Skip to content


February 6, 2021

Note to readers: During these difficult days for many people, Clare and I have been considering what we might do to help those in need. We have decided to continue our support for the charitable nonprofit organizations that are serving our community. Each week in this space, I will ask you to consider helping one charity. This week, please volunteer or donate, as you are able, to The Palmetto Council, Boy Scouts of America, 420 South Church Street Extension, Spartanburg, South Carolina 29306, (864) 585-4391.

As I penned these words, I listened to a Norfolk Southern freight train rumbling along the tracks that run behind our home. I am told that, including the shifters, eighteen trains each day travel the steel rails adjacent to our property. For me, these passing trains bring back memories of a trip I took when I was sixteen years old.

In July 1960, duffel bag in hand, I ascended the steps of 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 center of the cattle cars that 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 which towers 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, making it the fourth-largest town in Colorado for those two weeks.

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 Scout movement was founded in England in 1907 by Lord Robert Baden-Powell. The founder’s son, Robert Baden-Powell II, attended the 1960 Jamboree as an honored guest.  He recognized the jubilee year, the fiftieth anniversary, of 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. The twists and turns of those synchronized jets soaring against the backdrop of the Rocky Mountains took out breath away. That night the popular teenage 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. I knew then that bull riding and saddle bronco riding were not for me. I would rather work at the lumberyard back home.

Several celebrities visited the Jamboree during the week.  James Arness was a hero to many boys. He played the part of Marshall Matt Dillon in the television show, Gunsmoke. He was a big hit among the scouts.      

President Dwight David Eisenhower, who arrived 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 us.  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 our 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. It included a meeting with Miss Texas at the Dr. Pepper bottling company.  Instead, I opted to try to find a physician to treat my painful earache. I agreed to meet the troop back at the railroad 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, I heard a typewriter on the fourth floor. 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, sir. 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. Imagine my disappointment when I found out that I missed out on a free Dr. Pepper while I was getting a shot.

We boarded the Southern Crescent for the ride home to the Hub City.

The Boy Scouts of America is celebrating a birthday this week, on February 8. 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.

In recent years, scouting has suffered from many revelations of sexual abuse. The organization’s problems have paled in comparison to the human pain caused by these abuses for young people and adults alike. The Boy Scouts of America is diligently trying to make amends.  

In May of 2020, the Boy Scouts of America issued one of many statements on this problem.

“First and foremost, we care deeply about all victims of child abuse and sincerely apologize to anyone who was harmed during their time in Scouting,” the statement read. “We are outraged that there have been times when individuals took advantage of our program to abuse innocent children.”

The organization has put in place strong youth protection policies. These efforts do not excuse past atrocities. They do indicate a genuine desire to reestablish the moral values of scouting.

Scouting continues to make a significant difference in the lives of America’s youth and in the future of our country. I am proud to have been a part of the organization for sixty-four years. I am grateful that our children and grandchildren have experienced character development, leadership skills, and scouting outdoor adventures.

By the way, the Dallas doctor that I saw so many years ago did send a bill to our home in Spartanburg. A Star Scout himself, my dad sent a check to him. Dad also knew the meaning of Scout’s honor.

Kirk H. Neely is a freelance writer, a teacher, a pastoral counselor, and a retired pastor.

He can be reached at

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: