By Cathleen Ann Steg
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.
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.
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 oneon 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 directlywithout 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."
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 linethe 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.
A Tradition Continues
The 1999 National Deaf Scout Camporee continued a tradition begun in 1963 when the Illinois School for the Deaf sponsored the "Honest Abe Round-Up Camporee."
Over the years, the biennial event has attracted hundreds of deaf Scouts to sites across the country, celebrating the bonds of Scouting within the deaf community and offering an event at which all the boys can communicate with each other directlywithout needing interpreters at their sides.
Bonds formed easily for the boys in the Project COPE program, because of the trust and teamwork skills they developed.
The younger Scouts also experienced that special camporee bond. Nick Comegna of Troop 258, one of the two youngest Scouts at the 1999 camporee, admitted that he'd been "a little nervous about meeting the new kids. But I really had a great time with those Indiana Scouts. I was happy to chat with them."
The BSA national office estimates that there are 800 deaf or hearing-impaired Boy Scouts in the United States. Fifty-five BSA troops are either chartered to schools for the deaf, like Troops 76 and 258, or to organizations with units specifically for the hearing-impaired. However, many hearing-impaired Scouts join nonspecialized neighborhood troops.
The two troops that attended the 1999 camporee are among the most historic in the country. Both Troop 258 of the National Capital Area Council and Troop 76 of the Crossroads of America Council are more than 75 years old.
And both had run the event before. Troop 76 sponsored the 1981 "Hoosier Camporee" in Indiana, and Troop 258 hosted the 1985 "Looking Into the Past Camporee" near Antietam Battlefield in Maryland.
In order to host the camporee, a troop must put in a bid two years in advance, outlining the theme and organizational plan.
As part of her "ticket," a project required to complete Wood Badge training, Scoutmaster Jane Redding put together the winning application to nominate her troop as host of the Gettysburg camporee.
Planning the Deaf Scout Camporee
In order to prepare for such an ambitious event as the National Deaf Scout Camporee, the host troop committee worked for months.
"I wrote, called, and e-mailed deaf troops across the country and encouraged the parents in our troop to offer their talents to create the program," explained Troop 258 committee chairman Paul Lannan Baker. "MSD helped provide the food; assistant Scoutmaster Tim Vogeler even designed the official camporee patch."
Even with every detail under control, there was still room for creativity on-site. David Koss, Scoutmaster for Indiana's Troop 76, campaigned to add another component to the program while chatting at the picnic table one night.
"Just look at this!" he cried with a contagious enthusiasm, waving The Boy Scout Handbook at nearby Scouters. "We can earn the Historic Trails Award because of what we're doing at this camporee." (In fact, both troops did complete the requirements for the award by the end of the week.)
What special challenges are involved in planning a camporee for deaf Scouts?
"We have to watch out for some of the popular attractions at a place like Gettysburg," Scoutmaster Redding cautioned.
The famous Electric Map Room in the U.S. Park Service pavilion, for example, is a great resource for hearing Scouts, with its huge scale-model battlefield filling the entire floor of a large, darkened auditorium and tiny lights flashing to identify the Confederate and Union activity during the three-day battle.
"But there's a taped narration that goes along with the lights, describing the action," Redding explained. "You can imagine how meaningless the lights on the map would be if you couldn't hear the narration, and the room was too dark to see an interpreter's hands!" (The map room management agreed to keep the lights up just enough for the deaf Scouts in the audience, so the boys didn't have to shine flashlights on their interpreter the whole time.)
Lighting was also an issue for the evening campfire programs. Because the deaf Scouts and Scouters need to see to communicate, most of the programs after dark took place in the well-lit administration building.
The final outdoor campfire worked well, because the extra floodlights at Camp Tuckahoe provided excellent visibility.
Learning American Sign Language
The Random House American Sign Language Dictionary, by Elaine Costello, Ph.D. (New York: Random House, 1994), is the most complete dictionary of its kind, with plenty of illustrations and more than 5,600 pictured signs.
If you want to communicate with deaf Scouts, this book is a must. Share it with others who will help the deaf boys in your troop along the Eagle trail. It's hard to earn a merit badge if your counselor isn't able to communicate with you. American Sign Language (ASL) classes are available in most communities.
Scouting for the Hearing Impaired (BSA Supply No. 33061) is a BSA pamphlet giving hints for hearing Scouters as they work with deaf boys in their troop or pack. Photographs showing ASL for the Cub Scout Motto and the Boy Scout Law, and a list of requirements for earning the Sign Language interpreter strip (worn on the uniform above the right shirt pocket), are included in this booklet.
Reading More About Gettysburg
The Killer Angels, by Michael Shaara (New York: Ballantine, 1974) is the Gettysburg novel, according to Scouters and visiting parents at the camporee. The movie "Gettysburg" (filmed in part at the battlefield) was based on this popular book; it gives insights into the men who shaped and fought the historic battle and a good understanding of both why and how it happened.
The Wars of America (New York: HarperCollins, 1992), and None Died in Vain: The Saga of the American Civil War (New York: HarperPerennial, 1991), two nonfiction histories by Robert Leckie, are both thorough and readable history texts on the war. For Scouters in a hurry, the chapter on the Civil War in Wars of America should give a fine overview. If you have time, however, None Died in Vain is almost as exciting to read as Shaara's novel, and it gives you all the depth you could want.
A handy and well-organized Web site offered by Gettysburg National Military Park, including information on the battle, the war in general, the generals, and the Gettysburg Address, is http://www.nps.gov/gett.
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