Our Call to Service Can Mean Many Things

by Retired Col. Leo Thorsness

Jack Pape

Recent events have reminded me of the power of youth in our country, and how our experiences as young people frame who we become, and how we contribute to the world around us. In my role as president of the Congressional Medal of Honor Society, two key areas of life came together in perfect intersection in Washington, D.C., on March 25.

There, I had the privilege to see the Congressional Medal of Honor Society bestow the American Spirit Award on a Boy Scout from Omaha named Jack Pape. The American Spirit Award recognizes individuals who demonstrate extraordinary skill, professionalism, and a spirit of excellence in a challenging situation. One of the recent recipients was a man by the name of Chesley Sullenberger, who landed his plane on the Hudson River. So you can see, it’s a tremendous honor for a 17-year-old boy.

In 2008, Jack jumped into action to administer first aid and help save lives at the Little Sioux Scout Ranch, the site of the tornado that tragically killed four Boy Scouts. A year later, he performed CPR on a young boy who was pulled from a hotel swimming pool.

Many people know that Scouts are trained in first aid. But do you know what else Scouts are trained in? Courage. And leadership. And service. I must say this with some humility, because I, myself, am an Eagle Scout.

Note that I didn’t say “was” an Eagle Scout. Being an Eagle, even at the age of 79, is foundational to who I am. I was an Eagle Scout when the badge was pinned on my Scout uniform so many years ago, and I carry those principles with me still today.

Much like Jack never expected to find the circumstances that earned him the American Spirit Award, my Scouting experience benefitted me in unexpected ways. In Scouting, I learned about patriotism, service, courage and loyalty, and it was during combat in Vietnam, and six years as a prisoner of war in Hanoi that those principles were put to the ultimate test and were proven to be true. I believe they are part of the reason I survived.

When I shook Jack’s hand in Washington, I had to share a few words with him. I wanted him to know his experience in Scouting could be both a blessing and a curse. “A curse?” you ask. “Yes, because once people know you are a Scout, so much more is expected of you.” I know he can live up to it.

I’m so impressed by what Jack has done in his 17 years of life. He has taken the words of the Scout Oath to heart, “On my honor, I will do my best to do my duty to God and my country …”

He is a reminder that service to our country can come in many forms. We serve our country when we help others in need. We serve our country when we always do our best. We serve our country when we choose to do the right thing.

I look at Jack and marvel at how he could have acted so bravely at such an early age. I believe the answer lies in the values and character he undoubtedly learned at home, and with those he learned with the Scouts.

And while most young people will not face the same type of challenges Jack has faced, the Boy Scouts of America not only prepares young people to act heroically and courageously in times of great crisis, but it also prepares young people for life.

Our country needs more people who will put in more than they will take out. We need more people like Jack Pape.  And, perhaps more than ever, we need Scouting.

About the Writer: Retired Col. Leo Thorsness is a resident of Madison, Alabama, and the current president of the Congressional Medal of Honor Society, whose small membership is made up of recipients of the Medal of Honor—the nation’s highest award for military valor. He received the Medal of Honor in 1967 for his heroic actions in the U.S. Air Force during the Vietnam War. Before Col. Thorsness was aware he had received the medal, his plane was shot down over North Vietnam, and he spent six years as a prisoner of war in Hanoi.


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7 Comments for “Our Call to Service Can Mean Many Things”

  1. “Our Call to Service Can Mean Many Things”

    including cold blooded murder.

    “April 12, 2011
    Didn’t I See This in ‘Schindler’s List’?
    Posted by David Kramer on April 12, 2011 05:00 AM

    Do you remember the fictional scene in Schindler’s List when the commandant of a Nazi concentration camp (portrayed by Ralph Fiennes) is taking pot shots at the Jewish prisoners (i.e., victims) with live ammo? This is a video of professional murderers (U.S. soldiers in Iraq) shooting at Iraqi prisoners (i.e., victims) at a U.S. detention facility in Iraq back in 2005. The victims had started to throw rocks and poles because they were falsely told (according to the murderers’ investigation—How’s that for impartiality?) that U.S. murderers (aka “soldiers”) were stepping on Korans during a search for contraband. Take note of the glee in the voices of some of the murderers as they are shooting. They are as giddy as if they were at a shooting gallery in an amusement park.”

    Is their anyone who write articles for this website that can find the courage to at least acknowledge that todays military has nothing to do with service, honour, duty, country, heroism, …. and any kid signing up today is doing more harm than good to the world, their country, their community, their family, and themselves.

  2. Congratulations, man! What an honor. I’m sure your troop has benefited so much from your work and deeds. You’re an example of what all of us Eagle scouts strive to be and what we strive to develop in the younger guys. Col. Thorsness is right, we need scouting more than ever right now and it’s Eagle scouts like you who show America what we can do. God bless you.
    And Jack, I’m afraid you’ve got it. You’ve got a true scout’s heart.

    Graham 17, Eagle

  3. My son joined the cub scouts this year. As a single mother I felt it was important that my son find a positive male influence, and felt that he would see this in the scouts. In pack 256 (New Lexington Ohio)my son won first place in the pinewood derby race. He worked very hard with his uncle for 3 weeks prior to the races and during the blue and gold banquet one of the scout leaders stood up and tried to embarrass him by accussing him of cheating. He was upset to say the least and the pack leaders acted like he had done something wrong because he had beat their children. I was extrememly angry and wasn’t sure what to do or if Stephen would want to continue with the scouting experience. I have sent a couple of letters but have gotten no response and am not sure what I can do. These women who run the New Lexington pack need to be held responsible for their behavior and can not be allowed to destroy other boys self esteem. If you have any advice for me please let me know who I can contact for help with this matter.
    Thank you
    Melissa Watts

    • My suggestion is to contact your local council office which should be in the phone book under Boy Scouts of America. Then ask to speak to your district executive. I would tell him what happened and ask for a list of other units in your area. Please don’t let the actions of some obviously untrained leaders end what could be a great experience for your son.

      Chip Marrin
      Long time scouter

    • Ms. Watts, Up to now, I’ve never read any of the articles about me. But my mom said I had to read this one, and I have to listen to my mom! For starters, congratulate your son on winning the Pinewood Derby! As far as the leaders go, I would remind them that teasing is a form of bullying and especially when it comes from a role model, it is very hurtful. But also remind Stephen that just like he can learn how to act from adults, he can also learn how NOT to act. So maybe that is the lesson here.

      To Stephen….Congrats on the Pinewood Derby! You rock! I went to Pinewood Derby for 5 years and never won. Not only did I never win, but I came in last most of the time! I beat a guy once only because the wheel fell off of his car. Sometimes, my car didn’t even make it all the way down the track! Try not to worry about what people think. The big thing to worry about is what God thinks. He probably thinks you rock, too! When you are grown and a role model, remember to be kind to the little guys. Keep up the good work. I’m impressed with you. Jack Pape

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