Holding out for a hero: How the BSA honors lifesavers

The Cub Scout 'Hero' Cape poster created by Martin Williams Advertising. Read more here: http://www.northernstarbsa.org/News.aspx?articleID=1361
This Cub Scout ‘Hero’ Cape poster created by Martin Williams Advertising was a real hit. Read more at this link.

Real heroes don’t wear flowing capes or iron suits or brightly colored tights.

More and more, it seems, they wear Scout uniforms.

Part of preparing boys for life means preparing boys to save lives if the unthinkable happens. And when a Scout or Scouter goes above and beyond in an attempt to save life, he or she is rewarded.

Enter the lifesaving awards (PDF). From 1977 to last year, there were three awards: the Heroism Award, Honor Medal, and Honor Medal with Crossed Palms. (There are also meritorious action awards for notable acts of service that don’t involve lifesaving attempts.)

The Honor Medal goes to a Scout or Scouter who attempts to save life at some risk to self, while the Honor Medal with Crossed Palms is for a lifesaving attempt with extreme risk. Extreme risk and extremely rare — only 277 Honor Medals with Crossed Palms have been awarded since 1938, roughly four per year.

The third award, the Heroism Award, is presented for lifesaving with “minimum risk to self.” And I learned this week that it’s been discontinued. Here’s how awards guru Bill Evans explained the change in an email to me today:

Just 14 Honor Medals with Crossed Palms were awarded in 2012.
Just 14 Honor Medals with Crossed Palms (seen above) were awarded in 2012. This is in addition to the 52 Honor Medals awarded last year.

Originally there were two lifesaving awards for those who demonstrated unusual heroism: (1) the Honor Medal for those using “skill or resourcefulness in saving or attempting to save life at considerable risk to self;” and (2) the Honor Medal with Crossed Palms, for those using “extraordinary skill or resourcefulness in saving or attempting to save life at extreme risk to self.”

In 1977 the National Court of Honor added a third award, now known as the Heroism Award, for “meritorious action.”

After a review of the history of the lifesaving awards, including the application and actual processing of these three awards since 1977, it is the opinion of the National Court of Honor that the Heroism Award, should be retired, and the language of the Honor Medal and the Honor Medal with Crossed Palms be amended for the following reasons: (1) the current language of the three awards is confusing and unnecessarily overlapping; (2) the desire to recognize appropriate acts of heroism can be accomplished effectively using only the Honor Medal and the Honor Medal with Crossed Palms; (3) The Medal of Merit has been traditionally awarded where there is no risk to self.

Thanks to Bill for clarifying.

And more importantly, thanks to all the Scouts and Scouters out there who show us all that true heroism isn’t found in comic books.

Well, unless you count “Scouts in Action” — one of my favorite Boys’ Life features!

scouts-in-action-3


Images from Gene Gable’s blog

About Bryan Wendell 2817 Articles
Bryan Wendell, an Eagle Scout, is senior editor of Boys’ Life, Scouting and Eagles’ Call magazines.