Duty to country: Webelos Scout, Boy Scouts salute President George H.W. Bush

During the public viewing former President George H.W. Bush lies in State at the US Capitol rotunda on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC on Monday December 3, 2018. (Photo by Melina Mara/The Washington Post via Getty Images)
Photo by Melina Mara/The Washington Post via Getty Images

On Monday night, a Webelos Scout stands tall, his right hand raised to his brow, saluting the casket carrying President George H.W. Bush.

Just before 2 a.m. Tuesday, six Boy Scouts and five adult leaders pause in reverential silence to honor our nation’s 41st president, who died Friday.

These separate moments, streamed live on C-SPAN and covered by local and national news outlets, epitomize the first words of the Scout Oath: “On my honor, I will do my best to do my duty to God and my country … .”

The Webelos is Eliot Dupree of Pack 116 from Arlington, Va. The Boy Scouts are members of Troop 1717 of Hartwood, Va. All are from the BSA’s National Capital Area Council.

I wanted to learn more about what inspired these silent acts of patriotism, so I talked to Eliot, his mom and the senior patrol leader of Troop 1717.

Eliot’s salute

Eliot’s parents, Leah and Christopher Socha, understand the significance of public service.

She served our country in the U.S. Navy and works for the Department of Defense; he works for a U.S. senator.

“We are trying to teach our children about the sacrifices public servants make for our family and our freedom,” Leah says.

After President Bush’s death, the pair talked to their children about the man’s contributions to our country. President Bush flew for the U.S. Navy in World War II and served in a number of elected and appointed offices, culminating in his jobs as vice president and president.

Experiencing citizenship

Living near Washington, D.C., means the Sochas can do more than just teach their children about citizenship. They can help them experience it.

“As adults, we can get numb to their significance,” Leah says of these moments in history. “I think it is important for us, as parents, to take advantage of chances to teach our children about history, civics and the opportunities that exist for them to participate.”

Their son Eliot, photographed by a Washington Post journalist in one of the day’s defining photos, seems to grasp the gravity of the moment.

Eliot says he saluted “to show respect and to set a good example for other people.”

“He was a great leader, and he put people before himself,” Eliot says. “Like being in the military and being president. He didn’t have to do it, but he chose to.”

Troop 1717 stands outside the U.S. Capitol early Tuesday morning.
Troop 1717 stands outside the U.S. Capitol early Tuesday morning.

Troop 1717’s early morning visit

At Troop 1717’s regular troop meeting on Monday night, the youth leaders started talking with some of the adults about sending a delegation to the Capitol to honor President Bush.

The only problem: They’d need to leave that night.

“There was never a question of not going,” says Senior Patrol Leader Ben Motta. “The only question was of how large of a delegation we could send on such short notice.”

After a discussion, Ben and his fellow Boy Scouts agreed “that duty to country means to have respect and loyalty for whoever holds the office of president, no matter their politics or policies. I think it was that idea that led us to leave so soon.”

Troop 1717's visit was captured by C-SPAN cameras.
Troop 1717’s visit was captured by C-SPAN cameras.

11:30 p.m. on a school night

And that’s how, at 11:30 p.m. on Monday — a school night — a group of six Boy Scouts and five adult leaders met to head toward the Capitol.

The late-night departure had a practical explanation, Ben tells me. It’s easier to get to the Capitol and find a parking spot after the subways close and street parking rules expire.

“We also thought it would be a more personal experience to be in the rotunda with the president if there were fewer people present,” he says.

After waiting in line for about 45 minutes, Troop 1717 stepped inside.

“It was an extremely somber experience,” Ben says. “You see such things on TV and on the internet, but it’s very different to be there in person, and to stand next to the casket of a president. You could sense you were in a place, a single room, that, in that moment, was the focus of America.”

Like Eliot and his parents, the members of Troop 1717 quickly deflect the focus away from themselves and onto President Bush.

“It was impressive to stand next to the president’s casket and think of all that he had accomplished throughout his life in the service of others,” Ben says. “I think that his example is one that all Scouts aim to follow.

“I was proud to be there, not just as an American, but as a representative of a movement and an ideology that stresses character, service, and loyalty to God, country and family.”

Troop 1772 Boy Scouts salute George H.W. Bush train.

Troop 1772’s trackside salute

At 2 p.m. Thursday in Pinehurst, Texas, three Boy Scouts saluted the train carrying President George H.W. Bush to his final resting place in Texas.

The Boy Scouts, from left to right, are Rafe Kotalik, Edward Poon, Jarrett Kotalik. They’re members of Troop 1772 of the BSA’s Sam Houston Area Council.

Zane finds a spot to salute the president

Zane Welch of Pack 886, part of the Sam Houston Area Council, asked his parents if they could watch the train pass.

“My husband, who is a federal agent, called a few fellow police officers and found the perfect spot to view the train,” says Zane’s mom, Sherina. “It was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and we were so proud of our son.”

Tiger Scout pays respects

Kaleb Denton, a Tiger in Pack 174 of the Capitol Area Council in Austin, Texas, found a spot to salute the president.

The moments in tweets

The Washington Post used the photo of Eliot on its homepage Tuesday morning. The newspaper also tweeted the photo to its 13 million followers:

A local reporter was there and captured this photo of Troop 1717: