By Lance E. Milsted
Special to The Citizen
“Down, set, hut … hike,” yelled Zachary Sutton. The senior patrol leader for Stuttgart Boy Scout Troop 154 was playing quarterback during a pick-up game of football at the troop’s campsite May 10. It had been raining most of the day and into the evening, so everything was slick with water.
Zachary dropped back to his right and hurled the ball in the air. The “ball” was a double-wrapped bag of marshmallows; it’s what the Scouts had and was working quite well.
Nobody caught the pass, but the Scouts of Troop 154 were in rare form and having a great time after a day of service in the Muese Argonne forest. They were winding down after a long day of repairing and cleaning up the historic Sgt. York Trail just outside Chatel Chehery, France.
A hundred years ago, young men just like Zachary may have been scrambling and lofting things through the air, but they would have been scrambling though a muddy trench in a barren battlefield and tossing hand grenades.
This summer marks the 100th anniversary of the start of World War I. It will be another four years until the 100th anniversary of the heroics that took place in this patch of rolling hills in Verdun will be celebrated.
The Sgt. York Trail is named for Sgt. Alvin C. York, a Medal of Honor awardee and one of the most decorated U.S. Soldiers of World War I. The trail was dedicated on Oct. 4, 2008, after years of research, preparation and planning by trail founders Col. Doug Mastriano and Kory O’Keefe.
“Sgt. York’s platoon was hit by the enemy machine gun fire. Six men died and three more were wounded, including Sgt. [Bernard] Early — he was killed in combat — which left Sgt. York in charge, and he stopped a six man charge with his .45 automatic pistol,” said Scout Jacob Brown.
Those seven men marched 132 German prisoners out of the woods that day. Capturing that machine gun nest was part of the efforts that broke through the German lines and ended World War I.
“I find it hard to believe that seven men captured 132 German soldiers,” said Scout John Scrivener. “I feel good, because soon millions of people will be walking the trail, and thanks to Troop 154, it’s a nice trail to walk on.”
Boy Scouts carry out service projects on a regular basis. It’s a part of the requirements to advance in rank. But this three-day service project over Mother’s Day weekend was unique in that it allowed the Scouts to be a part of restoring a precious part of history.
Assistant Scoutmaster Tom Vanzant said he was impressed with the amount of work the boys got done in their time on the trail. He was equally excited about the opportunities Scouts have while in Europe. “Just two weeks ago we were in Normandy. We were able participate in a ceremony on Omaha Beach and lay a wreath at the American Cemetery. Scouting in Europe is a great thing,” he said.
The York project consisted of restoring a bridge that had been partially washed away, fixing a set of steps and replacing rotted timbers along the trail. When it was finished, the trail was well marked, safe and ready for tourists.
The benefits run far deeper than just fixing a trail, according to Rick Mard, an adult leader with Troop 154. “I’m pretty adamant about trail repair and things that help out not only the heritage of a site like the Sgt. York Trail, but what it means to the Scouts in terms of their exposure to historical sites and truly the meaning of why we do the work we do for the community,” Mard said.
Most of the work was completed in steady rain. “Not the best of conditions in terms of weather, but the boys always forge through it,” added Mard proudly. His son David was part of the crew that cut and staked in new timbers along the route.
Others worked on repairing a bridge that was originally built as part of a Stuttgart Eagle Scout project in July 2010. Due to heavy rain and flooding, the bridge was washed out.
“I was part of the bridge group. We shoveled gravel onto the bridge to level it out and shore it up so the gravel wouldn’t go back in the stream. We made a pretty big impact and it looks a lot nicer. It’s also a part of remembering the Soldiers and respect[ing] their sacrifice,” said Brent Furman, a first-year Scout with Troop 154.
The Scouts were invited to raise the flags at the American Cemetery in Romagne Sous Moutfaucon. Following the flag raising, they went on a three-hour hike and tour of the battlefields around the town of Romagne.
It was a memorable weekend for the boys.
“I got to use power tools, and I had a ton of fun. I’m used to doing smaller parts of trails; this one was bigger and harder,” said Zachary Sutton.
Jacob Brown may have summed the weekend up best. “It makes me feel like I’m making a difference in the world and that’s just huge to me. I’ve never done anything like that before,” he said.