Late in the afternoon on Sept. 21, 1938, Carl Langenbacher, Skipper of the Sea Scout Flagship Dauntless out of Noank, Conn., was a nervous wreck. On a business trip in New York State, Langenbacher began hearing news reports of a terrible storm touching down in Noank, where his wife, infant daughter, and 12-year-old Sea Scout son lived in a house just a couple hundred feet from the high-tide line.
Unable to reach his family, Langenbacher did the only thing you could do in 1938: He drove home.
“All that night, I shoved through high water, sawed trees,” Langenbacher wrote in a letter that appeared in the January 1939 issue of Scouting magazine. “By morning I knew that this was more than a bad storm; it was a hurricane, mighty nature on the loose, with murder and destruction in her eyes.”
The unnamed hurricane (the World Meteorological Organization didn’t start naming storms until the 1950s) reached max sustained winds of around 120 miles per hour, with gusts up to 186. Vehicles were crushed. Trees were toppled. Power lines were down. Structures were damaged.
Langenbacher knew right away that the authorities would be overwhelmed. To make it through this, they would need the help of ordinary citizens.
“If only I could have been there,” Langenbacher wrote. “The Dauntless men would have been out; helping where they could, doing a Scout’s job in a Scout’s way; practicing what I had always preached: service.”
But Langenbacher, it turns out, was wrong. Working with local authorities, the Sea Scouts of the Dauntless knew exactly what to do, even with their skipper a whole state away.
They didn’t know it at the time, but they were about to become the subjects of the first Scouts in Action comic in Boys’ Life (now Scout Life) magazine.
Stories About Heroes
Boys’ Life had long been in the business of telling heroic stories of Scouts providing emergency aid. But it wasn’t until 1947 that those stories came to life with a comic book-style illustration under the title of Scouts in Action.
The magazine credited that first Scouts in Action to Bob Brent and Fred Kida.
Kida, who died in 2014 at the age of 93, was a prolific artist, and would eventually go on to produce work for such titles as Flash Gordon, Luke Cage, Iron Man, Captain America and Spider-Man.
Brent, by all accounts, was not a real person. Most comic historians believe his real name was Robert Bernstein. Bernstein (as Brent) and Kida would team up many times over the next few decades, both in and out of Boys’ Life.
For the first Scouts in Action, Brent, Kida and the BL staff elected to illustrate Langenbacher’s story from eight years earlier in Scouting magazine.
On a late summer evening some years ago … near the port of Noank, Connecticut —
And so begins the tale of Langenbacher making it back home to find his wife and kids safe, and members of his Sea Scouts ship volunteering under the direction of local authorities to help where needed as the town recovered in the aftermath of the storm.
“What’s the gash in your head, son?” Langenbacher asks.
“Nothin’, pop — I mean, skipper,” his son replies. “A window was headin’ for sis, and I sorta grabbed it!”
Sea Scouts Lloyd and Ken stood guard at Langenbacher’s house, “keeping the hurricane out.”
“Every man’s on patrol, sir, guarding homes,” reports another Sea Scout.
“And so it went — this spectacular tale of Sea Scout courage!” wrote Brent. “Sea Scouts standing duty at the fire alarm boxes for days! Distributing hundreds of telegrams! Rescuing the injured.”
Langenbacher, who would later write the 6th edition of the official Sea Scout manual, was understandably proud.
“I was afraid you Scouts would be hog-tied without my leadership,” the skipper says in the comic’s final frame. “But I was dead wrong! I learned that leadership takes care of itself, because Scouting is leadership!”
In the 75 years that have followed, the writers and artists have changed, but the overall spirit of Scouts in Action has not.
In the 1950s, the comic began featuring only Scouts who earned one of the BSA’s lifesaving medals.
In the September 1952 issue, Scouts in Action was included in Boys’ Life’s brand-new color section. In December 1952, the feature became known as “A True Story of Scouts in Action.”
In July 1976, the first woman was featuring in Scouts in Action, known as Explorers in Action for this issue.
And in 2007, the BL editors decided the only thing better than Scouts in Action would be More Scouts in Action.
Canadian illustrator Grant Miehm took over the Scouts in Action mantle in June 2000 and has been hard at work on it ever since.
“A lot of things make me believe in miracles,” says Miehm. “Miracles arrive in many ways, and they often sneak up on us in the best way. They bring the unexpected, just as they did one day back in late 1999, when I got a call asking me if I wanted to be involved in producing the Scouts in Action feature for the magazine.”
Miehm, who earned his Artist Badge as a member of the Scouts Canada Cub Scouts program, calls the May 2019 episode the favorite of his time as the main creative force behind Scouts in Action. But, he adds, he’s been inspired in some way by every one he’s done.
“Scouts in Action is more than just an assignment in the life of this illustrator,” he says. “It’s become a calling … one that exposes me every month to the accounts of Scouts who give their absolute best to genuinely help others in need.
“It’s often humbling and always inspiring to read about their bravery, courage and selflessness in the face of what is often absolute danger as I prepare each page. It’s been the greatest honor of my career as an artist, to have been involved in chronicling their exploits.”