From the

Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane

Deacon Eric Meisfjord, Editor
P.O. Box 48, Spokane WA 99210
(509) 358-7340; FAX: (509) 358-7302

Scouts’ Gold Medal of Honor is earned by risking life in heroic action

by Father Terence Tully, for the Inland Register

(From the May 24, 2001 edition of the Inland Register)

Most heroes likely are unsung and unknown, but the Boy Scouts of America recognizes a few Scouts each year with the gold Medal of Honor for saving life. It is given to Scouts and Scouters who show heroism, resourcefulness and skill saving or trying to save life at great risk to their own. The medal is pictured and explained in the current Boy Scout Handbook on page 417.

I have seen news stories about three instances of this award and have filed clippings of them. All three happened within or near the Spokane Diocese, which seems to show that acts of Scout heroism in other parts of the country are covered only by their local papers.

Against the current

A May 24, 1997 clipping tells of Scout Nathan Thew, 15, swimming 55 feet into the dangerous currents of the Spokane River to save a 14-year-old pal who had become too tired trying to cross the river. As often happens, the endangered friend grabbed Nathan’s body so tightly that Nathan could not swim and had to pull away and get his friend to relax and allow himself to be tugged to shore. It was not easy because the current was rushing them downstream.

Scout training had made Nathan able to do the rescue. Not only was he an excellent swimmer but he knew how to take command of the situation.

Another factor was that the boys were not swimming alone. They were using the buddy system, keeping an eye on one another.

Ice and gasoline

In a 1992 clipping, Scout Tristan Sunsted was driving to his high school in Sandpoint, Idaho when he saw a truck overturned in a ditch. The driver was pinned under his truck after it had struck a pothole on an icy road. The driver was screaming for help and frantic about the flood of gasoline flowing around him.

Tristan the Scout had arrived about five minutes after the accident occurred and began to use knowledge he had acquired from courses in advanced first aid, lifeguard experience and his five years in Scouting to give the terrified driver first aid and emotional support. Meanwhile other people were arriving and trying to help. With the help of a blanket they were able to pull the driver out of the cab of the truck. An ambulance finally arrived and took him to a hospital to treat his many fractures.

Scout Tristan braved the danger of gasoline explosion and showed leadership in the rescue action. These were among the reasons for granting him the golden Medal of Honor.

A touch of humor

My third clipping about lifesaving has a touch of humor. The teenage girl whose life was saved gave the Scout a handful of lifesavers-mint flavored candies in gratitude for her rescue. But there was nothing funny about the danger she had been in.

The scene was a whirlpool in the swift flowing Salmon River in central Idaho. The girl was one of a large group of teenagers who were rafting down the river when two of the four rafts capsized in rough water and dumped the youth into the froth.

It was a summer day but the water temperature was 40 degrees and the girl was swirled to the other side of the river alone and too tired to swim back.

Meanwhile, Scout Spencer Smith, 15, who seemed to have Tarzan strength, had made it to shore but ran to where he could see the girl floundering. He dove into the water and swam 75 yards upstream and across the current till he reached her. She was showing signs of hypothermia and pleaded: “Don’t let go of me!”

He did not let go. He tugged her out of the eddy to a point where a forest ranger was able to reach them with a rope and pull them to shore.

At considerable risk of his own life Scout Smith was resourceful, brave, and strong enough to qualify for the gold Medal of Honor.

Coming events

Catholic Camporee, Camp Easton on Lake Coeur d’Alene, Saturday, Sept. 8, 2001. For information or registration contact Sam Richart, 5512 N. F St., Spokane, WA 99205; (509) 328-8448.
Bishop’s Recognition Day, Cathedral of Our Lady of Lourdes, 1115 W. Riverside Ave., Spokane. Sunday, Feb. 10, 2002, 2 p.m. Bishop Skylstad will confer religious emblems on Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, and Camp Fire Boys and Girls.

For information on the Diocesan Catholic Committee on Scouting and its activities, contact Father Terence Tully, diocesan Scout chaplain, 221 E. Rockwood Blvd., Apt. 308, Spokane, WA 99202-1200, phone (509) 458-7674; or James Burgen, acting chairperson, Diocesan Catholic Committee on Scouting, 3303 W. 8th Ave., Spokane, WA 99204; pager phone (509) 880-5498. For the National Catholic Committee on Scouting’s web site, click here!

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