Scouting's Medals of Valor
By Kathy Vilim DaGroomes
Simple ribbon adorns them. Being prepared merits them.
Grabbing his first-aid kit, William Baird bolted out the door at his sister's urgent call. Two houses away, their neighbor, 13-year-old David Strouse, lay bleeding on the floor of his garage. While playing hide-and-seek, the youth had fallen from atop his parent's car, cutting open his abdomen when he shattered one of the vehicle's open vent windows.
As an ambulance rushed to the scene, Baird, a 16-year-olcl Eagle Scout, treated his neighbor for shock and bleeding. For his quick thinking and skill that summer day in 1976, the future physician from Elmhurst, Ill., was awarded the Boy Scouts of America's coveted Medal of Merit.
The Medal of Merit, along with the Honor Medal With Crossed Palms, the Honor Medal, and the Heroism Award, constitute Scouting's national program of recognition for lifesaving or meritorious action. A Medal of Merit is given for "meritorious action" of a rare character and need not involve rescue attempts or risk to self. The other three medals, however, require at least a minimum degree of risk. (For medal criteria, see the sidebar "Lifesaving and Meritorious Action Medals.")
In the BSA's first 87 years, about 11,150 individuals (out of 96 million members through 1996) have received a medal of valor or its equivalent; awardees have ranged from seasoned Scouters to the most inexperienced Cub Scout. The medals have recognized a broad spectrum of selfless actions, including heroic, heart-stopping rescues and extraordinary acts of brotherly or community service. Indeed, the files of the BSA's National Court of Honor (NCOH) the committee that awards the medalsare filled with dramatic accounts of an endless variety of emergency actions.
These include rescues in water, fire, and ice; and the treatment of victims of every illness or accident imaginable, including heart attacks, wounds, electrical shock, poisonings, animal attacks, car crashes, and landslides. Also, aid rendered for tragic mishaps at grain silos; on horseback, bicycle, and motorcycle; or while using chain saws, lawn mowersthe list goes on and on.
Receiving a medal of valor from the BSA is a signal honor for a Scout or Scouterone that is neither "earned" nor "won."
Some of the medal recipients displayed unusual heroism, while others performed a rare act of service. But all were prepared when the moment of critical need came.
Take William Bairdnow Dr. William Baird, having recently completed his residency at Minnesota's Mayo Clinic. His 1977 medal belied a Scout who always focused on being prepared. To that end, he kept an ever-ready first-aid kit at the foot of his bed and always took it with him on vacations.
This heightened sense of preparedness no doubt accounted for the fact that Baird's 1977 medal was the second one he had received. He had also been presented a Medal of Merit for rendering first aid to a car crash victim in 1976.
Baird and several other past medal recipients spoke recently with Scouting magazine, sharing lessons learned and telling of the unexpected ways that receiving a BSA medal of valor can impact one's life. Like 13aird, many awardees mentioned Scouting principles, practices, and values that served them well in their moment of crisis.
***John Izzo, William F. Jones, and Rudd Long are among the select group of youth members and adult Scouters who have been awarded the Honor Medal With Crossed Palms.
The award represents extraordinarily dangerous and difficult lifesaving rescues. Only 113 of the medals have been awarded since 1923, when the palms were made available for the Honor Medal. And the first one wasn't given until 1938.
Izzo, 47, a Scouter in Pittsburgh, Pa., gave first aid in freezing rain to several injured passengers, at great risk to himself, during a fiery 1990 Detroit plane crash that claimed a number of his fellow passengers.
He firmly believes he was spared serious injury for a reasonto help others. And, thanks to Scouting, he was prepared for the challenge.
"I believe my abilities and actions after the plane crash," he said, "were a direct reflection of the principles and training taught to me throughout my years of Scouting."
Bill Jones was a 22-year old assistant Scoutmaster from Flemington, N.J., in 1993 when his moment of heroism occurred. Jumping into a weed-choked Florida canal, he rescued two nonswimmers, one of whom was having a seizure and both of whom were in danger of drowning.
"I spent a lot of time swimming and working on merit badges at summer camp," Jones said. "'That is where I learned lifesaving."
In 1974, Rudd Long (today a 39-year old historic architect in Savannah, Ga.) performed a difficult and dangerous, 30-minute artificial respiration of a boy trapped underwater.
"The Scouts gave me a sense of personal integrity...an ideal to strive toward," Long said, also acknowledging his Scoutmaster's influence.
"Something I heard around the campfire at summer campa storyended, 'God first, my friends second, and me third.' I will remember this all my life."
***Joe Brumfield, 40, of Catlettsburg, Ky., was awarded the Honor Medal in 1972 for saving the life of an unconscious, bleeding boy who had stopped breathing after a bicycling accident.
"I still don't think of it as saving a life," said the Eagle Scout. "It was something anyone should do with someone hurt like [the victim] was. I learned to 'Be Prepared' as a young Scout and have always been willing to help anyone."
Eagle Scout Patrick Neal, 37, a Scouter in Bloomingdale, Ill., was an assistant Scoutmaster in Troop 374, Wheaton, Ill., when he rescued three men from atop their car during a flash flood in 1978.
Prior to the rescue, for which he received the Honor Medal, Neal had been thinking about whether he would stay active in the troop. "But after I was awarded the Honor Medal, I knew I needed to stay with my troop and establish a good swim program," he said.
He and a friend did just that, and Troop 874 continues to benefit from the program today.
Eagle Scout Mark Knowles, 48, of Tyler, Tex., risked his life in 1970 to save a Scout who had lost his footing near the top of Philmont's picturesque Tooth of Time mountain peak. Knowles's heroic action merited him the Honor Medaland some perspective.
"At times in my personal and business lives, when I am faced with a difficult situation," he said, "I reflect back on that day and realize what is truly important."
***Harold Moss, 43, a truck driver in Wabeno, Wis., is close to Chris and Steve Johnson, brothers he saved from near-drownings in a lake in 1968.
"I suppose you could say that saving Chris and Steve's lives will always play an important part in my life," said Moss, an Eagle Scout who received the Honor Medal for his action. "I don't take anything for granted and focus on being prepared every day. I never look the other way if anyone needs help.
"Chris, Steve, and I are still the best of friends," Moss continued. "Everybody makes a big deal of [the rescue]...but everyone should do whatever he can to help anyone in need."
Letter carrier Myron Carpenter, 42, of Manhattan, Kan., said that being awarded the Honor Medal for a 1973 boating rescue of a couple during a perilous lake storm affected his life deeply.
"[After the rescue] I made a commitment to always help someone whenever possibleespecially in dangerous situations," Carpenter said. "I would rather get involved and help someone who is in a car accident, boat accident, etc., than to worry about lawsuits. As a Scout, OA Vigil member, and Eagle Scout, I try always to live up to the Scout Oath and Scout Law."
Physician William Baird, 37, currently of Springfield, Mo., said that receiving two medals of valor influenced his eventual career path.
"I had dreamt of becoming a physician from a very early age," he said. "The two Medals of Merit gave me confidence that I could function under stress."
NCOH office staff report that medal awardees, like the ones quoted herein, are typically quiet about the details of their heroic deeds and quick to deflect praise.
But every one of the medal-of-valor recommendation files stored at the BSA national office contains the elements of an inspiring storyskill, inner strength, rare concern, and changed lives.
Discussing the Scout motto with Lord Baden-Powell, someone once asked: "Be prepared...for what?"
"Why, for any old thing," the founder of the worldwide Scout movement responded.
And the BSA medals-of-valor honor roll shows just how well prepared Scouts can be when called upon to act under extraordinary circumstances.
Kathy Vilim DaGroomes is associate editor of Scouting magazine.
Copyright © 1997 by the Boy Scouts of America. All rights thereunder reserved; anything appearing in Scouting magazine or on its Web site may not be reprinted either wholly or in part without written permission. Because of freedom given authors, opinions may not reflect official concurrence.