I dialed Alvin Townley‘s digits, expecting an informative interview with a popular author. It was informative– I learned a lot about his journey while writing Legacy of Honor and since that time. I also learned about changes in the Tenth Anniversary Edition.
But, I didn’t expect my interview with him to be so inspiring. Alvin told me true stories about past Eagle Scouts, and the stories literally left me in awe.
I didn’t know how much Scouting meant to so many boys. I didn’t know how much Scouting shaped modern day heroes and great men. And, I didn’t know how much doing this project changed life for Alvin.
I still don’t know those answers perfectly, but I finished that interview more converted to Scouting than I’ve ever been.
Here’s some excerpts from my interview with Alvin Townley:
Q. Were there any particular experiences that really stood out to you that you had while writing this book?
A. I think of the experiences I had since the first book came out. The most important experience to me was taking a crew of Scouts from Colorado to Philmont.
I hadn’t been to Philmont since I was a boy. Going out there with that crew, and spending ten days on the trail, and seeing the Scouting program actively shaping lives was extraordinary. It just reminded me how important Scouting is and what an effective of a program it is. And, why it’s important that we all give our time to it…
The other memorable story was probably meeting with a September 11th hero…He was the officer that pulled the last survivor out of the World Trade Center on September 11th…
He was talking about going into this huge pile of rubble to get out this last survivor. When he went in there, he didn’t think he was going to get out. He thought he was going to go in there and die trying to rescue this guy.
He said in the interview, “You know, I’m an Eagle Scout, and I learned you do your duty. For me, I knew that was going to cost me my life. I knew I had to try to get to get this guy out.”
He ended up being successful, and it was just an incredible story of duty driven by a code that he still lived by as an Eagle Scout.
Q. That’s a really interesting story.
A. One other one…it’s about a group of POWs in Vietnam. There was about 500 American POW’s in this place called Hano Hilton, a POW camp.
Of those 500, the North Vietnamese identified eleven that were so obnoxious and uncooperative and such effective leaders that they actually threw them out of the POW camp…One of those eleven leaders was an Eagle Scout that I met when writing Legacy of Honor…
He wouldn’t sign any confessions. He wouldn’t say anything. He would just stonewall every time he was in an interrogation. The North Vietnamese decided on putting him up on a wall and pointed a bayonet at him. They said, “Raise your hands, and keep your hands above your head until you want to sign this confession.”
They thought he’d last maybe a half hour. He lasted the entire first day. He lasted the entire first week. He lasted for the whole month of October and November.
He said when December started coming on, he had a harder and harder time mentally being able to deal with standing there with his hands above his head all day. He said he started to go crazy–all the things he could remember from home started to slip away.
He couldn’t remember his family’s name. He couldn’t remember poetry. He couldn’t remember books he read. He couldn’t even work math equations. The only thing he could remember was the first line of the Scout oath.
He would stand there, with his hands over his head, in a POW cell in Hano North Vietnam and repeat the line, “On my honor, I will do my best. I will not let them win.”
And, he’d say that again and again, and he kept his hands up. On Christmas Day, the North Vietnamese finally gave up…
He said, “You never think Scouting is going to save your life, but when I was a POW at Hano, that’s exactly what happened.”
Q. After the book was published ten years ago, what were some things that surprised you about people’s reactions?
A. I was surprised how hungry Scouting was for positive stories. And, people shared with me so many great and also very personal stories of their own experiences of Scouting. How Scouting’s shaped their lives…I had grown men in tears telling me different stories about Scouting.
Q. What made you decide to do a tenth anniversary edition?
A. …We wanted to do something a little fresh and a little different. Secretary Gates, who’d just finished his tenure as National BSA president, has been a wonderful supporter of mine since the first book came out, and we had the opportunity to do a new forward with his perspective. It’s such a unique, powerful, compelling perspective on Scouting.
Also, I wanted to reflect on the past decade during which I’ve been back in Scouting. I wanted to share some perspectives on what I found in the movement and people involved in the movement and how I believe that Scouting is, in fact, the best youth movement in the United States and in the world.
Alvin Townley concluded the interview by explaining that he wrote the book about Eagle Scouts who were living their lives with a greater sense of purpose. He said he learned how important it is to live an adventure and follow your passion.
“That passion should make life better for other people. It’s should have a greater purpose,” he said.
From him, I learned how being in the Scouting programs helps young men achieve that purpose.
Alvin Townley’s Legacy of Honor: Tenth Anniversary Edition was published October 18th, 2016. Purchase here and proceeds will benefit Scouting.