Sunday, November 10, 2013

The Greatest Generation as Boy Scouts

In the summer of 1934, Boy Scouts from Troop #3 gathered in front of the Irvington Presbyterian Church for a photo.  The Great Depression had taken a toll on many families and Europe saw the first glimmers of Fascism.  It is likely that none of the folks in the photo had any idea that in just a few short years most of them would be of age to defend the United States in one of the biggest wars in history.  Nearly all of the kids in this photo would either volunteer or be sent off to battle.  Six members of Troop #3 would pay the ultimate sacrifice.

One young man who paid with his life was that of John William McPheeters. Young John dwelled at 46 South Ritter Avenue.  He rose up through the scouts to the status of Eagle Scout.  The popular and very bright young man also served as a leader for Troop #3.  In the photo below, you may see Mr. McPheeters.  He is wearing a suit and tie and is standing in the fourth row from the bottom.  He is the second person from the left in the image.

Mr. McPheeters signed up to serve in the military long before the war broke out and he was actually called up in 1940.  He was trained in artillery and his superior officers recognized his talent eventually promoting him to the status of Lieutenant Colonel. During World War II, he was ordered to lead troops in the Italian Campaign.  Word began to spread of his bravery.  In one instance before the Anzio invasion, Mr. McPheeters hiked up a hill to scout for Germans.  He was unarmed and was surprised to encounter a German sniper.  With just a heavy boulder, he managed to scare away the gunman. Beloved my his troops, the young officer began to lead his soldiers into battle.  As Americans acquired more territory, Lt. Col. McPheeters and other officers gathered under a tree to examine maps on March 25, 1944.  Out of the blue a German shell struck the men as they plotted the future. Tragically, the Irvington Eagle Scout and beloved troop leader died instantly.  His brokenhearted squadron asked that his funeral be piped through a loud speaker so they could hear it as they fought on the front.  After the war, several from his division wrote glowingly of the popular colonel, including Major E. N. Harmon who told the world about John McPheeters in the Saturday Evening Post.  In 1945, the military dedicated a building on the grounds of Fort Knox, Kentucky as McPheeters Hall.

Nearly eighty years have passed since a group of Boy Scouts proudly stood on the steps of the Irvington Presbyterian Church.  On this week when we honor the veterans of this country, let us remember Troop #3 and the many other young men and women who have defended the United States.

The historic image and information came from Bill Ferling.  We only know of one other name in this photo and that is of Leland "Lee" Dickerson. He is the shorter kid in the middle of the front row and served in the navy during World War II.  His brother, Robert, died in the Battle of the Bulge.  If you recognize anyone else in this photo, then drop me a note at  For additional information on John W. McPheeters you may read the the following newspaper article:  Wayne Guthrie, "Ringside in Hoosierland," Indianapolis News, September 23, 1948, 12.

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