ScoutingJanuary-February 2000

Celebrating a Special Bond

By Cathleen Ann Steg

At the Gettysburg battlefield where the thunder of cannons once shook the ground, Scouts attending the National Deaf Scout Camporee learn about their American heritage while silently sharing their unique Scouting connection.

The first view of the Gettysburg area for Boy Scouts arriving at the 1999 National Deaf Scout Camporee was peaceful. Situated 50 miles northwest of Baltimore in rolling Pennsylvania farmland, the historic countryside bloomed with lush spring greens and pinks for the April 28-to-May 2 event. Hills blended into mist in the distance as the tranquil house and grounds of the Eisenhower National Historic Site, the farm where the late President Dwight D. Eisenhower spent his retirement years, came into view.

A red-winged blackbird flew jauntily past the group, saluting the Scouts by displaying bright red "Boy Scout" epaulets on its wings, then soaring off toward the famous Civil War battlefield nearby.

Full of history

The Scouts also headed for the battlefield and its hiker-friendly Gettysburg Trail, where they retraced the war-weary steps of boys and men who fought in the largest and bloodiest engagement of the Civil War.

Dubbed "The Blue and Gray Camporee," this was the latest edition of a biennial event first held in 1963. Troop 258 of the Maryland School for the Deaf (MSD) played host to Troop 76 of the Indiana School for the Deaf for the five-day camporee, during which the Scouts focused their efforts on the Gettysburg Heritage Trail Patch program.

In earning the patch, Scouts hiked the three-mile Johnny Reb Trail and the nine-mile Billy Yank Trail, visited the Soldiers' National Cemetery where President Abraham Lincoln gave his Gettysburg Address in 1863, and toured the Eisenhower farm.

For Jane Redding, Scoutmaster of Troop 258, the farm had special meaning: In 1950, her great-uncle, Allen Redding, sold the property to Eisenhower, the World War II hero and future President.

"I grew up here in Gettysburg," said Redding, a teacher at MSD in Frederick, Md. "I knew these trails would be ideal for visiting Scouts, because they're so full of history."

The Scouts not only hiked the trails, they also listened to Scouters describe dramatic scenes, such as the 20th Maine Infantry Regiment's desperate defense of the rocky hill known as Little Round Top.

"Imagine what it must have been like," suggested Scouter Hans Weidig, "to have fought here in this battle by day and then have to search the ground at night, looking for your best friend."

But history faced stiff competition from nature. As the adults lectured, the Scouts' attention switched to a big black rat snake slithering among the rocks where the 20th Maine's commander, Col. Joshua L. Chamberlain, ordered his regiment to charge the attacking Confederates. Or the boys focused on a majestic red-tailed hawk swooping through the pink redbud forest.

It was not easy for a lively group of Boy Scouts to experience the solemnity and tragedy of a place that now was so overflowing with life.

A Confederate who signs

If the Civil War wasn't quite real to the boys during their hike, it came to life in the evening with the arrival of MSD teacher and Civil War reenactor Denis Reen. Dressed in a tattered homespun uniform, he assumed the persona of a common Confederate soldier.

"I'm with the 2nd Maryland Regiment," Reen signed to the boys. "Who are you with?"

He cooked his own dinner of bacon and potatoes at the campfire, using authentic utensils and cooking techniques.

"We soldiers always need our coffee," he said as he poured water into a pot. "You need a filter for the coffee, of course," he went on, and then dramatically produced an old gray sock, into which he poured coffee grounds.

"I found this one—on the battlefield," he explained with a gleam in his eye, as he stuffed the sock in boiling water. The boys laughed amidst expressions of disgust, especially when Reen drank the coffee.

Reen's presentation helped the Scouts understand the war on a personal level. After his casual campfire chat, he gave a more formal lecture on the life of the common soldier.

He dressed two Scouts in uniforms he had made himself. Onye Davis of Indiana's Troop 76 wore the high-quality blue wool of the Union; Jared Kingsford of Troop 258 modeled the more rustic Confederate uniform.

Best of all, of course, was Reen's fluency in American Sign Language, the communication used by all the camporee attendees.

"It's neat to have an expert come and do a presentation directly—without needing an interpreter," Scoutmaster Redding said while the boys watched Reen's antics with glee.

Reen, a hearing person, also spoke his presentation, so hearing members and other visitors in the audience could understand him as well.

"The boys were enthralled! Denis was the best thing that happened for the boys," Redding said later.

"His presentation really helped spark them on for their longest day of hiking, the nine-mile Billy Yank Trail they tackled the day after Reen's visit."

Learning Scout skills

The sense of excitement instilled by Reen's visit continued as the boys spent a day working on Scout skills at their base camp, the York-Adams Area Council's Camp Tuckahoe, in nearby Dillsburg, Pa.

The younger boys perfected first-aid techniques and worked on physical fitness and Scoutcraft.

Whether teaching how to wield an ax or tie a bowline, deaf assistant Scoutmaster Tim Vogeler of Troop 258 combined his gifts of patience, world-class humor, and ability to instill a sense of seriousness in the boys.

First-year Scout Craig Hauser-Hirsch appreciated this aspect of the camporee:

"This camp is a wonderful place," he said. "I earned my Totin' Chip!"

For the older boys like Adam Baker, Troop 258's athletic senior patrol leader, the camporee had something special to offer: a Project COPE (Challenging Outdoor Personal Experience) course.

Culminating in a ropes course— complete with zip line—the Project COPE program in Camp Tuckahoe's forested hills offered the older Scouts the ultimate in problem-solving, teamwork, and challenge.

Some of Project COPE's classic "initiative games" offered additional challenges not encountered by hearing Scouts.

"Communication is a key factor in solving these problems," explained Tim Barefoot, leader of the Project COPE warm-up activities. "I've never worked with anyone who is deaf before; these activities are so much harder if you can't communicate while you're working!"

Deaf people use their hands to "talk." Activities that require holding hands, for example, become the equivalent to expecting a hearing person to discuss his plans with duct tape over his mouth.

Watching older Scouts wrestle with problem-solving strategies was a highlight for Scoutmaster Redding (who had some excitement of her own when she rode the zip line across a ravine along with the Scouts).

Her biggest thrill, however, was seeing her Scouts mature as they helped host this very special event.

"They don't come in as leaders," she said as she observed her senior patrol leader, in a rare serious moment, painstakingly teaching younger Scouts how to light a fire.

"That's what we hope to help them grow into," Redding exclaimed.

With the Blue and Gray Camporee a success, Redding discussed her future goals. "I want to keep the National Deaf Scout Camporee going," she said, "and I want another Eagle Scout for the troop."

Considering how well her Scouts hosted the 1999 National Deaf Scout Camporee, both of her wishes should come true.

Cathy Steg is a Scouting contributing editor. She lives in Fairfax, Va.

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