Forty-nine years ago this month I attended the National Boy Scout Jamboree at Valley Forge, Pa. Me and several thousand other Scouts. Given the time lapse, I don’t recall many of the details, but some of the memories have stayed with me.
The clearest of those was the heat. The Valley Forge I experienced was the opposite of the one George Washington’s troops endured during the winter of 1777. We broiled under pretty much constant mid-summer sun.
Beyond that, I recall the big Saturday night get-together, all of us scouts gathered at one place to listen to one of the heroes of the day. I asked some of our younger staff members the other day whether they had heard of a man named Ed White, and got generally blank looks. Again, given the time lapse that’s not really surprising; my hunch is that even several of my contemporaries would have a hard time coming up with a descriptive sentence about Ed White. Yet in the summer of 1964, there were few if any larger, more famous American heroes.
Ed White was an astronaut, a very hot profession in the mid 1960s. The following June, as a crewmember with James McDivitt aboard Gemini 4, Ed White would become the first American to walk in space. He might have gone on to walk on the moon had he not been killed with Virgil Grissom and Roger Chaffee in the January 1967 Apollo 1 fire.
This was a day when there were only about 15 people in all of America who could call themselves “astronaut,” so the appearance of any of them at the Jamboree—even one who hadn’t actually flown a mission yet — was a huge deal.
Beyond that, my recollection is that the Jamboree mostly consisted of hanging around interacting with scouts from other parts of the country, visiting Washington, Philadelphia, trading patches and generally taking it in.
Those memories come back in their partial form because the 2013 jamboree is now under way at a place called the Summit in rural West Virginia. This Jamboree is a measure of how much times have changed .
At Valley Forge, we didn’t do much that might disturb the landscape because we were camping at a national historic site. That meant our footprint had to be minimal. The Summit is a 10,600 acre complex owned by the Boy Scouts, and intended as a permanent home for the Jamboree. (It will also host the 2019 world Jamboree, when an estimated 80,000 scouts are expected to attend.) All of that leads to a far more imposing “footprint” these Jamboree scouts, including several from Riley County troops, are taking advantage of.
Imagine being a teenager turned loose amid this Disneyland for 10 days: 27 miles of cross country mountain biking trails, scuba, kayaking, skateboarding, rock climbing, 3,000 foot long zip lines where the participants reach 50 mph, 60 acres of space devoted to rifle, shotgun, skeet, classic archery and sporting arrows, plus a BMX track and a whitewater rafting course through the New River Gorge. At the center of it all is an area focusing on more cerebral science, technology, engineering and math pursuits. It’s called “The Cloud.”
I could hate a third of that stuff, be too frightened to try another third and still have a hell of a time.
Proving once again that I really was born a half century too soon. Youth, as Shaw famously said, is wasted on the young…and if you have to ask who Shaw was you proved his point.
Don’t take offense, but I’d rather be spending this Sunday at The Summit than here in Manhattan with you. Or, for that matter, at Valley Forge.