For New York City firefighter Rick Gimbl, the simplest gestures had the most profound impact.
On Sept. 11, 2001, Gimbl arrived at ground zero moments after the second tower collapsed. He was there for nearly four days straight, digging through the rubble in search of civilians and fellow firefighters.
During the dark moments that followed, Gimbl, then a district commissioner in the Suffolk County Council, says he felt the Scouting community wrap its arms around him.
“Letters, cards, posters are coming in daily. It lifts me up beyond belief,” Gimbl told Scouting magazine. “Even though it brings a tear to my eyes, it is really soothing to the soul.”
In the days immediately following the attacks of Sept. 11 — and in the two decades since — Scouts have epitomized the Scout Oath’s charge to “help other people at all times” and the Scout Law’s reminders to be helpful, friendly, kind and brave.
Beginning just hours after the attacks, Scouts started asking how they can help — an inspiring gesture seen both in units that met near one of the crash sites and in those thousands of miles away.
Across the country, Cub Scouts, Scouts and Venturers collected supplies, helped displaced families reunite with loved ones and supported first responders.
In the months that followed, they organized blood drives, planned patriotic rallies, and organized events to promote tolerance and understanding among Americans from all ethnicities and religious groups.
And in the 20 years since, Scouts have honored the anniversary of 9/11 through displays of patriotism, volunteer service at 9/11 remembrance events and Eagle Scout projects that ensure our communities “Never Forget” what happened on that day.
Here are just some of these Scouting stories.
2001: Logging on to help
Just after the attacks, phone lines were down or overloaded with people trying to check in with loved ones. Twitter and Facebook and iMessage still didn’t exist.
The Boy Scouts of America, with its network of local councils and individual Scout units across the country, saw yet another way to be helpful.
Troops and packs — some prompted by the BSA and some working on their own — emailed members, asking families to check in if they lived or worked near the crash sites. Email became a critical tool to share news about initiatives like blood drives, collection efforts and other ways to help.
Councils and units quickly updated their websites, adding emergency preparedness advice, links to aid groups and tips for parents about how to explain the attacks to their children.
2001: Answering the president’s call
On Oct. 11, 2001, President George W. Bush asked “school classes, Boy [Scout] and Girl Scout troops, and other youth organizations” to raise money to help the children of Afghanistan.
“This is an opportunity to help others, while teaching our own children a valuable lesson about service and character,” he said.
As they have in every global conflict or national tragedy since the First World War, Scouts answered the call.
Troop 761 of Sterling, Va., was one of the first to do so, raising more than $500 in just five days. For this, they were invited to the White House to meet the president.
“The president specifically asked for Scouts to help,” said Troop 761 Scoutmaster Wayne Nielsen. “Need I say more?”
2003: Art, inspired by life
In the spring of 2002, Joseph Csatari approached ground zero, the massive hole in the ground where workers were still clearing debris from the fallen towers.
Csatari was there to do research for his 2003 painting “Prepared to Do a Good Turn,” which would honor the bravery of firefighters and police at ground zero — and the continuing efforts of Scouts to support them.
But as Csatari approached, a police officer stopped him.
“I told the policeman that I had an appointment with a worker, that I was the official Boy Scout artist and I needed to take pictures for a painting I was doing,” Csatari later told Scouting magazine.
The policeman reached for his belt and pulled out a card.
“He showed me his National Eagle Scout Association membership card,” Csatari said. “And after that, we could have anything we wanted.”
For his painting, Csatari used real heroes from 9/11 and its aftermath. The two firefighters and two police officers seen were painted from photographs of four real first responders Csatari met at ground zero.
Even the Scouts seen in the painting were based in reality. The Scout carrying work gloves, for example, was inspired by Cub Scout Pack 677 of Gurnee, Ill., which donated 16 cases of work gloves to the rescue effort.
“I work from real life,” Csatari said. “I’m sort of like a journalist.”
2011: A surge of Scout service
A decade ago, on the attacks’ 10th anniversary, the BSA encouraged packs, troops and crews to complete service projects that would honor those affected by 9/11.
It was called “Scout Surge 9/11.” And once again, Scouts stepped up.
Scout units held flag-retirement ceremonies, assisted local first responders and honored the memory of the thousands of Americans who died on 9/11.
They also held viewing events to watch the movie New York Says Thank You, a film about New Yorkers helping communities rebuild after disasters. One example from the movie: a group of volunteers from New York who traveled to the Little Sioux Scout Ranch in Iowa, a local council camp hit by a tornado in 2008.
“The BSA is committed to improving the lives of young people, families, communities and the nation — with an emphasis on service,” said Jeff Parness, who created the New York Says Thank You Foundation. “New Yorkers will never forget what people all across the United States did for us in the days, weeks and months following 9/11.”
2017: Honoring ‘the man in the red bandanna’
All people remembered was that the man wore a red bandanna — and that he saved their life.
Welles Remy Crowther, who was once a Boy Scout in Troop 2 of Nyack, N.Y., was in the 104th floor of the South Tower when the first plane hit.
Crowther led a group through the smoke to safety, but instead of leaving the building with them, he turned around and climbed back up the stairs. He was looking for more people to rescue.
The body of Crowther, aka the “man in the red bandanna,” was found six months later. It is believed he saved at least 18 people.
Crowther’s story resonated with Christopher Walsh, also a Scout and also from Nyack. In 2017, Walsh completed a stunning Eagle project that honors Crowther’s memory.
2021 and beyond: Share your story
How are your Scouts honoring the memory of Sept. 11? How is your pack, troop or crew ensuring that we Never Forget that day? Please share your comments below.