Glenn was never a Scout, but his son, David, is an Eagle Scout.
David went on a trek at Philmont Scout Ranch in the summer of 1961 — one year before his dad went on a history-making trek of his own into space.
(Note: While Glenn wasn’t a Scout, at least two-thirds of the pilots and scientists selected as astronauts since 1959 were in the program as young men.)
Despite not being involved in the program as a youth, Glenn believed in the power of Scouting. So much, in fact, that after he moved from Cape Canaveral, Fla., to Houston for his work with NASA, Glenn collaborated with Scout leaders there to help recruit new Scouts.
‘Deeper than just those outdoor things’
Glenn — then known as Lt. Col. Glenn — recorded a series of radio and TV spots that shared the merits of Scouting.
The script called for Glenn to talk about the joys of camping, swimming and other outdoor activities. But those, Glenn felt, only summarized a part of what makes Scouting great.
So he added his own lines to the script.
“Scouting goes deeper than just those outdoor things,” he said. “The Scout Oath gives more detail.”
Then he proceeded, to the amazement of those gathered at the recording studio, to recite the entire Scout Oath from memory. He had learned it while his son was working his way through Scouting.
“We need not only boys, but men, who live by that code,” Glenn said in finishing his address.
A Silver Buffalo Award and a speech for the ages
In 1965, in recognition of his efforts to grow Scouting nationwide, Glenn received the Silver Buffalo Award. That’s the Boy Scouts of America’s highest award for adults.
Glenn gave a speech at the National Annual Meeting that year in which he explained why he believes in Scouting so much.
Read the speech — printed in the October 1965 issue of Scouting magazine — at the end of this post. Here’s my favorite part:
The main reason I like Scouting — and like to support it — is because it is not so specialized as some youth activities. I have nothing against the specialized ones, but there is a place in Scouting for every boy.
He can be fat, skinny, a bookworm, slow in school — there is still some place for him in Scouting, some interest his leaders can channel him into.
He continued with this great bit:
The success of Scouting revolves around adult leadership. I knew a boy who was just a so-so Scout. He had been in several troops at different places.
Finally he came to one particular Scout leader who really took an interest in him. This man had been in the Forest Service for a number of years. He had a tremendous interest in camping — and camping is the common denominator that gets boys interested in Scouting — and he took the boys camping once a month. Every meeting had some new challenge and thought so that there was some progress every week for the boys.
This particular boy really caught fire on Scouting. He really got going, broadened out, developed and did a tremendous job. I appreciated the work that was done for him because I knew him very well.
He was my son — so I know what Scouting and good leadership meant to him.