By Charly SHELTON
Becoming an Eagle Scout is a right of passage to manhood for many in the Boy Scouts of America. It signifies a Scout’s dedication to the organization, its ideals and its fellow members. On Feb. 20, the Verdugo Hills Council held its annual Eagle Scout Recognition Banquet at the Angeles National Golf Club, recognizing some 86 scouts who have proven themselves and earned their Eagle Scout medallion. But as good and humble Scouts, the night was not just their own. The banquet also honored two of our country’s veterans – one who gave his life in battle and one who, against all odds, lived to prove the world wrong.
Lt. Colonel Robert J. Friend of the U.S. Air Force is the oldest survivor of the Tuskegee Airmen. He flew 142 combat missions in the European theater of WWII in P47 and P51 single engine planes. In a time when African- Americans were segregated and thought to be mentally inferior to white soldiers and pilots, the Tuskegee Army Air Field was the training ground for young African-Americans who wanted to become pilots and crewmen in the Army Air Corps. This program was created as an experiment to test the idea that black men could be trained to be pilots in the theater of war. All in all, 996 African-American pilots graduated from the TAAF and were given their wings and commissions in the 332nd Fighter Group, flying many escort missions in Europe.
Lt. Col. Friend was honored with a plaque and a standing ovation, thanking him for his service in the war as well as for being part of the movement to end racial inequality in the country.
He expressed his love of the Boy Scouts as an organization after the ceremony.
“I think it’s the first step for us to ensure that we always have a sound base for protecting the things we love,” said Lt. Col. Friend.
Another veteran who was honored at the banquet could not be in attendance as he had given his life in battle nearly 50 years ago. Cpl. Larry Maxam of the United States Marine Corps died on Feb. 2, 1968 in the Cam Lo District Headquarters in Vietnam. An Eagle Scout from Burbank Troop 10, Cpl. Maxam was under fire while serving as fire team leader with Company D, First Battalion, Fourth Marines, Third Marine Division. He noticed a break in the perimeter and went to defend it himself. Completely exposed to the oncoming forces which outnumbered his own, Cpl. Maxam got behind a machine gun and single handedly defended the perimeter, despite taking heavy fire, multiple grenades and shrapnel, rifle fire and even a rocket propelled grenade which produced severe fragmentation wounds in his face and eye – but he got up again anyway.
After an hour and a half, too wounded and weak to reload his weapon, he sat down against a wall and continued to fire with his rifle until he passed away, having successfully defended nearly one half of the perimeter by himself.
Cpl. Maxam is an American hero and received the Medal of Honor posthumously from President Richard Nixon. He was honored once again at the banquet and a plaque was dedicated in his memory that will be hung in the Verdugo Hills Council office. The plaque was presented to Cpl. Maxam’s scoutmaster Bill Flinders, who had pinned his Eagle medal on him.