Heroes

Chuck May Scoutmaster's Minute

Sean Logie Eagle Ceremony

9 July 1995

I'll just add one story about Sean. The scene was "Snow Wars" - a winter outing at Camp Potomac in western Maryland which featured patrol competitions. Mrs. Phillips had set up one of her famous (or infamous) compass/treasure hunt courses. It was such a good course that every team got lost, and we had to send search parties across the camp to lead boys back to the cabin.

Many boys ran all over the cold, snowy woods, looking for clues in all the wrong places, dragging sleds with all their gear through the snow. Sean and Mike tried to follow Richard, who always seems to know where he is going, until they realized that Richard was trying to follow the camp dog back to the cabin. Eventually, Sean and Mike decided that there were more important priorities than a few points in a patrol competition. The search party found them comfortably seated by the camp road in front of a nice, cozy fire, sipping on the cocoa they had made.

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When I sit as chairman of Eagle Scout Boards of review, I often ask the boys who their Heroes are. I am often disappointed at how long it takes boys to come up with an answer, and at the number of boys who confess that they have no Heroes. I worry, as should all of you, about the prospect of a generation growing up without Heroes.

One of the reasons that so few boys recognize their Heroes is that we frequently confuse the concept of Hero with that of celebrity. Sports stars are often described as heroes. They may be skilled, brave, admired, emulated, and celebrated. But they are not, on that basis alone, Heroes. Nor are entertainers, or even politicians.

The term hero is probably most often applied to military people. But even there, it is mis-used. For instance, Captain Scott O'Grady has been called a hero, and he probably is in some definitions of the word. But not in the sense that I mean.

So, what do I mean by a Hero? One definition in Webster's Dictionary is: A man admired for his achievements and noble qualities and considered a model or ideal. That is fairly close to my concept of a Hero. Achievements ... and noble qualities ... and a model - all in the same person. Others may do heroic deeds, but they do not make my short list of personal Heroes without the underlying sense of honor which makes them truly admirable, instead of merely admired. To me, also, a Hero is one who has several choices available, yet chooses to do the right thing, regardless of its impact on him.

For example, most POWs in Vietnam persevered, communicated, tried to escape, and tried to resist. However a few, such as James Stockdale, chose to do much more. At great risk to themselves, they chose to be leaders. Admiral Stockdale risked his life to do what he knew was right - to provide leadership, moral support, and encouragement his fellow POWs. Admiral Stockdale is one of my Heroes.

Another is John Adams. Of course, you know John Adams as a leader in the American Revolution and the second President of the United States. But in 1770, he was asked to act as defense lawyer for the British soldiers accused in the Boston Massacre. He accepted because he knew that the principle a fair trial for all accused, even our enemies, was more important than his reputation among his fellow revolutionary patriots, or even his life, which was threatened on several occasions as a result.

Likewise, Joshua Chamberlain is probably best known for his key role in winning the Battle of Gettysburg. But he is one of my Heroes for his actions in April, 1865. As General Lee's Confederate army marched out of Appomattox Courthouse to surrender, General Chamberlain ordered a salute from his Union soldiers. That simple salute, for which Chamberlain was severely criticized at the time, showed the defeated Confederates that there was hope for returning to a normal life after the war, and did much to begin the healing of the United States after the Civil War.

Abraham Lincoln and Andrew Johnson are certainly well known, as the sixteenth and seventeenth Presidents of the United States. Johnson is also known as the only President ever to be impeached, and it is that incident which puts both of them on my list. Had he not been assassinated, President Lincoln would have worked hard for a healing and unification of the country after the Civil War. To greatly condense a complex issue, the reason that Johnson was impeached was that he insisted on carrying out Lincoln's plans for humane treatment of the residents of the southern states. He chose to risk the Presidency, to risk becoming infamous in history, and to risk his very life, to do what he and Lincoln knew was right.

Jackie Robinson and Arthur Ashe are examples of sports figures who deserve to be Heroes -- not for their sports accomplishments but for their strength of character and personal honor.

Another problem with Heroes today is that we, as a people, expect our Heroes to be perfect. The press seems to love nothing more than to find a flaw in some potential Hero's armor. But Robert E Lee and former Secretary of the Navy James Webb are two men who have done or said things with which I do not agree, but their fundamental character and sense of honor sustain them on my Hero list.

Finally, I would have to include those 56 men who wrote "To this we pledge our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor." Those are the last words of the Declaration of Independence, signed 219 years ago this month. It was no accident, in my mind, that while they risked their lives and fortunes, they sealed the declaration with the most valuable commodity they possessed - their sacred honor.

These are some of my historical Heroes. I also have personal ones, who have directly impacted my life in some way. You may not know the names of Edith Lamb May, George Hardaker, Charles Perry, Captain Ed Bush, or Reverend John Mingus, but they and others have been important in showing me the path which I should take in life.

For that is the role of Heroes - to show or remind us, by example, of what we can and should be - to provide footprints to follow in our life journey.

But how do you find a Hero?

Start by looking around you. Look at those people who have shown you by their own example what it means to lead a life of character and honor, of duty and reverence. There are potential Heroes in the roll call of Eagles which started this ceremony, and there may be more in the closing roll call. There may be Heroes in this room, in your church, in your school, or in your families. There are certainly Heroes in history books, but you may have to read carefully and critically.

Or you may become a Hero yourself.

I chose this topic after seeing the movie "Apollo 13" last week. Did you hear Astronaut James Lovell's name in the roll call of Eagle Scouts at the beginning of this ceremony? He has not gotten as much publicity as other astronauts over the years. But his courage, leadership, and resourcefulness in Apollo 13, together with his strength of character which were demonstrated during and after that flight, qualify him as a true Hero.

As I left the rehearsal last night, I looked up and saw the moon just above the trees. I remembered that Eagle Scout Neil Armstrong left his footprints on that moon. Eagle Scout Jim Lovell missed his chance to leave a footprint on the moon. But he is leaving a much more lasting and important footprint - on the lives of those whose Hero he has become.

Whose footprints will you follow? And what footprints will you leave behind? Who are your Heroes? And whose Hero might you be?


Chuck May, 1996

ChuckMay@may-engineering.com

May be distributed freely, with attribution, for non-commercial use within the Scouting community.


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