Tuesday, August 21, 2012

The Year of the Eagle

Before we turn out the lights here at Chez Alexandre, we should highlight an historic event of one hundred years ago today. It was on this day in 1912, that the Boy Scouts of America designated its first ever Eagle Scout, a young man by the name of Arthur Rose Eldred, of Troop 1 in Rockville Centre, New York. He received notification from the National Office in a letter dated that day. The medal was awarded less than a month later.

But first, they had to actually make one.

In the "original edition" of the Handbook for Boys, the highest rank was supposed to be the "Silver Wolf." It may have saved the young organization some face, in that this edition was never widely circulated, because by the time the "first edition" of the Handbook came out the following year (yes, there is a difference between the "original" and the "first"), the name was changed to "Eagle Scout." The illustration provided was of an eagle in flight suspended from a red ribbon. By the time Eldred received the award, its appearance took on the one by which it is known today.

The requirements were originally more straightforward. It was earned after achieving First Class Rank, simply by attaining the required number of merit badges, which was (and has been for most of its history) twenty-one. The first five required were in the area of health and fitness (First Aid, Lifesaving, Public Health, Personal Health and Athletics), and so that intermediary rank was known as "Life Scout." The next rank was earned by attaining five more merit badges, and was known as "Star Scout," for the five points of the star. (By 1924, the two designations were reversed, as the requirements for the early stage were altered, and the "star" simply recognized the earning of the first five merit badges.)

The medal itself has varied only in certain details that have been "tweaked" over the years. Eldred went on to distinguish himself in Scouting as an adult, and was the first of three generations of Eagles. (Interestingly, for most of the BSA's history and until a few years ago, he was misidentified with an incorrect photograph. Don't ask me why.) The requirements have been supplemented by Troop service requirements for Star, Life, and Eagle ranks, culminating in the "Eagle Scout Project," now even more challenging than a generation ago.

And through it all, only three out of one hundred Boy Scouts ever achieve the high rank. One USA president, the late Gerald Ford, is an Eagle. (Contrary to popular opinion, John Kennedy only went as far as Star Scout, one rank above First Class.) The first man on the moon, Neil Armstrong, is also an Eagle Scout. Other notable Eagles include New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, some guy named Michael Moore (no kidding!), former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, Antarctic explorer Paul Siple, film director Stephen Spielberg (who helped established the Cinematography merit badge), and many others.

Including this one, in December of 1971.

FOOTNOTE: Hey, you wanna know something cool? Among the original merit badges was one known as Master-at-Arms, which was devoted to learning the "manly arts" such as boxing, a sport which even Lord Baden-Powell, the founder of the Scouting movement, encouraged in young boys as a means of character development. Try calling a guy a sissy after he cleans your clock, eh?

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