Joseph Diener, 16, and Dominic Viet, 15, were riding bikes when they happened upon a woman drowning.
“We could see her sinking down…” said Dominic. “We didn’t have time to think about the risks, we had to get her out.”
She survived. Both boys had recently earned merit badges in lifesaving.
A few years ago, 12-year-old Jake Little, of Esperero Canyon Middle School in Tuscon, Arizona, was in Spanish class when he noticed something wrong with his teacher. “I saw her get up and gasp for air, and her face turned red…”
She was choking to death.
“Everyone didn’t know what to do…” said Jake. “So I rushed up and gave her the Heimlich maneuver. I do not consider myself a hero, I consider myself a normal Boy Scout.”
Membership within the Boy Scouts of America has declined by two thirds since 2019. When I was a kid there were 5 million Scouts in the world. Today, there are nearly 700,000. The number keeps going down.
At this rate, Scouting could disappear within the next few years. There are many naysayers who fervently hope it does go away.
Over 110 million Americans have participated in the Scouts. Eleven of the 12 men who walked on the moon were Boy Scouts. Five U.S. Presidents were Scouts. My grandfather was a Scout.
Personally, I will never forget standing in a Methodist church, wearing a khaki uniform, showing three-finger salute, reciting an oath before my flag and my friends:
“On my honor, I will do my best to do my duty to God and my country, and to obey the Scout Law; to help other people at all times; to keep myself physically strong, mentally awake, and morally straight.”
I don’t care what you’ve heard, there is no such thing as a former Boy Scout.
Steve Winfield (Lifer) - May 24, 2022 6:34 am
A fixture of America. I remember well our annual jamboree at Tannehill & the skit we always performed.. The year I was n charge of grits. They were lumpy & horrible but they got eaten anyway.
All the kids we sent to other troops to find a bacon stretcher.
Tina Smith - September 1, 2022 11:55 am
As a lifetime Girl Scout ( as a child a first class scout , leader, trainer and camp staff eventually director) I can that there is no better youth organization as scouting . The missions are strong and the movements are only as strong as the leadership. We all need good strong motivated individuals who believe in the mission of scouting . The future belongs to the youth but scouting longevity belongs to the volunteers.
George Durham - May 24, 2022 8:01 am
Scouting is a treasure. American needs BSA.
Jocelyn - May 24, 2022 9:19 am
Leigh Amiot - May 24, 2022 9:49 am
Having lost a father about the same age you were when yours died, I was especially touched to read that an entire Scout troop came to your father’s funeral. I’m so thankful that troop was led by a godly man. It’s a pity to read how many lawsuits have been filed against the Scouts through the years in order to force various agendas on the organization, likely the reason for the dwindling participation. There are still Scout uniforms and merit badges in the archives of our household, haven’t yet been able to part with those, good memories!
Tom Clark - May 24, 2022 9:50 am
Amen. And God bless those who have served and continue to serve as Scout leaders.
April Ellington - May 24, 2022 9:53 am
I have 4 sons. They are all Eagle Scouts. We spent many years in the Scouting organization. I loved scouting. I fear that scouting isn’t what it used to be and that makes me sad.
coastalpetrescue - May 24, 2022 2:00 pm
Why do you think it isn’t what it used to be? Have you spent time recently with youth in these programs? I’m in my eighth year as a leader, working with youth kindergarten to age 21. I’m seeing so much out of these young ladies and gents, that I can’t imagine why someone would say that it is less of a program now than it was before.
Paul McCutchen - May 24, 2022 10:08 am
I started out as a Cub scout. I lived ten miles in the country near a small town in Arkansas. When we moved up to Boy Scouts we went to Jamborees every year also Boy Scout camp in the summer. When we got older we were in the Explorers and that enabled us to go to Canada with other troops from other towns in the area. It was a two week canoe trip with ten days on the water. It was exhausting but great.
I should mention that my mother helped me with my camping and cooking merit badges because she was a Girl Scout Leader to a troop my sister was in. My mom taught me how to cook on an open fire and how to set up a tent. My Scout Masters taught us other skills that helped us in the woods.
Jim douglas - May 24, 2022 10:48 am
I was a Boy Scout and made it to Eagle . One of the best things I ever did. I owned a business and whenever I had a job applicant , I took special note if he was an Eagle . So sad to hear that scouting numbers are down.
Thanks for your writing. It means a great deal to me!
Martha - May 24, 2022 10:56 am
I believe Girl Scouts membership was equally important for girls learning the many important things that they needed to become knowledgeable and helpful women.
Alison - May 24, 2022 10:57 am
Dear Sean, I am married to an Eagle Scout. Last week the two of us were invited to attend an Eagle Court of Honor for a young friend of ours. Alex Cazier became the first young woman in Huntsville, AL to become an Eagle Scout. As we learned about all she had to accomplish to receive that honor I was so proud of her. There were five other young women in uniform that night who are coming right along behind her, working hard to achieve the same goal. Scouting continues to be one of the most positive character building organizations around!
Sheila Herring - June 1, 2022 3:16 am
Alison, please extend my congratulations to your young friend. Last year my daughter Abby became the first female Eagle Scout in our council. She followed in her brother’s footsteps.
Sally Johnson - May 24, 2022 12:01 pm
Amen, some have made being a scout a bad thing, yet you have pointed out the good it provides. Thank You
Melissa Brown - May 24, 2022 12:18 pm
Wonderful message – my son was s boy scout. He absolutely learned at a young age how to be a good person. I hate to see that so many young boys and girls will miss this opportunity. Do you think the Scouts have gotten a bad name since they have received such terrible press due to the abuse of young boys by their headmasters?
Linda Lewis - May 24, 2022 12:29 pm
This is a great article. I’m sorry to hear about the decline of Boy Scouting. It’s what America is made of. My sisters and I were in Girl Scouts all of our lives. I went camping every summer. My mother was a Girl Scout leader. My father was one of the first honorary male Girl Scouts. Our whole family participated. Scouting (along with church) helped build my character.
Jan - May 24, 2022 12:35 pm
Scouting is a blessing for so many young people. Then they use their skills and kindness to bless others. Sorry to hear about the decline in Scouting but unfortunately I am not surprised.
Jimmy Stewart - May 24, 2022 12:39 pm
Sean, you nailed it again! I am honored to be an Eagle Scout (class of ‘76). Not former; current! Shout out to my parents who pushed me to cross the finish line. One of the proudest achievements of my life. Attended the 1973 National Scout Jamboree in Farragut State Park, Idaho, summer before my 9th grade. Life changing. Scouts from all over the world. Simultaneously there was second site in Valley Forge (my dad attended the national in 1950 at that location). Bob Hope entertained the “troops”! Some of the best memories and friends of my life. Now, let me go see who I can help today!!! Love you Sean!
Charles Vianey - May 24, 2022 12:41 pm
I have great memories of being in Scouting then being an adult leader when my son was in Scouts. My Dad gave our son his Scout Handbook which I believe was a 1932 edition. It’s a prized possession. Thank you for this article and for each one you share each day. Welcome to BHM!
Jack Marquette - May 24, 2022 12:52 pm
Sean, i think my love of America started with scouting. I spent most of my life in uniform, first as a Cub Scout then Boy Scouts and finally as an Explorer. During college I was in a fraternity surrounded by men who would become my life long brothers. Next, I became an Air Force pilot and after serving America for 20 years I became an Airline Captain.
The finest people I bee met were my commanders in the military and founders of the airline. I believe many were former Boy Scouts.
I was in Troupe 58 in Phoenixville, Pa. We went to Camp Horseshoe every summer for two weeks. The memories bring tears of happiness to my eyes as I remember the selflessness of our Scout Master, Mr Walsh. He will never know how much he taught us to be good boys and men.
Deacon Nick - May 24, 2022 12:54 pm
Sean, as a former Boy Scout, when the BSA caved to the woke mob, took God out of the picture, and allowed girls to be Boy Scouts; what did you expect to happen? Same is happening with Girl Scouts, whose annual dues support Planned Parenthood. Ever wonder why so many are boycotting Girl Scout cookies??
Robbie M. - May 24, 2022 4:43 pm
I’m a parent in my 40s who was once a scout. Scouting’s decline began LONG before any of that. If anything, those things are attempts to shore up the Scouting movement against broader changes and try to stabilize the membership losses some. To me, there are two big issues at play here.
The first is economic: in the author’s heyday (and mine) it was more common than not for a home to be two parents with a single income. These days, with many more single parents and parents working two or more jobs, there simply isn’t enough time and money to go towards scouting. The meetings, uniforms, outings, etc. all have a cost of money and time. Working class people have been effectively “priced out” of scouts for 30+ years now, and now more and more middle class people are finding the activity difficult to attain.
The second is social. Scouting is competing with a LOT of other things for limited attention. Forty years ago, Boy scouts was competing with football, baseball and maybe basketball. Now it’s competing with all those plus soccer, lacrosse, martial arts, a few other sports I am forgetting, video games, etc. Additionally, there is now much more emphasis being placed on academics and the importance of academic extracurricular activities than there was when I was a kid, in hopes that this will improve a kid’s chances at college admission.
When there is limited time and limited money, you try to find the things that get the most bang for your buck. Unfortunately, and again I say this as someone who was a boy scout and is a parent to a girl scout, scouting hasn’t adapted well to the modern world. This isn’t the 60s or 70s anymore. It’s not even the 80s or 90s. The entire world is different now, but the scouting program has changed relatively little in that time. Scouting needs a complete, ground up rethink to make it relevant to today’s youth.
Former GS and leader - June 1, 2022 12:55 am
Please double check your information. The Girl Scouts have no affiliation with Planned Parenthood.
Naomi - May 24, 2022 1:15 pm
I was a Girl Scout in the 1950s and early 60s, and I still have my Girl Scout Manual. My Girl Scout leader opened the world to me. My parents didn’t have a car and never took a vacation. The first time that I saw the ocean was when my Girl Scout leader took all of us to Panama City, FL. She took us to learn ballroom dancing and bowling; we would bowl all night. I got so good at bowling that I was asked to bowl on TV. Once a year we had a formal ball where we wore evening gowns. Every Friday we would decorate her station wagon in our high school colors, and she would take us to our school’s football games.
Sean of the South: Scout’s Honor | The Trussville Tribune - May 24, 2022 1:16 pm
[…] By Sean Dietrich, Sean of the South […]
belcherd6bellsouthnet - May 24, 2022 1:23 pm
Awesome! I am a life time member of Girl Scouts and both my son and daughter were raised in Scouting – my son earning his Eagle and my daughter earning her Gold Award! Thank you for such an awesome memory!
Jubal Sackett - May 24, 2022 1:35 pm
I am a 65-yeard old Eagle Scout. It is a travesty that many churches are no longer sponsoring Boy Scout troops. Scouting is wholesome extra-curricular activity, almost a finishing school for young men.
Frank Tranzow - May 24, 2022 1:55 pm
My scouting experience provided a great cornerstone in the building of my character. The Order of the Arrow initiation was an unforgettable experience in self confidence at an insecure time in growing cup.
coastalpetrescue - May 24, 2022 1:57 pm
As a Scout leader and single mom, thank you for this. Scouting has been the absolute best thing for my son and me. The people we have come to know have become extended family for us, especially after the death of my parents in recent years. We could not have made it through all our struggles and challenges without our Scouting family.
Billy Moore - May 24, 2022 2:07 pm
Patricia Harris - May 24, 2022 2:19 pm
Same goes for Girl Scouts. I began as a brownie and was a scout through high school. Scouting taught me moral living, being self sufficient in the woods, the joy of music (ah, those lovely round at camp), leadership, and so much more. Once a Girl Scout always a Girl Scout.
stephenpe - May 24, 2022 2:31 pm
I was a boy scout. Started with a Mormon troop in Gainesville Fla and then we got one in my small town of Archer. What fun we had. I loved that old boy scout book. I read it cover to cover more than a few times. Our leader was a man named James. He had three daughters so we were like surrogate sons. I finally called him in my forties and thanked him. Scouting could really help so many young boys. But you have to have men to run it.
Mary J Mullins - May 24, 2022 2:32 pm
I am a proud grandma of three Eagle Scouts. Their father was a scout, father great grandfather was a scout executive.
I believe in the scouting program. I hope for other kids coming long tt will alwaysl be there. It has played an important part in my family’s life..
Martha H Morrow - May 24, 2022 2:41 pm
I am proud to say that my husband and son are both Eagle Scouts. They help me, they help others, they help at church, they know how to fix things; they are just good men who are always doing something productive and are always available to help others.
GARY - May 24, 2022 2:43 pm
I never attained a high rank as a Boy Scout but the years I spent as a loyal member were the best of my life. It definitely guided my growing up and I still hold to the lessons learned there.
Ann of Mobile - May 24, 2022 3:14 pm
What a Beautiful and Powerful commentary, Sean. Thank you!
Matilda Wille - May 24, 2022 3:16 pm
Thank you for writing this Sean. I am the proud mother of a 22 year old son who is an Eagle Scout. Scouting shaped him into the fine man he is today and gave him a love of nature and hiking. So grateful for the men, like your father, who poured into the lives of these young boys.
Kathi - May 24, 2022 3:16 pm
Thanks for the wonderful scouting memories, Sean! Everyone should be as lucky as you to have them!! My husband, God rest his soul, was an Eagle Scout,
Class of 61, Troup 205 in Phoenix,Az and received Order of the Arrow as well. He would have loved your post today and also loved pound cake.
Be Prepared and #DaretoDo
Patricia Gibson - May 24, 2022 3:21 pm
Well said! Once again a shame that a time honored institution has been damaged by one or two bad apples. Thanks for the reminder of true Scouts!!!Millions of good ones!!
Mari Bonomi - May 24, 2022 3:25 pm
One of the major problems with scouting historically has been its homophobia. And now its desperate attempt to kill off the Girl Scouts by “allowing” (how magnanimous of them! /sarcasm off) them to join the Boy Scouts has offended many more.
Much about scouting is excellent; I’ve seen Order of the Arrow ceremonies and Eagle Scout ceremonies and been in awe of the amazing things scouts do. And I was a Girl Scout, which is an equally admirable organization. Pity the Boy Scouts couldn’t have behaved in a manner as excellent as the individual young men who advanced through the ranks to Eagle Scout.
Leah - June 1, 2022 1:39 am
agreed on all counts!
BEX - May 24, 2022 3:40 pm
AMEN! More Boy and Girl Scouts and less TikTok!
Brenda Harvey - May 24, 2022 3:46 pm
I love this post. I fondly remember my time in the Girl Scouts. Young people need more positive examples so hearing of the decline makes me sad.
CHARALEEN WRIGHT - May 24, 2022 4:20 pm
Cynthia Russell - May 24, 2022 4:23 pm
My Father was a scout master with a ton of Boy Scout he had tons of tents & 3 buses to bus them to Boy Scout camp.. after their campout the boys would be there to put up tents, sleeping bags all over our yard to dry out.. I just saw it as a smorgus-Bough of BOYS- WHOO-HOO!!!!! in school…boys use to tell me they were in Daddy’s Scout Troop… All grew up to be great young men & even greater older men!!
Robert Bowling - May 24, 2022 4:45 pm
Sean! Thanks for your good word about Scouting. I’m an 80 year old Eagle Scout and my Scoutmasters were a great influence on my life. I’m thankful for the Boy Scouts of America.
deronsmith - May 24, 2022 4:58 pm
Sean, I was the long time director of communications for the BSA national office. This is well said.
Debby Haddock - May 24, 2022 5:01 pm
As the mother of two Eagle Scouts, thank you!
kip carter - May 24, 2022 5:26 pm
Great article! I made it to Life before gas fumes and perfume fumes took my interest in other directions. I volunteered
for many years on the troop and district level. I retired last year at age 78 from the Eagle Review Board.
Bob Mersereau - May 24, 2022 5:51 pm
Thanks for this wonderful personal testimony to the value of Scouting, Sean. My experience as a Scout was similar to yours and similar to you Scouting shaped me in many positive ways.
While membership in Scouting has indeed declined since its peak in the late 1950’s, the BSA membership at the end of 2021 was just about 1 million and membership of all Scouting associations throughout the world was about 45 million.
Going forward, Scouting still appeals to many youth and families and within our changed and changing world since the 1950’s I expect it will continue to be a transformational part of growing up for lots of kids.
Cherie Season - May 24, 2022 6:30 pm
My son is an Eagle Scout. In the past 30 some years since his troop was formed, there are now at least a hundred names on plaques we have hanging in our church hallway. One of my son’s bosses told me he always tries to hire Eagle Scouts because of their integrity. My son’s troop leaders are some of the finest men I know. Now that you are in Birmingham please come to our church, Riverchase United Methodist and see our wall of Eagles.
Rob - May 24, 2022 6:59 pm
My wife reads your stories every night. She sent me this one today and to be honestI I teared up when I read it.
I was a Scout, my best life long friend was a scout.
I met him at my first Cub meeting when we were 7 years old. God rest his soul, it was at Doc’s funeral when I first experienced a broken arrow ceremony. When Doc’s arrow was snapped in half the whole assembly gasped. He will never be forgotten.
My father was an assistant Scoutmaster, I was an assistant Scoutmaster as well. I hope those boys learned half as much from me as I did from our troops leaders.
I learned life was about service and helping others. I will never forget the Scout Law.
A Scout is:
You are absolutely correct that there are no ex-scouts. I could give hundreds of examples similar to yours, but I will just say thank you for the memories your story resurfaced for me today.
J N Painter - May 24, 2022 7:22 pm
One major reason Memberships are dwindling is because homosexuals are now allowed to be scout leaders.
MAM - May 24, 2022 8:52 pm
The same thing is happening to Girl Scouts. The progressives and liberals have “gotten to” them and have taken out too many of he good parts of scouting and replaced them with “diversity.” As you pointed out in your essay, Sean, diversity was ALWAYS part of scouting. The decline of Girl and Boy Scouts is totally due to the decline in education these days, as well as the decline of the most wonderful country in the world. The World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts was once an awesome thing to be part of. My mother was our leader, I was a Scout all the way up and was a leader myself when our daughters were young. But society and social media got in the way. It’s another symptom of failures in society and morality. Sorry, I didn’t mean to “preach,” but unfortunately it’s true.
cekey44 - May 24, 2022 10:28 pm
Scouting is unfortunately following most voluntary membership organizations into decline. the scouts have done nothing to cause the decline. I think tv and video games has been a much bigger detriment than any change in scouting policy.
Bill prather - May 24, 2022 10:59 pm
Thank you for your article on Scouting. It was a huge part of my life growing up in blue ridge,ga.in the late 50’s and 60’s. A great program ruined by adults who did wrong and other adults who covered up the wrong.
Thanks for the memories
Old Explorer Scout - May 24, 2022 11:37 pm
My nephew will earn his Eagle in two weeks. Sooooo proud of that incredible achievement! Thanks for all the great memories.
Wes Smith - May 25, 2022 2:12 am
Other than achieving the rank of Eagle Scout, there is nothing else that a young man can accomplish at the age of 15 or 16 that people still admire and respect when he is 45.
There is no other program like scouting; outdoor skill acquisition combined with organized problem solving….and getting sick eating too many blackberries.
Sandra - May 25, 2022 11:04 am
I’m proud to have 3 grandsons who are Eagle Scouts.While the main organization is no longer admirable, individual troops & scouts continue leadership develop & other important skills.
Karla Meier - May 25, 2022 3:09 pm
Two of my boys were Scouts. I was a den mother and then Pack Leader for several years. We had a great group of boys!! I took them from Tiger Cubs to Boy Scouts. Once they crossed a couple of good dads took over. It was such a great experience!
Linda Landgren - May 25, 2022 4:33 pm
I reared three boys. All are Eagle Scouts. As their mother, I feel like I participated too. Grateful for what they learned in scouts.
Anthony - May 26, 2022 2:25 pm
Deanna - May 28, 2022 7:17 am
Just like there is no such thing as a former nurse. Once we get our nursing license, we are forever after, known as a nurse
Rose - May 29, 2022 1:43 am
I have always admired scouting and the character building and skills-building it offers young people. I tried to join the Girl Scouts in the early 1960s, but they were still unofficially segregated then. I was allowed to sign up, but was never accepted into Girl Scouts. I didn’t know until then that my brown skin made me different. Nonetheless, I remain a big admirer of what they can offer young people today.
Ralph Hare - June 1, 2022 6:54 am
Well, Sean, all these folks are commenting on your story which I think is great plus the story is great. All I wish to note is that dogs don’t sweat much, and when they do it’s only their foot pads. “Sweating like a pig” on the other hand, refers to water beading on pig iron after the pour. Horses (I can’t resist), sweat like pigs. Keep up the good work & welcome to Birmingham, once the proud producer of pig iron!