Last week, in the Webelos Den I lead, we learned about heroism. One part of the program was to discuss a Scout hero. I figured there had to be some good examples among Eagle Scouts. Sure enough, led me to the story of Marine Sergeant (later Colonel) Mitchell Paige, who won the Congressional Medal of Honor in 1942 for his bravery in battle on Guadalcanal in WWII.

As I searched various sites for details to share with our Scouts, I discovered another thread to the story. While Sergeant Paige was indeed a Scout hero, he wasn’t technically an Eagle Scout when he won the Medal of Honor. You see, he’d completed all the requirements for his Eagle rank, but hadn’t yet received the award before he signed up with the Marines and was shipped off to the Pacific. He just figured the award would be waiting for him when he got back from the war.

But it wasn’t. And I guess life took over and he simply forgot about following up to get the Eagle rank he’d earned at age 17.

Fast-forward fifty or so years. Colonel Paige, now retired, had become involved in ferreting out Medal of Honor winner imposters (yes, disgusting as it is, there really are such people) and in stamping out the flow of fake medals. While doing so he met Special Agent Thomas Cottone Jr. of the FBI, who was also involved in stopping the sale, theft, and illicit manufacture of the Medal of Honor. Eventually Special Agent Cottone – an Eagle Scout himself – discovered from Colonel Paige that he’d earned his Eagle rank but never received the award.

Getting the Eagle award isn’t easy, even after you’ve completed all the required advancement work. Proof of those accomplishments must be submitted, along with letters of recommendation, unit leader and council verifications, and an Eagle Scout application, to the Boy Scouts of America. After the passage of over five decades, obviously all that documentation for Colonel Paige no longer existed, and his Scout leaders had long since passed away.

So Special Agent Cottone spent the next five years investigating Colonel Paige’s Scouting history, making numerous contacts in his hometown of Charleroi, Pennsylvania. He eventually assembled enough documentary evidence to request the award on behalf of Colonel Paige.

Fifteen years ago, in March 2003, 67 years after he’d earned it, 84 year old Colonel Mitchell Paige was finally awarded his Eagle Scout rank.

Sadly, he would pass away just eight months later.

I shared this story with three different groups of Webelos at our meeting last week, and I choked up every time. What an amazing testimonial it is for my boys of the kind of love, honor and commitment that are part and parcel of the Scouting community, and of the different faces of heroism.

I wound up with two Scout heroes to highlight with my Webelos: one a highly decorated war hero, and the other a hero for his tireless efforts to recognize his fellow Eagle Scout. And, together, both are also heroes for their work to preserve the integrity of our nation’s highest award for valor in combat.


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