Don Williams was scanning some old photos into his computer when he came across one from 1981 that made him stop and smile.
He was 14 in the photo — a Star Scout in Troop 299 of Franklin, Tenn. — and was standing along a brick wall with seven fellow Scouts and two leaders.
It was a week before the guys left for a Philmont trek they wouldn’t forget.
Looking at the photo, Williams remembered how active his troop was back then. They camped or backpacked every month. They spent a week every year hiking the Appalachian Trail. They attended Boxwell Scout Camp together.
This core group of Scouts stayed together for about 14 years, Williams says. Then he had a thought: It was time for a reunion.
He wanted the group to gather at the same brick wall and re-create that 1981 photo.
“I had the idea that it would be a good keepsake if we could reproduce it,” Williams says. “I assumed it would take a few years to get everyone to sign on as we are scattered across the southeast now.”
The group’s members live in Florida, Georgia, Tennessee and Virginia. But Williams crossed his fingers and sent the note out on Facebook.
“About 15 minutes later, everyone was in,” he says.
Quite a legacy
For the 2015 photo, the guys stood in the same location and had similar poses as their 1981 selves.
But, sadly, one member was missing. Troop 299 Scoutmaster Bob Landers died before the second picture was taken, so he is represented by a framed photo standing where he would’ve stood.
Scoutmaster Landers left behind quite a legacy in those eight young men and the dozens more he mentored through the years. As for the eight in the photo, their Scouting experience must have been strong, seeing as they were inspired to reunite all these years later.
“Without the level of activity we had, we wouldn’t be this willing and eager to get together after 34 years,” Williams says. “Scouting’s greatest success in this picture is friends that close after that many years.”
Williams sent me the before-and-after photo of the Philmont crew, and I shared it on Scouting magazine’s Facebook page earlier this month. It quickly became a hit and has been seen by nearly 1 million people and liked more than 5,000 times. It’s the most viral photo in Scouting magazine Facebook history.
Gathering for the photo inspired these guys, now between 48 and 50 years old, to reconnect. They got together for lunch the day before the picture and have swapped texts and emails since.
“The stories that get told are from Philmont, Charles L. Sommers, the Florida Sea Base, Boxwell and all over the Tennessee trails,” Williams says. “As kids, we got to see more of the country than some people get to see their whole life.”
Then and now
Who’s who in the photos? Here they are from left to right:
- Bob Landers, a 51-year-old Scoutmaster in 1981. He’s represented in the easel photo in the 2015 photo.
- John Sanchez, a 17-year-old Life Scout in 1981, now 50 and living in Lynchburg, Va.
- Darrell Wiley, a 14-year-old Star Scout in 1981, now 48 and living in Franklin, Tenn.
- David Landers, a 14-year-old Life Scout in 1981, now 48 and living in Tampa, Fla.
- Lane Locke, 14 in 1981, now 48 and living in Franklin, Tenn.
- Michael Williams, 14 in 1981, now 48 and living in Nashville, Tenn.
- Mitch Harris, 14 in 1981, now 48 and living in Brentwood, Tenn.
- Jim Highfill, a 15-year-old First Class Scout in 1981, now 49 and living in Nashville, Tenn.
- Don Williams, a 14-year-old Star Scout in 1981, now 48 and living in Atlanta
- Gehrig Harris, a 37-year-old Assistant Scoutmaster in 1981, now 71 and living in Brentwood, Tenn.
More gold from Williams:
We set up camp every day at Philmont, but we slept out under the stars on most nights. One afternoon, after excavating at Indian Writings, we were napping out on our sleeping bags in the sun, and rolled over to scratch the bellies of two Air Force F-15’s flying overhead so low that they were well out of sight up the canyon before their roar scared us all half to death.
When we first got to base camp, there were some wild trees growing on a ridge line out to the west that, from our point of view, looked just like a bison in profile. Troy and I were taken at first — then figured out what we were looking at and decided to see who else we could get to bite.
Gehrig Harris (troop photographer/assistant Scoutmaster) took the bait and was hurriedly trying to dig his camera out of his pack until he heard the two of us giggling and looked again at the ridge. That bison would have been the size of a school bus had it been real..
Troy convinced us that we could see satellites fly overhead at night once our eyes adjusted, and he was right. The night before we ascended Baldy, about six of us were sleeping out under the stars and not only did we see a meteor, but we actually heard it burn up and “explode” entering the atmosphere. None of us have ever met anyone else that can claim that.