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On my honor

On my honor … that is the beginning of the Boy Scout Oath, which continues “… to do my duty to God and my country…”

I have missed being involved with The Boy Scouts of America, and was honored to have recently been asked to sit on a Board of Review for a prospective Eagle Scout, Matt Dollar. After Matt left the room, the six men on that board looked at one another, and simply said, “What else is there to say?” Matt will be an Eagle Scout with flying colors.

That board last week caused me to review a column I wrote quite a few years ago after having interviewed my friend, John Rankin. I remembered thinking how much I wanted to trade in my blue Cub Scout uniform for the brown of Boy Scouts in 1951, and I remembered when I was a Scoutmaster in the sixties that the uniform had pretty well stayed the same, even back when John Rankin was a Scout. Changed some since then, but what hasn’t?

I looked at a picture John showed me of him and fellow scouts in Washington, DC. for the 1937 Boy Scout Jamboree, which was supposed to have taken place in 1935, but was postponed due to an outbreak of polio.

The area boys met up at Camp Home outside of Tuscaloosa to get organized, and then off they put on a steam locomotive out of Birmingham, up through Cincinnati, Harper’s Ferry, and into Washington.

John related to me of passing through tunnels, and the passenger cars tilling up with smoke and cinders, but they handled it through the Scout Motto, “Be Prepared.”

Scout Rankin recalled camping for ten days on what is now Washington Mall, visiting Smithsonian Institute, National Cathedral, taking a boat ride to Mt. Vernon, and even getting fingerprinted at the FBI headquarters. He smiled at that wonderful experience for a bunch of small town and country boys, who sold scrap iron, cow hides, and whatever else they could find to raise the SO bucks it cost to make the trip. His daddy even sold a gold pocket watch to help out.

I wish I had kept a copy of that picture, but I have a record of who some of those young men were. There was Bill Ranson, the nephew of the late and sweet Ms. Sally Hopkins of Demopolis, and Coon Glass from Linden, along with John’s brother, Amzi, who also benefited from the sale of that gold pocket watch.

There was Demopolis’ own John Caldwell and Browder Webb, along with Ralph Banks from Eutaw and Mickey Cochran from Linden. I knew them all during their lifetimes, and they were true scouts… to a man.

Many, and I’m pretty sure most of these young men, traded in their brown Scout uniforms for Army Khaki or Navy blue four or five years later, and, no doubt, put into use many of the skills they had honed as members of the Boy Scouts of America.

I don’t know about Bill Ranson, since it’s been many a day since I’ve seen him, but the rest of the bunch have taken the big adventure jamboree to the heavens … except for John Rankin. John was in his usual pew across from me at Faunsdale Presbyterian Church this Sunday morning. Still serving and still an Elder in his beloved church.

I dropped an email to fellow lawyer, Tom Perry, last week congratulating him on a matter, and reminded him that I had watched him since he was a boy, and remembered that he had hiked the adventure Scout Trails of Philmont, New Mexico in the early seventies, along with my older son, Tadd.

I hold onto memories I made with so many Scout leaders like Edwin Selby from Linden, Hopson Payne from Greensboro, Doc Looney in Livingston, T.C. Leonard, James Ross, Orville Hester, and Dave Mellown in Demopolis … and my Cub Scout Den Mother from the ‘40s … my own Ma.

I, then, have to stop and smile as I think back on groups of young scouts sitting with me around campfires as I told them stories and honed their appetites to never miss an opportunity for an adventure … but to do it with honor.

— Tom Boggs is a columnist for the Demopolis Times and a native of Marengo County. His column,“Days Gone Bye,” appears weekly.

(This column originally appeared in the Wednesday, August 1 issue of the Demopolis Times.)