You can practice for a disaster, but you can't practice being a hero.
After a tornado ripped through their camp near Blencoe, Iowa, last June, dozens of Boy Scouts, ages 13 to 18, performed bravely and selflessly. As their fellow scouts lay bleeding and emergency workers struggled to reach their remote camp, these teenagers dug survivors from the rubble, performed first aid, and comforted the injured.
The Boy Scouts who survived the tornado--and those who did not--are nominated as Beliefnet's Most Inspiring People of the Year for refusing to give in to self-pity, fear, or panic in the chaos of a great disaster.
"All of the kids who were there that day were doing some pretty brave things," Jeff Baldwin, a national scout leader, told Beliefnet. "But the kids would tell you they weren't heroes," he continued. "They would tell you they were just doing what they were trained to do. It's like a fireman. They just did their duty."
Baldwin was present during the tornado and had just led the boys in disaster training the night before. He had covered first aid and wound treatment, but how do you teach courage? Among the scenes he witnessed: one boy held a bloody t-shirt to the wound of another boy who had been partially scalped; one group of boys kept pace with another who could not run from the tornado because of a foot injury; some boys performed CPR on another boy who was crushed and eventually died.
When rescuers reached the camp they found four boys had been killed by a fallen chimney. Another 40 boys and adults had to be hospitalized. The four dead boys were Aaron Eilerts, 14, of Eagle Grove, Iowa, Josh Fennen, 13, Sam Thomsen, 13, and Ben Petrzilka, 14, all of Omaha, Neb. Iowa Governor Chet Culver said of these boys, "They were the real heroes of this story.”
The tales of bravery continued to pour out of the camp for days after the disaster.
Thirteen-year-old Christian Jones of Omaha, Neb., was one of the scouts in the north shelter, which was obliterated by the tornado. He saw his fellow Scouts staunch bleeding and form relay groups to lift debris from victims. "I now have values and skills that are imprinted on me so well I will have them all the rest of my life," he said.
The collective heroism of so many boys – children, really – is a lesson about the potential of young people, said Lloyd Roitstein, president of the Mid-America Council of the Boy Scouts of America.
"We read the paper and hear the news every day about the negativism in our youth," Roitstein said. "This showed the world that young people can lead, make good decisions, and do the positive things in life that need to be done."