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Scouts and presidential inaugurations have a long, fascinating past

scouts-at-inaugurations

Woodrow Wilson’s inauguration used Scouts to provide first aid. Franklin D. Roosevelt requested Eagle Scouts for his personal honor guard.

Ronald Reagan’s team invited two Boy Scouts inside on the coldest Inauguration Day ever, and Bill Clinton’s team picked an Eagle Scout to lead the Pledge of Allegiance.

For more than 100 years, Boy Scouts and Explorers have performed a patriotic duty at presidential inaugurations.

I scoured newspapers and the archives of Scouting magazine (which you can do as well, in our new app). What I found was that Scouts have served at every inauguration celebration since 1913 — the first swearing-in after the BSA was founded. This doesn’t include unusual inaugurations like those held immediately after a president’s death.

“Boy Scouts and the Army have been the only two uniformed honor guards at every inauguration since 1913,” says P-B, a Washington, D.C.-based Scout historian who goes that two-letter name.

P-B tells me he has personally been at every inauguration since 1973, helping the Scout volunteers perform their patriotic service.

Here’s a look back at Scout involvement at inaugurations from 1913 to 2017.

March 4, 1913 (Woodrow Wilson): Scouts to the rescueMarch 4, 1913 (Woodrow Wilson): Scouts to the rescue

As de facto first responders at the 1913 inauguration, about 1,500 Boy Scouts provided medical aid while waiting for trained professionals to arrive.

A D.C. boy, Leroy Harris, took charge when “he found an exhausted mother with an ill baby on the afternoon of March 4.”

“The Scout took the baby and its mother into an office on the avenue and, after examining the baby, found it suffering with colic. He procured a box of mustard, and, mixing it with hot water on a handkerchief, made a mustard plaster, which he placed on the child’s stomach.”

1917-inauguration-scoutsMarch 5, 1917 (Woodrow Wilson): Wilson says thanks

In 1917, the BSA called on 5,000 Scouts — more than triple the number from four years earlier — to assist at Wilson’s second inauguration.

The Scouts were asked to “assist the police, render first aid, call ambulances and act as guides.”

And they did just that. Scouts helped in at least three cases: two of women fainting and another of a 7- or 8-year-old boy who “was taken ill” at the event.

warren-g-harding-and-scouts-1921March 4, 1921 (Warren G. Harding): Boys from all 48 states

For Warren G. Harding’s inauguration, Scouts traveled to our nation’s capital to assist the Washington Council. Scouts had to pay their own transportation costs, but once there they were “entertained in the homes of Scouts … not quartered in armories or barracks.”

President-elect Harding “expressed the hope that there will be boys present from every state in the union.”

The Boy Scout Band of Washington performed at the event, playing almost continuously from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.

1923 - CoolidgeAug. 3, 1923 (Calvin Coolidge): Moving into White House

One day after the death of Harding, Coolidge took the presidential oath. There was, of course, no grandiose inauguration ceremony, but there was a Scouting connection.

Both of Coolidge’s sons were Scouts. In 1923, Coolidge wrote that “my observation of the benefits they have derived from their affiliation has strengthened my conviction of the organization’s usefulness.”

Even though John and Calvin Jr. were now “first boys of the land,” they were still “just reg’ler fellers,” Boys’ Life assured readers.

1925 - CoolidgeMarch 4, 1925 (Calvin Coolidge): Richmond Scouts march

Between 100 and 200 Scouts from Richmond, Va., were among the Scouts marching in what was a shorter, more subdued inaugural parade.

Twenty-four Boy Scouts and two leaders from Charleroi, Pa., watched the festivities from the crowd.

The Charleroi boys raised almost all the funds for the trip by putting put on a minstrel show.

1929 - HooverMarch 4, 1929 (Herbert Hoover): Flag-bearing Eagle Scouts do their part

Carrying the U.S. flag and the flag of the BSA National Council, 30 Eagle Scouts from Washington and nearby councils marched in the inauguration parade.

Other Scouts served as the honor guard and along the parade route.

This was the first inauguration recorded on newsreel with sound.

fdr-april-1933-scouting-magazineMarch 4, 1933 (Franklin D. Roosevelt): Personal aides to the president

More than 2,000 Scouts took part in the inauguration of Roosevelt.

FDR had been connected to Scouting for 12 years before taking office. He was one of the founders and the first president of the Boy Scout Foundation of Greater New York.

So it was no surprise that Roosevelt personally requested that Scouts be “given a definite part in the inaugural ceremonies.”

Four Eagle Scouts served as personal aides to the president. Another 235 Eagle Scouts, plus 16 Sea Scouts, stood nearby as he was sworn in.

“Scouters who were listening to the radio announcements no doubt heard frequent references to this splendid group,” according to Scouting magazine.

And then there was one boy who served at a post on the White House grounds, near the entrance to the kitchen. His job was to stay there until relieved.

After the ceremonies, a woman approached the Scout and invited him inside for some ice cream.

“Sorry, ma’am, I can’t leave my post,” he told her.

“You can’t?”

“No, ma’am.”

“Well, then, I suppose you go on in and have some ice cream, and I’ll stand out here and watch your post for you.”

“Well,” the Scout said. “I — I guess that might be OK.”

And so the Scout went in for some ice cream, and Eleanor Roosevelt stood in his spot until he returned.

1937 - FDRJan. 20, 1937 (Franklin D. Roosevelt): The Guard of Honor returns

Once again, FDR asked for four Eagle Scouts to serve as his personal Guard of Honor.

Young men from Washington, Baltimore and Richmond served that role.

Other Eagle Scouts stood in front of the White House from 15th to 17th streets. Nine hundred more Scouts were ushers and handled crowd control along the parade route.

1941 - FDRJan. 20, 1941 (Franklin D. Roosevelt): Scouts treat frozen spectators

As 500,000 people gathered for FDR’s third inauguration, “the cold weather caused much suffering.

Red Cross booths treated many attendees for shock and exposure.

“Boy Scouts circulated through the crowds, spotting cases of distress for stretcher bearers,” Scouting magazine wrote.

1945 - FDRJan. 20, 1945 (Franklin D. Roosevelt): A nation at war

Because of the war, FDR’s fourth inauguration was much more subdued.

Though 7,000 guests attended the ceremony on the White House lawn, the parade and many of the inauguration festivities were canceled.

Scouts did serve at that event, albeit in a smaller capacity.

1945 - TrumanApril 12, 1945 (Harry S. Truman): Truman assumes presidency

On the day of FDR’s death — April 12, 1945 — Harry S. Truman’s first inauguration was held inside the White House.

Truman had just adjourned a U.S. Senate session when he learned the news of Roosevelt’s death earlier in the day.

1949 - TrumanJan. 20, 1949 (Harry S. Truman): Scouts salute president

At Truman’s second inauguration, Scouts were present along the parade route and as members of the honor guard.

One of the volunteers was Jim Upp, then a 16-year-old Eagle Scout.

This was still before the days of tight security, so Upp and his fellow Scouts — not armed policemen — lined the parade route to keep the masses at bay.

Scouts were asked to remove their coats when the motorcade approached so the dignitaries could see their Scout uniforms.

“We saluted as the president’s vehicle passed by,” Upp said. “I also remember it was very cold.”

1953-eisenhower-inaugurationJan. 20, 1953 (Dwight D. Eisenhower): Ike gets ‘started off right’

The 1953 inauguration offers one of the most sweeping examples of Scout service.

A thousand Scouts and a thousand Explorers from the National Capital Area Council served at the festivities for Eisenhower, who had been a member of the BSA’s Executive Board since the war. Scout Historian P-B guesses the real number was twice that.

A dozen Explorers and three Scouts were aides to the president on the reviewing stand. Some 600 Scouts and Explorers, each carrying an American flag, marched in the parade down Pennsylvania Avenue. Others served as crowd control, ushers, ticket takers, stretcher-bearers, messengers, lost and found center volunteers, and food servers.

That night, Explorers served as doormen and ushers at the inaugural concert, festival and balls.

One tired Explorer said, “Well, I guess we got President Ike started off right.”

Scouts march at the 1957 inauguration.Jan. 20, 1957 (Dwight D. Eisenhower): Scouts form drum and bugle corps

An Eagle Scout from the National Capital Area Council stood with Eisenhower throughout the inauguration ceremony.

A Scout drum and bugle corps, pictured here, marched in the inaugural parade, as did a massive contingent of Scouts carrying American flags.

Once again, Scouts and Explorers lined the parade route and stood nearby as members of an honor guard.

1961 inaugurationJan. 20, 1961 (John F. Kennedy): A future director’s first big break

Among the Boy Scouts who helped seat dignitaries at Kennedy’s inauguration was David Lynch. Lynch, who was celebrating his 14th birthday that day, became an Eagle Scout less than two years later (Nov. 13, 1962) in Alexandria, Va.

Movie buffs know Lynch as the surrealist director behind films like The Elephant Man and the TV show Twin Peaks.

Other Scouts served in the honor guard, marched in the parade and directed guests to their seats.

1963 - LBJNov. 22, 1963 (Lyndon B. Johnson): Johnson takes oath on Air Force One

Johnson assumed the presidency on the day of Kennedy’s assassination.

It was the only time the presidential oath was administered on an airplane, with Johnson being sworn in on Air Force One at Dallas Love Field.

Jan. 20, 1965 (Lyndon B. Johnson): BSA’s (and IBM’s) president takes his seat

In addition to the 2,000 Boy Scouts and Explorers serving as ushers, ticket takers, messengers, aides and honor guards, a top BSA volunteer sat in the presidential box for the inaugural parade.

Thomas J. Watson Jr., who was halfway into his two-year term as BSA national president, was one of Johnson’s personal guests.

Watson was the president of IBM at the time. In 1964, Watson received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from Johnson, whom the president called “the greatest capitalist in history.”

1969 - NixonJan. 20, 1969 (Richard Nixon): A climate of conflict

It was a different atmosphere at the 1969 inauguration, where some parade-goers were upset about U.S. involvement in Vietnam.

Patriotic Boy Scouts distributed small American flags to everyone along the parade route. A few dozen demonstrators burned those flags.

Several Eagle Scouts from the D.C. area served as ushers. Among them was the son of El Paso, Texas, Congressman Richard White.

Rod White, 17, was stationed near the inaugural platform — another of the “many fine opportunities” afforded to him because of Scouting, his mother said.

1973 - NixonJan. 20, 1973 (Richard Nixon): N.Y. Eagle Scouts get prime post

Five Eagle Scouts from the Tioughnioga Council (now the Baden-Powell Council) of Cortland County, N.Y., were among the Scouts serving as ushers in 1973. Their post was in the VIP reviewing stand, located across from the president’s reviewing stand.

That meant the Scouts likely were seen on national TV throughout the day.

Each Eagle Scout paid his own way to D.C. and stayed in the home of a fellow member of the National Eagle Scout Association.

1974 - FordAug. 9, 1974 (Gerald Ford): Eagle Scout becomes president

Ford’s inauguration was held inside the White House, an understandably quiet affair in the wake of Nixon’s resignation.

But an Eagle Scout was most definitely present at the swearing-in ceremony. Gerald Ford is, to date, our only Eagle Scout president.

In December 1974, while president of the U.S., Ford spoke at the Boy Scouts’ Annual Awards Dinner. He told the crowd that “our goal ought to be, or should be, more Boy Scouts in government, not less.”

1977 - CarterJan. 20, 1977 (Jimmy Carter)

P-B was there in 1977 when Scouts served at the Carter inauguration.

It was a more subdued event, he says, especially compared to earlier (and later) inaugurations.

“There wasn’t a lot of fanfare, and that was kind of disappointing,” he says.

This inauguration saw many more Girl Scouts join the celebration with Boy Scouts, a tradition that started four years earlier and continues today.

1981 - ReaganJan. 20, 1981 (Ronald Reagan): In front of White House

Among the thousands of Scout volunteers were 100 Eagle Scouts from Maryland — all wearing their full uniforms — who were selected to open car doors, serve as ushers and collect tickets at inauguration festivities.

The Scouts were positioned right in front of the White House — “the best place to see the parade,” 16-year-old Craig Rudy said.

At a special concert at the Lincoln Memorial, Boy Scouts were asked to help seat the guests. The Scouts also distributed 10,000 Maglites featuring the president’s name, P-B says.

1985 - ReaganJan. 21, 1985 (Ronald Reagan): In from the cold

The coldest Inauguration Day on record, with daytime temps around 7 degrees, forced planners to move everything inside and cancel the parade. Reagan took the oath inside the Rotunda of the U.S. Capitol.

The weather threatened to end the streak of BSA participation at inaugurations, but Reagan’s team stepped in.

Officials brought two Boy Scouts into the Rotunda to witness the ceremony. One of them was Andy Hall, P-B’s senior patrol leader and an Eagle Scout from Troop 666 of Washington, D.C.

“They wanted to continue the tradition of having Scouts serve at every inauguration,” P-B says.

1989 - BushJan. 20, 1989 (George H.W. Bush): Crowd control

Among the inauguration roles for Boy Scouts in 1989: helping control the crowds at an inaugural ball.

The main ballroom of the Washington Hilton was so crowded with Ohioans that police had to be summoned to assist the Boy Scouts working the doors.

After Bush left the party, the crowd thinned considerably.

1993 - ClintonJan. 20, 1993 (Bill Clinton): Checking tickets

The Scout volunteers in 1993 included Dominick Cerminaro from Troop 278 of Braddock Heights, Md., who had a spot along Pennsylvania Avenue for the inaugural parade.

Dominick and fellow Scouts checked tickets and ushered people into the grandstands to watch the proceedings.

1997 inauguration ScoutsJan. 20, 1997 (Bill Clinton): Eagle Scout leads the Pledge

Before Clinton’s second inauguration, Eagle Scout David Morales of Boy Scout Troop 152 of Vienna, Va., led the Pledge of Allegiance.

This marked the first time the Pledge had been part of an inauguration.

In addition to Morales’ prominent role, Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts greeted guests and distributed ceremony programs as attendees arrived on the Capitol grounds.

2001 - BushJan. 20, 2001 (George W. Bush): ‘Run of the place’

About 2,000 Boy and Girl Scouts from the D.C. area took tickets and guided people to their seats along the parade route.

Additionally, Troop 371 of Frederick, Md., served as assistants to Bush’s parade platform committee. The Scouts carried boxes of papers to the Capitol, distributed 10,000 parade guides to the media and completed other errands as needed.

“We pretty much had the run of the place,” Scoutmaster Jim Eaton said.

2005 - BushJan. 20, 2005 (George W. Bush): Showing the way

At the second inauguration for George W. Bush, Scouts again helped direct parade-goers and invited guests. Some served as honor guards and marched in the parade.

That summer, Bush attended the national Scout jamboree.

As the sun set, the president delivered these remarks.

2009 - ObamaJan. 20, 2009 (Barack Obama): Philadelphia troop picked to march

Boy Scout Troop 358 from Germantown, Pa., was selected from more than 1,400 troops that applied to ride on a float in the inaugural parade.

Additional Scouts volunteered along the parade route and at other inauguration events.

Troop 358 2013 inaugurationJan. 21, 2013 (Barack Obama): Philly troop makes return visit

Once again, Troop 358 (pictured here) was asked to march in the parade as Obama was sworn in for a second time.

While Troop 358 marched, 750 Scouts from across the country kept order along the parade route.

Others served as ushers or merely watched the proceedings.

2017 inauguration National Capital Area Council patchJan. 20, 2017 (Donald J. Trump): D.C. area Scouts carry flags

The National Capital Area Council, based in D.C., plans to send 76 Eagle Scouts to the parade as part of the honor corps. F

ifty-six youth will carry 56 flags: the flags of the 50 U.S. states, D.C., and the five U.S. territories. Two Scouts will carry a banner identifying the group.

In addition to being Eagle Scouts, most of the participants are members of the Amangamek-Wipit Lodge of the Order of the Arrow.

Sources

  • Scouting magazine: Aug. 15, 1913; March 15, 1917; Dec. 23, 1920; April 1933; April 1953; December 1955; March 1957
  • Boys’ Life magazine: May 1921, October 1923, May 1929, July 1997
  • Danville (Va.) Bee: March 3, 1925
  • Charleroi (Pa.) Mail: Feb. 28, 1925
  • The New York Times: Jan. 21, 1941; Jan. 21, 1969
  • Connection Newspapers
  • El Paso Herald Post: Jan. 3, 1969
  • Syracuse Post Standard: Jan. 17, 1973
  • Frederick (Md.) News Post: Jan. 19, 1981; Jan. 21, 1993; Jan. 23, 2001
  • Chicago Tribune: Jan. 22, 1985
  • Associated Press: Jan. 16, 1985;  Jan. 21, 1989; Jan. 21, 2001
  • Washington Post: Jan. 20, 2005
  • WNEP-TV: Jan. 21, 2013
  • P-B, Scout Historian

Scouts and presidential inaugurations have a long, fascinating past

Post expires on Tuesday February 21st, 2017

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