Here are the two people who earned the BSA’s highest award for lifesaving in 2023

Kristian Rau (left) and Joseph Pope

The BSA’s Honor Medal with Crossed Palms is the highest award for lifesaving offered by the BSA and among the rarest honors the BSA issues of any kind.

It is awarded only in exceptional cases — when a registered youth or adult demonstrates unusual heroism and extraordinary skill or resourcefulness in saving or attempting to save a life at extreme risk to themselves.

Only two Honor Medals with Crossed Palms were awarded in 2023, and both incidents illustrate how Scouting prepares young people to keep their calm and respond appropriately in even the most stressful situations.

Here are the two Honor Medal with Crossed Palms recipients for 2023.

Joseph Pope, an Eagle Scout from Troop 10 and Venturing Crew 553 in Columbia, South Carolina

Pope, a 21-year-old junior at Clemson University at the time of the incident, was riding in his roommate’s truck late at night when they came across a car on the side of the road with smoke coming from the hood.

Pope ran to the car to see if anyone was trapped inside. The door would not open, and with his view of the interior obscured due to the smoke, he couldn’t tell if anyone was in there … until he heard a faint cry.

Thankfully, his roommate, Charles Segars, had a hammer in his truck. Pope used the hammer to break open the driver’s window, and the two of them removed the badly injured driver from the car.

The man, barely conscious, told Segars and Pope that there was another person in the car, so the two ran back to find them.

At this point, the car was becoming engulfed in flames.

Pope found a badly injured woman on the passenger seat, but the passenger door was too damaged and would not open. Segars and Pope used their combined strength to force the door open, and another passerby helped them move the woman to safety.

First responders arrived soon after and took control of the scene. Both people in the car survived, thanks mostly to the actions of Pope and Segars.

“I really learned to stay calm and problem solve in a stressful situation through the BSA lifeguard training and working as a summer camp lifeguard,” Pope says. “I really learned how to think, plan and react quickly to a changing situation where someone may be in danger, and you have the ability to help.”

Kristian Rau, from Troop 623 in Montgomery, Texas

Kristian, a 14-year-old junior high school student at the time of the incident, was sitting in gym class with a friend (who was also a Scout) when they heard one of their fellow students screaming in fear. They looked and saw another student threatening someone with one half of a pair of scissors that had been separated in two and was being used as a knife.

Kristian ran to help as his friend ran to alert an adult.

By the time Kristian got to the scene of the incident, the student with the scissors had chased the other student into a storage closet and was holding them down and preparing to strike.

As other students looked on in fear, Kristian jumped in and grabbed the student’s arm, stopping the attack and allowing the other student to escape to safety.

Kristian and other students were able to keep the student with scissors in the closet until help arrived.

When presented with his Honor Medal with Crossed Palms, it was noted that Kristian really saved two people that day: the boy who was under attack, and also the other boy, who almost made a huge mistake that would have followed him the rest of his life.

“When my friend and I were sitting in the bleachers, we saw the dispute evolving,” Kristian says. “We decided that if it became serious, we would intervene. It did become serious, so I ran to intervene directly while my friend ran to get help.”

Kristian is now a Life Scout, working hard to earn the rank of Eagle.

What are the BSA lifesaving and meritorious action awards?

The BSA’s lifesaving and meritorious action awards program is designed to recognize youth and adults who have performed an attempt to save a life, or to recognize notable acts of service that put into practice Scouting skills or ideals.

There are three lifesaving awards that can only be approved by the National Council’s Court of Honor:

  • The Heroism Award may be awarded to a youth member or adult leader who has demonstrated heroism and skill in saving or attempting to save life at more than minimal personal risk to self.
  • The Honor Medal may be awarded to a youth member or adult leader who has demonstrated unusual heroism and skill in saving or attempting to save life at considerable risk to self.
  • The Honor Medal with Crossed Palms may be awarded in exceptional cases to a youth member or adult leader who has demonstrated unusual heroism and extraordinary skill or resourcefulness in saving or attempting to save life at extreme risk to self.

Click here to learn how to nominate a Scout or Scouter for a BSA lifesaving award.

About Aaron Derr 468 Articles
Aaron Derr is the senior editor of Scout Life and Scouting magazines, and also a former Cubmaster and Scouts BSA volunteer.