Mike Walton (blackeagle)

Truman Volunteer
By: Posted On: 2020-04-27

A bag of luggage sitting on top of a chairDescription automatically generated


(Taken from "Eagle Feathers" by Mike Walton (c)1997 )


He made me proud to be Black, a Scout, and a veteran all at the same time. I observed him as he carefully held the arms of the wheelchair, assisting the fragile old woman from her seat and into a waiting automobile. She must have offered him a tip for his kindness as he closed the door of the car.

"I'm sorry. They won't let us accept anything for our work. Besides," I overheard him state as he sat down in the chair and turned it toward the ramp, "I'm a Boy Scout, and I couldn't take it if I could. Thank you, though. Have a good day!"

*That's* what got my attention at first.

I followed the young man, now in the company of a chunky white kid with reddish-brown hair. He, too, was seated in the wheelchair that once sat another visitor to the Harry Truman Veterans Administration Hospital in Columbia, Missouri. The two boys are part of Truman Volunteers, donating their time during the summer months to escort the once able-bodied veterans of our wars and military service and their spouses. They take vets in, out and around the regional medical facility, in part due to the fact that the original handicapped entrance was torn up as part of a multi-million dollar upgrade to the aged old military hospital.

The two boys were racing, trying to be the first one back to where the "rest stop was." I slowed them down by asking where was the personnel office located. The black kid did a "wheelie" with his chair, lifting it slightly as he performed what for me would be a dangerous maneuver.

"Where are you a Scout at?" I asked. I then added, "I volunteered at a hospital once....didn't last too long, though."

"In town," the Scout responded, and then gave me directions to the personnel office.

"Hey Kenny," I replied, reading the nameplate below the VA nameplate on his maroon smock. "How did you hear about this work?"

At first, Kenny was surprised that I knew his name, but after touching his nametag briefly, he then replied, "My dad told me about it. I love it!". He then got out of his wheelchair, parked it alongside several others, and then added, "Lots of guys have jobs that pay. I have a job that gives me smiles...and it's fun, too!"

As if someone turned on the "too much fun" alarm, a matronly older woman came barrelling around the corner from the wheelchair area, almost yelling "Okay boys, we hired you to work, not sit and play! Third-floor center!"

I watched as the two stopped playing, and as if they were being given a top-secret assignment, they adjusted themselves and guided a wheelchair apiece up the hallway toward the elevators. The matronly woman told me again where the Personnel office was and I was on my way in that direction.

Hoping to see Kenny or his friend after I completed my business -- looking for a possible new job -- I returned to the information booth in the lobby. It was empty, and the lights were off. I returned to the rental car, checked my watch and started to drive back out and up the hill to join my wife at the university hospital where she has applied for jobs at.

Out my rearview mirror, though, I looked at the empty "waiting area" at the top of the ramp where I saw Kenny and his workmate at a couple of hours ago. For a slight moment, I knew what William Boyce felt when he couldn't find his Unknown Scout in England.

When so many people are crying that we've lost our youth to the streets. When so many people are saying that we still have racial problems. When so many people are complaining about the effectiveness and costs of our medical care.

I think that President Truman, Bill Boyce, and Baden-Powell are all raising glasses of wine to those two boys...and others... who are taking a summer to be of service to others. That's what being a citizen is all about. What equality is all about.

That's what Scouting, in large part, is about.



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