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Scout’s Honor

February 4, 2013

Recently I took three of my grandchildren to the Magnolia Station Railroad Museum in Spartanburg. The children enjoyed climbing inside the freshly painted, bright red caboose. The highlight for them came when a Norfolk Southern freight train rumbled along the tracks. For me, viewing the impressive collection of memorabilia displayed in the old depot was almost as fascinating as being with grandchildren. One black and white photograph of the interior of a vintage Southern Railway coach especially brought back memories.

In July 1960, duffel bag in hand, I ascended the steps of just such a railroad car to embark on an adventure that changed my life. I traveled with a troop of Scouts and leaders from Spartanburg, Cherokee, and Union counties. Our troop, along with a second troop from York, Lancaster, and Chester counties, made up the contingent representing the Palmetto Council. The locomotive whistle signaled the beginning of our long journey to the site of the Fifth National Scout Jamboree in Colorado Springs, Colorado.

We rode in a day car on the Carolina Special up the Saluda Grade through Asheville to Cincinnati, where we joined another train.  Once we reached Chicago our day car joined a train called the Jamboree Special. Picnic tables were lined down the middle of cattle cars to serve as our dining hall. We were herded into those cars and fed box lunches, preparing us to eat our own cooking once we arrived at the Jamboree.

From July 22 until July 29, 1960, a city of tents was pitched on 1,000 acres of ranch land eight miles north of Colorado Springs. Our spacious campsite was at the base of Pike’s Peak towering more than twice the height of Mount Mitchell in North Carolina. Representing twenty-six countries, 56,377 Boy Scouts officially registered for the event. More than 200,000 visitors came to Jamboree City, the fourth largest town in Colorado, for that one week.

Twenty-eight hundred tons of food transported in ninety-seven boxcars supplied the hungry Scouts. We consumed 21,000 loaves of bread and 2,183 gallons of milk every day. Each night on 16,380 open charcoal fires, Scouts organized into patrols cooked their own supper at the same time.

The Boy Scouts movement was founded in England in 1907 by Lord Robert Baden-Powell. The founder’s son attended the 1960 Jamboree as an honored guest.  He recognized the jubilee year for the Boy Scouts of America, chartered in 1910 by the United States Congress.

As we hiked across the grassland to the opening show, the Blue Angels, the United States Navy’s flight demonstration squadron, performed amazing aeronautical stunts in the sky above us. That night the popular Lennon Sisters treated us with a concert. They were followed by the largest fireworks display I had ever seen.

During the Jamboree I witnessed my first rodeo. Seeing bull riding and saddle bronco riding up close gave me a greater appreciation for the lumberyard back home.

Several celebrities visited the Jamboree during the week.  A hero to many boys was James Arness, Marshal Matt Dillon from the television show Gunsmoke.      

President Dwight Eisenhower, who visited on the final day, traveled with his motorcade through the entire camp. Wearing a white suit and a yellow Jamboree neckerchief, he stood in the back of a new Lincoln Continental convertible.  At one point in the parade the car stopped, allowing the President to walk over to the Scouts lining the road and shake hands. An Eagle Scout, I had been elected Senior Patrol Leader of my Jamboree troop, so I was assigned to the front row. When I shook Ike’s hand, I looked into his eyes and said only, “Mr. President.” It was my first and only time to speak to a President.

At the closing show the western cowboy singing group The Sons of the Pioneers entertained.  Later, the humorist Herb Shriner invited any Scout who had a harmonica to play with him. He, along with 300 or so Scouts, played “Home Sweet Home.”

The Jamboree closed that night with a candle lighting ceremony. More than fifty thousand of us repeated the Scout Oath together, dedicating ourselves to do our duty to God and country. Thousands of Scouts, raising their right hand in Scout’s honor and holding thousands of lighted candles, pledged to make the world a better place.

On that last evening, I walked to the top of a grassy hill overlooking the Jamboree campsite. I had previously attended numerous Scouting events, but that vantage point allowed me to envision the enormous impact Scouting could make in this world.

On our return trip back to South Carolina, our troop traveled a southern route through New Mexico. I had slept well in my tent on the Colorado grassland. That night back on the Southern day coach, however, I was uncomfortable. The next morning, Saturday, I was congested with a summer cold. The dramatic drop in elevation as we traveled overnight had forced fluid into my left ear. By the time the train pulled into Dallas, Texas, I had developed a throbbing earache.

Our troop was scheduled for a tour of Dallas, including a meeting with Miss Texas; but I opted instead to try to find a physician. I agreed to meet the troop back at the station at the designated time.

I found a physician’s office building several blocks from the train station. I walked the hallways, searching for help. Because it was the weekend the offices were closed, but finally, on the fourth floor, I heard a typewriter. A few moments after I knocked on the locked door, a physician appeared.

Surprised to see a Scout in uniform, he asked, “Can I help you?”

I explained that I had attended the National Jamboree, that we were traveling by train back home to South Carolina, and that I had a terrible earache.

“Come in and let’s take a look,” he said.

As he examined me, he laughed, “I do not usually do this kind of medicine. I’m an Ob/Gyn. It’s been a long time since I looked in a patient’s ear.”

The doctor confirmed that my ear was indeed infected and offered to give me a shot of penicillin.

After explaining that I had very little money but that I would send a payment to him when I returned to Spartanburg, he asked “Scout’s honor?”

I raised my hand in the Scout sign and pledged, “Yes, Scout’s honor.”

I learned that the doctor himself was an Eagle Scout.

Back at the train station, I met my troop for our trip to New Orleans. There we boarded the Southern Crescent for the ride home to the Hub City.

Boy Scouts of America is celebrating a birthday this week. It’s a good time to remember the important difference Scouting can make. In 1960, more than 5,000,000 boys were Scouts in America; today, more than 30,000,000 Americans have been members of the Scout movement.

By the way, the Dallas doctor sent a bill to our home. A Star Scout himself, my dad sent a check to him. Dad also knew the meaning of Scout’s honor.

Kirk H. Neely
© February 2013
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