Like Scouts today, they didn’t know when — or if — they might put these skills to use. They just wanted to Be Prepared.
On the morning of Dec. 7, 1941, Japanese planes attacked the United States naval base at Pearl Harbor, and the Scouts’ freshly acquired skills were tested quicker and more severely than any Scout could have anticipated.
“When hell broke loose in Hawaii,” Scouting magazine wrote in our January 1942 issue, the Scouts nearby “did their designated bit with efficient courage.”
Most heroes that day and in the days following wore the uniforms of the U.S. military. Their inspiring stories are told in detail in other publications.
But here, on this Scouting blog, I want to celebrate the Pearl Harbor heroes who wore a different uniform. The Boy Scout uniform.
Fred Forbes, then Scout Executive of the Honolulu Council, sent this terse telegram back to the mainland shortly after the attack:
“Honolulu Scouts and Scouters in emergency action — communication, first aid, general assistance, helpfulness. No Scout casualties known.”
Scouts on the island of Oahu knew that their proximity to the Pearl Harbor base meant the danger of a military attack was omnipresent.
That awareness, coupled with their ample training, meant they could spring into action and help the community.
Forbes, in a bulletin to all nearby Scoutmasters, described the Scouts’ two-pronged role: communications and first aid.
Most Scouts — primarily those over the age of 15 — were given roles in communications.
The Scouts were assigned locations where they could be of greatest service. They delivered messages on foot or on bicycle. They answered telephones — or, at least those phones that still worked. They watched visual signal points for messages to be relayed.
Scouts took six-hour shifts: 8 a.m. to 2 p.m., 2 to 8 p.m., 8 p.m. to 2 a.m. and 2 to 8 a.m. Each was told to bring a meal, a change of clothing, his Scout uniform, a sweater or raincoat, a flashlight, a pencil and notebook, a bicycle, a pocketknife, and a blanket.
“Those Scouts who have a particular bent for first aid,” the bulletin said, “should follow that course.”
In hindsight, we know just how dire the need for anyone with first aid training must have been. The attack killed 2,403 Americans — including 68 civilians — and wounded more than 1,000 more.
Older Scouts served as stretcher-bearers to help carry the injured to care.
Preparing for future attacks
Soon after the initial chaos died down, attention turned to concerns over further attacks.
The Scouting magazine headline is chilling: “Now That We Are At War.” The article instructed all Scoutmasters — not just those in Hawaii — to prepare their Scouts for possible future attacks in the following ways:
- Performing first aid: Scouts should be able to perform first aid tasks “in daylight and darkness,” meaning hard practice was essential.
- Knowing the community: Scouts should have a sense of direction so they can travel “by dimly outlined objects through blackout or fog.”
- Using of the belt hatchet and long-handled ax: Scouts should train in these “superior rescue and fire-fighting” tools. This is not an easy skill, according to the magazine, so “no lazy lad will qualify.”
- Putting out fires: Scouts should know how to extinguish fires at home and in the woods. This includes knowing “how to put out incendiary bomb fires.”
- Cooking: Scouts should be experts at cooking one-pot meals, where “nothing need be wasted.”
- Communicating: Scouts should perfect their written communication skills. Writing, the article says, is a superior method because it prevents the message from becoming distorted. Scouts should practice writing blind — with eyes closed and blindfolded — so they can write in darkness.
- Using the left hand: Right-handed Scouts should practice using their left hand in case their dominant hand is injured. Left-handed Scouts should do the opposite.
- Observing: Scouts should hone their ability to observe “and to keep his mouth shut when that is the thing to do.”
Even more Scout service
It didn’t stop there. From Dec. 7 to 17, 1941, the Scouts of the Honolulu Council (Scouts from the Maui Council also were ready for action if needed) performed an immeasurable amount of service.
Forbes, the Honolulu Council Scout Executive, summarized their service in a letter to Chief Scout Executive James E. West.