With its 19 stainless steel statues honoring those who served, the Korean War Veterans Memorial is a place of reverential respite from the noise of Washington.
On Tuesday afternoon, that silence temporarily was replaced by the sounds of gravel being scooped and brooms sweeping polished granite. But the cause of this noise, and its result, made the interruption well worth it.
A group of Scouts, Venturers and adult volunteers representing the BSA’s Report to the Nation delegation participated in a service project at the memorial, completing a Good Turn for the National Park Service and reaffirming a longtime relationship between the two groups.
The two-hour project involved replacing the black gravel that lines the memorial’s main section: a field of 7-foot-tall soldiers walking through juniper meant to symbolize the rice paddies of Korea.
“Those people gave their all, and it’s our duty to give back as much as we can,” said Trevor Burke, an Eagle Scout from Texas. “It’s just our way of saying thank you for your service and sacrifice to our country.”
Service and sacrifice
More than 4 million people visit the Korean War Veterans Memorial each year, and over time the gravel inside the memorial is blown away by wind or scuffed away by feet.
Replacing that gravel is a task that must happen once per year. That’s the only time people who aren’t park rangers or maintenance workers are allowed to step past the memorial’s chain barrier.
“This is an honor and a privilege to work inside the memorial,” said James Pierce, the park ranger overseeing the project. “Not only are you giving back to the National Park Service; you’re giving back to this great nation.”
Pierce knows something about sacrifice. In 2012, while serving as a member of the military police in Afghanistan, he was injured by a suicide bomber. Three members of his company were killed in the attack.
By sharing his story, Pierce deepened the level of respect the delegates demonstrated toward their work.
Pierce distributed gloves, shovels, rakes, wheelbarrows and brooms to the Report to the Nation delegates, who wore yellow “Find Your Park” T-shirts in recognition of the BSA’s support for the park service.
A high-performing team
With no prompting from the adults, the Scouts got to work. They divided into two groups, with one starting on the east side of the memorial and another beginning on the west.
At the northeast corner of the monument, Te’Lario Watkins II, a Webelos Scout from Ohio, showed a commitment to service not found in most 11-year-olds.
“I take the pebbles, and I put them here,” he said, pointing his shovel toward a bare patch of dirt. “The rakers come and get them to smooth it out. The ones I miss, the sweeper gets that.”
The sweeper was Isabella Messer, a Webelos Scout from Maine.
“Instead of everyone doing their own thing, we’re all helping — working together,” she said. “We’re getting it done quickly.”
Chief pebble provider
Back at the truck, the pile of obsidian-colored gravel was beginning to shrink. That’s thanks in large part to the efforts of Michalea Oakes, a Sea Scout from Texas.
“I’m the chief provider of small pebbles,” she said.
Michalea and other Scouts remained stationed at the pile, scooping shovelfuls of gravel into empty wheelbarrows.
“It’s an honor to be out here to do this,” Michalea said. “I thought we’d do a small project, but this is so much bigger. I guess that’s what Scouts are all about.”
Working alongside Michalea was Vionn Welcome, an Eagle Scout from Florida. He echoed Michalea’s sentiment about the significance of the moment.
“It’s an honor to be able to help the memorials in D.C.,” he said. “As much as the history books tell about historical events, national parks provide something that you can see — live.”
A big thanks
As the delegates worked up a sweat in spite of the 45-degree temperature, visitors continued to pass through the memorial. At least a half-dozen took time to thank the Scouts for their efforts.
“Hey, thank you guys for being out here and doing this,” one man said. “That’s awesome.”
A more formal thank you came after the gravel pile had disappeared completely and the entire memorial was swept clean of stones. Erica Austin, representing the park service’s youth programs division, presented each delegate with a Scout Ranger patch.
When she spoke, Austin was talking about more than the delegates’ service on this sunny afternoon in Washington. She was speaking to all Scouts who help beautify our public lands.
“We’re so grateful for your service to our national parks,” she said. “We really couldn’t do it without you.”
As the delegates boarded the bus to leave, Tyler Brackett, an Eagle Scout from Maine, demonstrated the Scouting mentality toward service.
“OK, where’s the next project?” he said. “Let’s go.”
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Photos by Michael Roytek and Randy Piland. See more photos here.