Wednesday, July 23, 2008

The Rebel

I've gotta warn ya that you are dealing with a rebel here, not your typical scout. I was thrown out of the cub scouts once and out of the Boy Scouts twice!

As I recall I entered the Cub Scouts in about 1939. My mother was a den mother and my younger brother and I entered the cubs but I do not recall my older brother being part of the pack. I will have to check some of the old photos to see if he is in any of them. Well, one Saturday the Cub Scout Pack went on a long (probably only five or six miles) hike to the South Orange Reservation. At that time the family lived in Irvington, New Jersey. It just so happened that almost every Saturday my mother would take the three of us boys on a long walk, often as far as the reservation, so this cub scout hike was no big deal for my brother and me. Well, as the day progressed the cub master got worn out and decided that we would all take the bus back to Irvington. I refused, saying that I did not have the nickel for the bus fare. The cub master said he would loan me the money but I still refused saying that I did not want to spend my money on the bus when I could walk home. Mind you, this was the depression when a nickel would buy you a loaf of bread and our family did not have that many nickels. Well, the cub master finally had enough of my stubbornness and yelled "Go ahead and walk home but don't bother coming back to the pack. You are out!" My mother had other ideas and after a confrontation with the cub master I was back in.

In 1941 the family moved to Manasquan, New Jersey and when old enough I joined Boy Scout Troop 59. It was in that troop that I went through the ranks up to Life Scout. I earned 35 merit badges, eventually became a patrol leader and finally Assistant Scoutmaster. Our troop often went camping on weekends at the Allaire Scout Camp. We would all gather on Friday afternoon at the scout cabin and load up the scoutmaster's truck and head off to the camp. Well at one troop meeting I made the suggestion that going by truck was not a good way to learn camping skills. I suggested that we meet at the troop cabin and then hike to the camp with all our gear on our backs. That way we would learn what was most important to take, what we could do without, how to plan for a longer trip, etc. I think I said something to the effect that this troop would take the truck to the bathroom if we could figure out how to get it up the hall way. As you can imagine, the scoutmaster got riled up at this and said that if I did not like the way he ran the troop I could go off I went and registered as a Lone Explorer Scout.

If you are looking for photos of scouting in Monmouth County back in the 1940's call Bill Gregory of Gregory and Son's Florist in Manasquan. (if he is still alive). He is the son of the former scoutmaster of Troop 59. When I visited Manasquan about five or six years (or more?) ago I stopped in to see him at the florist and he commented that he had a mass of old photos up in the attic that he inherited from his dad. He had been looking through some of them and found lots of photos of me in the pack. You might also contact Sherrill Clark, son of C.B. Clark, former Scout Commissioner for the Monmouth Council, BSA. i do not have any contact information for him. I am sure he must have lots of historical material. He retired from the military and lives somewhere near Seattle, Washington but, I seem to recall him telling me that he is still in contact with the Monmouth Council office so you might have his contact information somewhere. Furthermore he still remained connected with scouting whereas I never formally went back into the movement after my return from Korea although I did help local troops or scout districts from time to time in one capacity or another on a one-day or one event basis.

When I got my job in the Panama Canal Zone with the Inter-American Geodetic Survey (IAGS) I joined the Canal Zone boy scout troop which was made up of boys of US employees in the Canal Zone and of the U.S. military stationed there. I did not get to many meetings as I was constantly working back in the jungles and mountains. For example on one occasion I was taken up the Caribbean coast of Panama in an LCM [Landing Craft Medium] and dropped near the mouth of the Rio Donoso with about 1/2 ton of equipment and my Panamanian helper. I was told that I had four days to get to the top of a certain mountain, set up my lights and show them to crews on other mountains so they could measure the angles between the various peaks in that geodetic arc. I hired a crew of local natives to paddle me up the river in their dug out log and then chop the trail up the mountain to the top where I set up camp. It was the rule of the organization that the observer had to carry the 35 lb. theodolite and not let the natives carry it. On this trip I was not doing the observing but was only a light keeper. Later, when I was the observer, I had to carry the theodolite. It was good exercise!

Anyway, when back in the Canal Zone, if it was troop meeting night I would go. I got the boys interested in going on a jungle trip with me 'back in the bush.' At first the scoutmaster approved of the idea but I guess some of the parents got wind of it and when the kids told them about boa constrictors, coral snakes, tarantulas and other things to look out for they got the scoutmaster to nix the idea. So instead the kids went camping on an army base where our troops set up the tents for the boys, an army cook did the cooking and the scouts hiked on improved roads cut in the jungle and not on native trails. They even had a real American Indian, complete with an eagle feather headdress, imported from the U.S. to add color to the event, tell stories and show Indian dances. There was no need for the kids to go on trails in the jungle with members of the local tribes. I was shocked! But, of course, that was also the time when the US authorities in the Canal Zone had separate toilets for US citizens and for Panamians... institutional racism at it's worst. But before we throw stones we should also remember that in those days Monmouth Council had racially segregated troops. The Blacks (colored kids we called them) had their own troops and did not join white troops. Do any of you guys remember those days? I was asked if I would be willing to serve as Assistant Scoutmaster of a struggling Black troop in Brielle but my dad said he would kill those n*&$%#! if I ever brought one of them around the house. Ah, yes, good old White Christian Boy Scouts. Things have changed somewhat, haven't they? Or maybe they haven't. You don't have any racially segregated troops any more do you?

Back to the Canal Zone scout troop. When I decided to quit my job and go back to New Jersey to start school at Rutgers University I made the decision to go back in time to attend the 1950 Boy Scout Jamboree. I contacted the scoutmaster in Balboa, CZ, and asked him to register me as a member of the Canal Zone contingent. I was then working in the mountains between Guatemala City and the Peten jungle. I was informed that I was no longer considered a member of that scout troop, that I was gone too much of the time. So I was out of scouting again. I then wrote to Art McKinney, International Commissioner of the BSA, and asked if I could attend the jamboree as a Lone Scout since that was the status I had when I left for South America with my bicycle a year and a half earlier. He refused me permission to attend the jamboree since I was no longer affiliated with any scout troop and had not yet registered as a Lone Scout with any scout district office. As I noted in a previous letter, I went anyway and snuk in as a 'wetback' [an illegal immigrant from south of the border].

Since I have been chattering here about my working with the IAGS I might as well tell you how scouting got me that job. My bike broke down in Guatemala in about March of 1948 so I sold it and continued on my way by car, bus, truck and airplane. I finally arrived in David, Panama [near the border with Costa Rica] with thirteen dollars left in my pocket. I was hitch-hiking my way to the Canal Zone where I hoped to get a job when I was picked up by an American army officer in a jeep. He asked where I was going, what I was doing, etc. When he found out that I had been camping, exploring caves [spelunking] and mountain climbing with Boy Scouts in various countries he asked if I knew any trigonometry. I told him I got an "A" in the subject in High School. He thereupon offered me a job with the Inter-American Geodetic Survey as a light keeper, hopping from one mountain top to another all across Panama. He explained that the IAGS was hiring graduate engineers from Johns Hopkins, Cornell, Rutgers and other schools but after two weeks on the job the guys would head back for the safety and security of the 'States. They had engineering skills but lacked outdoor living skills. He felt that given my camping and outdoor living skills that I would have no trouble going back into the bush by horseback, log canoes or foot, climbing the appointed mountain and being isolated on mountain tops for a week or two at a time. He assured me that I would soon learn enough engineering skills to move up the ladder in the organization. Which I did.

When I left the organization I was then 19 years old and Chief of Party for surveying the first order triangulation arc from Guatemala City to the Peten jungle north of Coban. Often times I would have a crew of ten to twenty Mayan Indians working for me, clearing the lines of sight so the observer with the theodolite could "see" the other peaks in the arc. On occasion, if I needed manual labor and the local natives were working their fields, the local alcalde (mayor) would empty the jail of all prisoners and hire them out to me.

On one occasion a group of 20 or so Mayan Indians I had working for me went on strike. I was paying them 25 cents a day for their labor and they wanted 50 cents. Well, since a quart bottle of beer was worth 25 cents I had no problem paying them the price of two bottles of beer for a day's labor. That pay lasted only two days when a Guatemalan soldier came to where I was working and told me the Governor of the province wanted to see me. I went with him to the provincial capital where the Governor informed me that the prevailing wage for day labor was 25 cents a day and that I would pay it or leave the area. He did not add 'alive' but I knew what he meant. The local hacendados and coffee plantation owners called it 'economic stability' to produce an export crop for the international market. I called it 'economic slavery.' But they had the guns and not the Indians. The wage was put back down to 25 cents a day and the governor provided me with an armed guard to make sure the natives continued working and did not give me any trouble. I wonder what kind of a merit badge would have prepared me for that experience?

,nuf for now.

George F. Drake

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