It’s heard at somber moments, like the anniversary of 9/11, a funeral for a fallen firefighter or a memorial to soldiers killed in the line of duty.
It’s heard in happier times, too, like Independence Day, Constitution Day and Eagle Scout courts of honor.
All across the Old North State Council in North Carolina, the Honor Bell rings out in sonorous style — an impactful addition to ceremonies where a bugle might not be available or fit the tone of the day.
“You would be surprised how many national events involve ringing bells,” says Mike Matzinger, Troop 600 Scoutmaster and one of the masterminds behind the Honor Bell tradition. “We actually ring the bell at more events than we play the bugle, and we get asked to provide a bell and ringer more than a bugler.”
With respect to brass musicians everywhere, there’s one clear advantage of a bell over a bugle: anyone can play it.
“It does allow every Scout, regardless of their musical talent, to serve,” Matzinger says.
This year alone:
- Troop 600, Troop 8219, Ship 3 and Pack 600 took part in a Patriot Day observance organized by a local town and rang the bell at the time each plane hit.
- Troop 8219 participated in Constitution Week with a chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution, ringing the bell at the exact time the Constitution was finished.
- Ship 3 rang the bell during a memorial service for the 13 service members who died in Afghanistan in August.
- Troop 600, Troop 8219, Ship 3 and Pack 600 rang the bell on Memorial Day at the site where Bugle Boy Gillies was killed.
“The importance of a bell, specifically, is that it creates a solemn environment and provides the reflective atmosphere in order to properly honor the moment,” says Seth Wilder, an Eagle Scout from Troop 600 of Oak Ridge, N.C. “Having to do a physical action like ringing a bell also helps me to have to really think about the meaning of ringing the bell as I do it.”
The Honor Bell is also rung on Veterans Day, at funerals, at ceremonies with Gold Star parents and any other time a bit of ceremonial gravitas is needed.
“When we participate in these ceremonies, the sound of the bell sets the tone and helps us remember the people we honor,” says Dylan Hirko, a Life Scout in Troop 600. “When the bell is rung, it creates a resonating sound that breaks the silence. This sound creates a feeling of sorrow and respect.”
Times of triumph
While the bell adds a note of seriousness to some ceremonies, it can also serve as a ringing reminder to go out and live like Scouts.
In Troop 8219, each meeting ends with 15 tolls of the bell — 12 for each point of the Scout Law and another three for the Scout Oath’s charge to keep oneself “physically strong, mentally awake and morally straight.”
Eagle Scout Selby Chipman is the senior patrol leader of Troop 8219. She says she appreciates the multifaceted power of a bell to underscore a major moment in time.
“Instead of just reciting the Scout Law, we can ring the bell to highlight each part,” she says. “With bell-ringing, we can remember our past, honor people who have made a difference and recognize what Scouting stands for.”
Selby also got to ring the bell after her Eagle Scout court of honor — a tradition in the Old North Council.
“When people hear a bell, they immediately understand there is something important or serious about that moment,” Selby says. “I hope people who see our troop ringing our Honor Bell think we care about what Scouting stands for and the moments that matter most.”
A ringing endorsement
Matzinger believes that other units and councils would benefit from adding an Honor Bell to their ceremonies. He shares these reminders:
- The bell should be used to honor or recognize people and special events — not for skits or everyday occasions like a sporting event.
- The bell draws attention, so Scouts should try to be in full uniform and behave in a way that reflects well on themselves and Scouting.
- The bell can’t replace a bugle for things like playing “Taps” or “Reveille.”
- Local media enjoy including the bell being rung in their TV news packages. If that happens, adults should try to remain invisible, ensuring that Scouts remain the focus of the story.