published Tuesday, November 26th, 2013

On my honor, I pledge God, country, others, self

Want to feel hog-heaven-good about things? Need a wholesome Tuesday before the chaos of Black Friday? How's a little giblet for your gravy? Then I give you these three little words:

Eagle Scout ceremony.

"On my honor, I will do my best to do my duty to God and my country and to obey the Scout Law," dozens of area Boy Scouts said one night last week.

Dressed in earthtone khaki and dark green, Scouts from local Troop 147 gathered in the sanctuary at Ooltewah United Methodist Church to award three of their own with the honor of Eagle Scout.

Ryan Dennis, who remodeled an old Masonic lodge in Ooltewah for his Eagle project.

Corey Thompson, who built bookshelves for the classroom of his favorite second-grade teacher.

And Trip Binns, who handcrafted outdoor benches and a fire pit for an Ooltewah church.

"Earning Eagle Scout is probably one of the hardest things," said the Scoutmaster.

I know what you're thinking: This Eagle ceremony is not really hard-hitting news. And you're right.

But neither is the effectiveness of fume-capturing underwear ("these things work," reported CNN on Monday) or that one man broadcast his drunk wife's breasts over a PS4 live stream (thanks, Fox News) or the philosophical debate held at NBC as to whether leg-waxing salons should charge women based on the size of their legs.

"It's wrong!" proclaimed anchor Hoda Kotb.

In more ways than one. When compared to such newsless news, Eagle Scout ceremonies are like a breath of very fresh air.

"To help other people at all times," the Scouts continued, "to keep myself physically strong, mentally awake and morally straight."

Retired Brig. Gen. Joseph "Smoking Joe" Stringham -- the inspiration for John Wayne's character in "The Green Berets" -- was supposed to be there, but canceled at the last minute. Didn't really matter. You couldn't swing a pup tent without hitting somebody as equally compelling.

"That guy over there has a silver star, bronze star and six purple hearts," one man told me, pointing across the crowd, like we were paparazzi.

Perhaps no one mattered there more than Harvey Raper, the man who started Troop 147 way, way back when.

"In 1953," he said. "My, my."

In his white hair and suspenders, Raper was the founding father of all these Scouts.

"Boys are going to be part of a gang. Whether it's hanging around the street corner or it's the Boy Scouts," he said.

He started the troop to steer them in one direction instead of the other.

"To give them something," he said.

The evening was quintessential Scouting: flags, three-finger salutes, pledges to God and country and others. Those Scouts carried more badges than the FBI. Someone quoted Socrates. The evening was honest as a church pew. George Bailey meets Norman Rockwell meets Survivorman.

But it was equally ancient, just our century's version of something as old as time: male initiation.

In societies across the globe, boys have become men through the recipe that Scouting offers. Time spent in the woods plus male mentors equals a larger version of oneself.

I recall the mythologist Joseph Campbell once saying something like this: If you want to see what happens to a society that stops initiating boys, then just look at the front page of the newspaper. There's trouble, and lots of it.

"By following the trail to Eagle, the Scout is enlightened," the Scoutmaster continued.

Sports can do the same kind of transformative work. So can acts of service, youth groups and activism. Yet Scouting may be our country's best version of this. It's like a universal language: you see a Scout, you know you're looking at someone who can change a tire, build a lean-to and walk a widow across the road, all with only one match.

My buddy Frank, an Eagle since '86, puts the accomplishment on his resume. Me? I'd tattoo it on my forehead (never made it to Webelo, which shouldn't surprise many of you.) Even most Scouts don't make Eagle.

"Less than two percent," said Clay Dennis. His son Ryan -- one of the Eagles that night -- earned the honor when he was just 13. I asked Clay why Scouting matters.

"People think the moral compass is lost. It's not. It's still here," he said.

I asked his son the same question.

"It would be different, sir," Ryan said. "If everyone had done Scouting, the world would be a whole lot nicer."

Three more little words: Thank you, Eagles.

Contact David Cook at or 423-757-6329. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter at DavidCookTFP

about David Cook...

David Cook is the award-winning city columnist for the Times Free Press, working in the same building where he began his post-college career as a sportswriter for the Chattanooga Free Press. Cook, who graduated from Red Bank High, holds a master's degree in Peace and Justice Studies from Prescott College and an English degree from the University of Tennessee at Knoxville. For 12 years, he was a teacher at the middle, high school and university ...

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