On an evening in 1993 Alvin Townley’s mother pinned his Eagle Scout badge to his uniform. Like many Scouts before him this was just days before his eighteenth birthday. Also like many other Eagle Scouts, Alvin would wrestle with the question, “What does it mean to be an Eagle Scout?” Unlike other Eagle Scouts Alvin set about in search of some answers to that question. His quest lead him all across the country. He met with Eagle Scouts from all walks of life and all levels of accomplishment. He met with career politicians and captains of industry. He met an astronaut and worked in cleaning up after Hurricane Katrina. This quest is chronicled in his first book, Legacy of Honor- The Values and Influence of Eagle Scouts in America.
For a time Alvin seemed comfortable with the answers he found but eventually another question began to disturb him. His Legacy book had looked at Eagle Scouts of his father’s generation (my generation). To explore answers to this question Alvin set out on another international journey. This time he would be asking Eagle Scouts of his generation what Scouting meant to them. His second book is Spirit of Adventure- Eagle Scouts and the making of America’s Future.
I met Alvin’s father on-line discussing Scouting and discovered two things; we had both attended the 50th anniversary Jamboree in Colorado Springs and that his son was writing his first book about Eagle Scouts. He was kind enough to send me a copy of each book.
In researching Eagle Scouts of today it’s not surprising that the journey starts at Philmont. For generations of Scouts this has been the pinnacle of Scouting adventures. If you have been to Philmont you know that spirit of adventure never leaves you. More than 850,000 Scouts and leaders have trekked the back country trials since the ranch was opened in 1938.
Alvin’s book is filled with experiences of honor, duty, service and country. His interviews span the range from Navy SEALS to twin brothers who became surgeons and undertook a medical mission to Afghanistan; a rock climber, a kayaker, a pro football player, an actor, two Supreme Court pages and many more.
Below are two excerpts from the book that were especially meaningful to me. They talk not only about Eagle Scouts but what Scouting can mean to boys in all phases of Scouting.
Thurston Drake discussed Scouting: “In life you need these opportunities where you’re put to the test, where you are outside, where you’re taking on these responsibilities as a teenager. That’s where you get a chance to live out those (Scouting’s) virtues. That’s where those ideals become real; they’re not just words you recite. Scouting gave me a chance to be all those things in the real world and that’s its greatest gift.”
Ian Rosenberger, a Survivor TV show participant: “I want to say those hard skills I learned in Scouts made the biggest difference on the island and thereafter: learning how to build a fire, learning how to put up a tent. But it’s not those things. It’s the first time you fail at building a fire or the first time you fail at putting up a tent. Scouting is a place where you are allowed to fail and that’s the point.”
Whether in Cubs, Scouts or Venturing we have an opportunity to learn new skills and to try them out. In the trying we often fail. I was on a campout and was pretty sure of myself. I thought everything was pretty simple and straight forward. Night time came and it was time to start the fire. I was careless in my preparation and could not get the fire started. I had to borrow a coal from a fellow Scout to stay warm. I learned more from that one fire that I failed to start than from the hundreds of others I have lit successfully over the years. Scouting allows you to fail and learn from those failures. Mike Ditka discussed failure in football. He said that everyone gets knocked down. Learn from the failure. The only time you have really failed is when you don’t get up. Scouting lets our boys fail and learn to get up.
Both of these books would be great Eagle Scout presents or excellent gifts for anyone interested in the meaning of Scouting.