- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Eagle award

held for hooky

57 years ago

SUFFOLK, Va. — Vann Johnson has always been possessed by a dogged determination.

When he joined the Boy Scouts at 12, he walked more than five miles to attend the meetings and return to his home on Whitemarsh Road in Suffolk, he says.

As a teenager, he became infatuated with a lovely 16-year-old. More than 50 years later, he married her.

He was the first in his family to graduate from college. It took him seven years, but in 1955, he earned a degree in business from Virginia Tech.

And now, 57 years after he first met the requirements in the summer of 1947, Mr. Johnson is about to receive his Eagle Scout award.

“I can’t tell you what it means,” the 74-year-old said recently. “I just can’t. An Eagle in scouting is like a general in the Army. I earned it, but I never got it.”

In one year — 1946 — Mr. Johnson passed the requirements for 14 merit badges. In the summer of 1947, he went off to Camp Waters, on the James River near Surry, determined to get the final four.

“I was gung-ho,” Mr. Johnson said. “I was a perfect Scout. I volunteered to wash dishes. Every bunk around me was made up perfectly.”

But he made one mistake.

On the Saturday night before the awards ceremony, Mr. Johnson and three other Scouts slipped away from camp to see a friend visiting nearby Scotland Neck, N.C..

Before they got back, the leaders had checked beds.

“We were only gone for an hour,” Mr. Johnson said. “They told us we weren’t getting our awards. It was heartbreaking, like an arrow had pierced my heart.”

He found out later — too late to get his Eagle — that all of the other Scouts who had been away without leave that night eventually got their merit badges.

Mr. Johnson grieved over his loss for years.

Just a few months ago, Mr. Johnson was with a cousin, doing research at the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Bennetts Creek. He saw a man in a Scout uniform.

“I have a wild story I’d like to tell you,” he remembers saying to David Robertson, scoutmaster of the church’s Troop 96.

Mr. Robertson told him: Write it up, bring me your application and I’ll get it in for you.

Mr. Johnson went before the board that reviews applications for the Colonial Virginia Council.

Clutched in his hand, as he stood before the board, Mr. Johnson had his original application, dated July 17, 1947. He had hung onto it all those years.

“We may have done the review for the world’s oldest Eagle Scout,” said Fred Glanville, a longtime local Scout leader, an Eagle Scout himself and a member of the board.

Not quite, according to the national office of the Boy Scouts of America in Irving, Texas.

The national board has looked at applications for Eagle Scouts as old as 90, said Terry C. Lawson, director of advancement. It doesn’t happen often, he said, but every once in a while.

Mr. Johnson had everything the board required. Mr. Glanville has volunteered to be the “voice of the Eagle” part of the ceremony where someone talks about how “we’ve watched you grow and become a man.”

Chuckling, Mr. Glanville said, “I think we may have to change it just a little for Vann.”

The ceremony will take place next month at the Bennetts Creek Ruritan Club, with family, friends and Mr. Johnson’s “best merit badge,” his wife, Liz, standing by. The Johnsons married four years ago.

“He’s persistent,” she said, smiling. “He sets his mind to doing something, and he does it.”



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