In the Footsteps of Valor
By George T. Wilson
A visit to the U.S.S. Yorktown at South Carolina's Patriots Point gives Scouts a better understanding of the sacrifices made by those whose service helped preserve our nation's freedoms.
- Special Programs For Scouts
- Other World War II Ships Offer Programs For Overnight Campers
- Touring Yorktown's Companions
- A Place of Honor
Its ack-ack guns are silent and aircraft no longer zoom off the flight deck of the legendary aircraft carrier U.S.S. Yorktown (CV-10). Today the "Fighting Lady," a veteran of three wars, is the centerpiece of the Patriots Point Naval and Maritime Museum near Charleston, S.C. Boy Scouts and other visitors, rather than sailors, roam the ship's decks.
Fifteen Scouts from Troop 335 journeyed from Birmingham, Ala., to spend a night aboard the carrier. On the way, they had camped two days at Lake Eufaula on the Alabama-Georgia line and three nights at Jekyll Island.
The sight of the towering 37,000-ton Yorktown quickly banished any tiredness they felt from travel.
As Scoutmaster Ken Segars checked on bunk assignments, the Scouts examined the aircraft on the flight deck. Senior patrol leader Evan Segars and Life Scout Mark Williams scampered from a Vietnam-era F-4 Phantom to a World War II F6F Hellcat to a more modern F-14 Tomcat.
They looked forward to exploring the rest of the ship from bridge to engine rooms.
From the Pacific to Apollo 8
This is the second aircraft carrier named Yorktown. The first, CV-5, was lost during the U.S. victory at the Battle of Midway in 1942.
Planes from the new Yorktown inflicted damage on the Japanese at Truk and the Marianas, and the carrier supported ground troops in the Philippines, at Iwo Jima, and at Okinawa.
The carrier later served in Korea and Vietnam. And in December 1968, the Yorktown helped recover the crew of Apollo 8, the first manned spacecraft to orbit the moon.
The Yorktown was finally retired to Charleston harbor to anchor the Patriots Point museum. In March 1980 the museum joined forces with the Coastal Carolina Council to create the Scout Camping Program aboard the Yorktown.
Rich with history
Chief executive officer of the Yorktown museum is Rear Adm. James H. Flatley III, whose father, World War II fighter ace James H. Flatley Jr., landed the first warplane, an F6F Hellcat, on the Yorktown some 55 years ago. Today, Flatley and his 33-person staff concentrate on restoring and maintaining the historic carrier.
Throughout the ship, 104 bronze plaques list the names of more than 8,000 crew members lost in combat. World War II veterans choke up when they see a familiar name, Flatley said. A goal of the museum and memorial is to have an equally profound impact on young visitors.
"We want to create a memorial here that will also help today's young people to be aware of the cost of freedom," he noted. "We hope to undergird Scouts who visit here with a sense of honor, valor, and patriotism, things they learn in their communities back home. What we give these kids is unique, because Yorktown is rich with history."
Waring W. (Butch) Hills III, director of education and exposition, has been aboard the program for more than a year. The 40-year-old, ex-Navy lieutenant commander brings new enthusiasm to the Boy Scout overnight program.
Along with Admiral Flatley, Hills is constantly searching for creative ways to improve the Yorktown experience.
"Our mission, not only the camping for Scouts but for all visitors, is to impart the history, the heritage, and the sacrifices of these men who served our nation and allowed us to enjoy the freedom we have," he says.
"We seek to make the museum more alive. These kids don't have the life experiences of the veterans who visit here, so we want to tell the story in a way that makes them aware of the sacrifices."
His association with the Scouts has given him greater confidence in the moral fiber of today's youth. "In the news we learn all the bad stuff. But these Scouts give us much greater hope for the future."
A sense of harm's way
Camping on and touring the ship helps the Birmingham Scouts capture the sense of sacrifice and patriotism that permeates the carrier.
All members of the Birmingham troop were impressed with the way the 3,000 crewmen worked and lived. They empathized with the sailors and airmen who fought from the heat-staggering deck that runs the length of three football fields.
"When you go through the ship, you can almost smell the sweat of the men who served here and put themselves in harm's way," observes Paul Kellenberger.
"It definitely impresses me," says Matt Hill. "I can see what kinds of sacrifices have been made for our freedom."
Each year more than 300,000 visitors tour the Yorktown and other Patriots Point attractions. Nearly 17,000 campers from more than 500 Scout groups and as many as 32 states spend one or two nights aboard the Yorktown.
"Most Scout groups are from the south eastern states," says Butch Hills. "But we've had Scouts from California, Washington, Michigan, all over the U.S. - and we recently received an e-mail from a troop in Hong Kong wanting to visit."
More than 400 campers, from 10 other Scout troops, spent the night on the Yorktown on the weekend of Troop 335's visit.
Saturday evening featured a theater program which Hills designed to stress God and country and the lessons of patriotism that the Yorktown experience emphasizes.
In a "scavenger hunt" before supper, Scouts had to locate answers to a series of questions about the ship. Troop 61 from Springfield, Ohio, was the winner in that competition.
But the next day everyone went home a winner from this star-spangled visit. Their prize was a greater knowledge and deeper appreciation of the meaning of patriotism and the price of freedom.
Writer George T. Wilson lives in Memphis, Tenn.
Special Programs For Scouts
Scouts visiting the Yorktown can pass many requirements for the Aviation merit badge.
"We cover about 50 percent of the most difficult requirements," says Butch Hills, director of education at Patriots Point. "A Scout can easily complete the rest at home."
A special patch is given to all Scouts who stay overnight on the Yorktown. An additional patch can be earned by those participating in the Historic Trail Program (a "scavenger hunt" designed to take them into every cranny of the hulking carrier and test their attention to posted information).
Scout troops interested in camping aboard the Yorktown can call (800) 248-3508 or visit the Patriots Point Web site at http://www.state. sc.us/patpt.
Other World War II Ships Offer Programs For Overnight Campers
In addition to the programs at Patriots Point, several other famous World War II ships at different locations across the country offer onboard overnight experiences for Scout groups. Among them are:
Touring Yorktown's Companions
No visit to Patriots Point would be complete without visiting the three other vessels anchored near the Yorktown.
The destroyer Laffey has been called "The Ship That Would Not Die." In 1944, the newly commissioned ship was present at the D-Day landings at Normandy. Later transferred to the Pacific, the destroyer survived hits by five Japanese Kamikaze suicide planes and three bombs.
After serving in the Korean War and in the Atlantic fleet, the Laffey was decommissioned in 1975.
The Coast Guard cutter Ingham was dedicated as the first national memorial to the 912 members of the Coast Guard who died in World War II and Vietnam. The ship is one of the most decorated vessels in U.S. service, with 18 ribbons. The Ingham's career spanned more than 50 years, including 31 World War II convoys (and credited with sinking German U-boat 626), six Pacific patrols, and three tours of Vietnam.
The submarine Clamagore spent World War II on duty in the Atlantic and Mediterranean and in 1962 was sent to the troubled waters near Cuba.
The Vietnam War is represented by a full-size replica of a support base, including a 31-foot river patrol boat, ammunition bunker, combat information center, 24-gun and observation tower, Huey medevac helicopter, helicopter gunship, and other items.
A Place of Honor for Many
The Yorktown is often called "the Arlington of Carrier Aviation" for its many memorials to Americans who died in carrier combat or related service. Among its memorial exhibit areas are the following:
The Congressional Medal of Honor Museum, located on the hangar deck, honors celebrity medal winners such as Alvin York from World War I and Audie Murphy from World War II.
Some civilians, such as pioneer aviator Charles Lindbergh, are included (although a Medal of Honor can now be awarded only for action in combat), plus noted recipients such as Civil War drummer Willie Johnston, at age 12, the youngest medal winner; Jimmy Doolittle, leader of the historic 1942 raid on Tokyo; and the only woman recipient, Civil War doctor Mary Walker.
Since 1993 the Yorktown has headquartered the Congressional Medal of Honor Society. The museum lists 3,410 recipients, of which (as of December 1998) only 160 are still living.
The Carrier Hall of Honor was dedicated in 1987 in memory of Lieut. Comdr. James B. Taylor. It recognizes those Navy, Marine, and aerospace industry test pilots who made major contributions in carrier aircraft development and testing.
The Carrier Aviation Hall of Fame memorializes the Navy and Marine Corps carrier aviators, along with captains of the shipbuilding and aircraft industries, who "most influenced the development of carrier aviation, including training, tactical development, combat operations, and ship and aircraft design."
The Combat Aircrew Roll of Honor recognizes the often unsung heroes of carrier combat, "the many conspicuously gallant aircrewmen who teamed with the pilots, in whom they entrusted their fate, to engage the enemy in the air, on land, and on the sea, no matter the odds."
May-June 1999 Table of Contents
Copyright © 1999 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.
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