Boy Scout Troop 303 Dedicates a Gold
Star on its flag in honor of
"On The Fringe Of Something Great"
On February 8, 2004, the Scouts, adult leaders, parents, and family members of Boy Scout Troop 303 assembled for its annual banquet. The annual event is intended to be an emphasis that Troop 303 is a "family". This year, efforts were focused on bringing back as many of the former members, or "alumni," and to recognize, in particular, one specially distinguished alumni.
Troop 303 was founded in 1927 when a Sunday School teacher, Charles M. Cooper, Jr., the manager of the local J. C. Penny store, convinced the church to accept sponsorship. In 2002, the First United Methodist Church of McKinney and Troop 303 celebrated its diamond anniversary of 75 years in partnership with the Boy Scouts of America. However, for some reason, now lost to the mysteries of time, the church failed to re-charter the troop in 1938, during the last years of the Great Depression. Older members of the church insist that did not occur; but the records of Circle Ten Council in Dallas, Texas, indicate there was a break in sponsorship, re-starting in 1939.
So, in 2004, Boy Scouting and the church accomplished sixty-five years of consecutive partnership. For this, Troop 303 is entitled to display on its flag a blue emblem showing they are a Veteran Unit with sixty-five years of consecutive service. Each Scout and registered leader also get to wear a "65" bar above the red "303" numbers on their uniforms. This is a high honor. No other troop in all of Collin County is so entitled.
Because of this milestone, a great effort was made this year to bring back many former Alumni to show the Scouts and their families that many, many people have gone before them and laid the groundwork for the great troop everyone enjoys today. The agenda also intended to create the awareness that each of these Scouts owe a duty to Troop 303 to help it, encourage it, and remain available to it after they leave Scouting.
In recognition of this 77-year-old relationship, Troop 303 maintains the tradition of using its troop flag. The flagís hardwood staff, tall, strong, sturdy, and holding the whole thing up, represents the sponsoring church. The green circle in the center with everything surrounding and focusing on it, represents the current Boy Scouts. The Boy Scout trefoil in its center represents the Scouts are intertwined with the national movement. The top half of the flag is red, represents the unit leaders, the Scoutmaster and his Assistant Scoutmasters, and symbolizes the courage and sacrifice necessary to do those jobs. The bottom half of the flag is white, representing the other adults who support the Scouts, including the Troop Committee, parents, and other adults significant in each Scoutís life.
Finally, surrounding the entire flag is a fringe of gold. This fringe represents the Alumni, former Scouts and leaders who have gone before. Every Scout, regardless of how far they advanced, and every registered adult, regardless of how or how long they served, is one of the little fringes. Therefore, by this symbolism, the Alumni of Troop 303 are always with the current Scouts and leaders, every week and every campout where the noble flag is flown. Scouts are encouraged to draw strength from this awareness and to help them achieve at a high plain of duty to the troop and the principles of Scouting. Thus evolved the theme for this yearís banquet: "On The Fringe of Something Great."
Troop 303 has produced dozens of Eagle Scouts over the years. However, Troop 303 is not in the business of creating Eagle Scouts. Troop 303 believes that every young manís accomplishments are important, both to him and the life of this Troop. The goal of Troop 303 is to create an environment in which everyone can do his best, whether that is Second Class, Star, or any rank worked hard to achieve. Everyone in Troop 303 is proud to have every Scout be a part of the Troopís Alumni.
Collin County Court of Law Judge Jerry Lewis, former Scoutmaster and Assistant Scoutmaster of Troop 303 and currently a member of the Troop Committee, was the major influence in putting the banquetís program together. He spoke about the history of the troop, its members, and their many accomplishments over the years. At one point during the 1980s, membership had dropped to only about four members and the unit was on the verge of extinction, but due to hard work and perseverance, more boys were recruited at the last minute from the rosters of the McKinney Soccer Association. Troop 303 not only rebounded but has flourished since. It re-charted in February, 2004, with fifty-one returning Scouts and added eighteen new Scouts during the Cub Scout cross-over season for a total of sixty-nine. The Troop receives strong adult support: The Scoutmaster, Tim White, is helped by eight Assistant Scoutmasters. The Troop Committee, chaired by Jack Haye, enjoys a regular attendance of more than twenty at its monthly meetings.
Many alumni were in attendance, including many influential member of the community. Some and gave short anecdotes about how being in Troop 303 influenced their lives; but because of time restraints, representing and speaking on behalf of all the Alumni, lifetime McKinney resident John Hardin, who was a member of the troop in the 1960ís. Part of his recognition was of a Scout who was also a member at that time, Bill Bryan, who would die in the war in Vietnam.
Bob Beard, a Vietnam veteran in the U.S. Army, Commander of the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post in Allen, current Scout leader on the Arrowhead District Committee, and Silver Beaver, spoke in recognition of the Scouts who have gone on to honorably serve our country as members of the United States Armed Forces and asked all former or current members of the Armed Services to stand to applause. He emphasized how the experience, skills, and lessons learned in Scouting had been so valuable in military service where leadership is essential.
In preparing for this yearís annual banquet, the leaders of the Troop were sad to learn that no current Scouts and leaders, except Judge Lewis, knew the reason why the Troopís flag had a gold star. Again, everyone had forgotten Bill.
The regulations of the Boy Scouts of America provide: "A unit may display a gold star on the field of its flag near the staffís border in memory of a member or former member who has sacrificed their life in the service of their country." Troop 303 has one such former member, a Vietnam War era United States Marine, who was killed there and was awarded the Navy Cross for heroism. The remainder of the program called attention to this patriotic theme: That Boy Scouting and defense of this country go hand-in hand. The principles taught of good citizenship, preparedness, and physical and mental fitness provide a strong foundation for future soldiers to succeed during times of great stress.
This portion of the programs was called "A Star For Bill."
In 1989, Troop 303 held a similar ceremony in the sanctuary of the church. The Chief Scout Executive of Circle Ten Council in Dallas traveled to McKinney to present personally the Veteran Unit plaque and emblem. At the same time, Judge Lewis, then Troop Committee Chairman, learned the troop was entitled to display a gold star. Bill Bryan, his history, his military service, and the facts surrounding his heroic death were re-surfaced after twenty years.
The 1989-ceremony was video taped and portions were shown at the 2004-banquet, mainly for the benefit of the current Scouts and their awareness of who the real man is for which the symbolic star on their flag flies. The tape showed that a color guard of uniformed Marines performed and participated in a moving and patriotic ceremony honoring Bill, who Scouted with Troop 303 during all his years as a teenager. The Sergeant in charge of the color guard read the official citation of the Navy Cross that had been posthumously awarded to Corporal. Bryan. The Navy Cross is the second to the highest award that can be presented by the Marine Corps, surpassed only by the Congressional Medal of Honor. It was awarded only fifteen times to Texas residents during the Vietnam War, most of them being posthumously.
Following the 1989-video tape, Judge Lewis introduced the Keynote Speaker, Ronnie D. Foster, an author from McKinney. Foster is in the process of writing a book about the seventeen young men from Collin County who died in Vietnam. The first one he chose to focus and honor was Bill Bryan. He and Bill Bryan were close friends in high school and joined the Marines together in 1966.
In January, an article appeared in the Dallas Morning News summarizing Fosterís research about Bill. Lewis and other leaders of the troop were surprised to see Billís story re-surfacing. Foster was contacted and was himself surprised to learn that the friend he thought had been forgotten was instead being honored by Troop 303 every week and every campout for the past fifteen years. During later communications, Foster reported he had found the two Marines Bill protected and gave aid to during the battle that killed him. Foster had recently brought them together at his house along with Billís former wife whom heíd married on leave a month before he died. During a tearful session, they resolved never to allow Billís memory and what he meant to each of them to die. Therefore, when Foster learned that many others in Billís home town were remembering him every week, he was amazed and pleased.
Ultimately, then, it was the January articles in the newspaper that caused Billís story to be re-told and give the Scouts of Troop 303 a renewed awareness of their own history. As the primary speaker at the banquet, before all the Scouts, leaders, parents, families, Alumni, and friends of Bill Bryan, Ronnie D. Foster, himself a former US Marine Corporal and Vietnam veteran, came to the podium. The text of his address is as follows:
"There is an ancient Tibetan proverb that says, ĎIt is better to have lived one day as a Lion, than to live ten thousand years as a Sheep.í
"I met Bill Bryan in the seventh grade when we were trying out for the football team. I could tell then that he was a lion and not a sheep. Bill was a Boy Scout in every way. He was truthful, reverent, and respectful of others. He loved hunting, fishing, camping, and spent as much time as possible outdoors. Lessons learned in the Scouts would not be wasted in his chosen field, especially the ones of leadership.
"In 1966, Bill and I chose to follow the path of the Lion. Days after receiving our diplomas from McKinney High School, we were headed for the lionís den, Marine Corps Recruit Depot, San Diego, California. Boot camp was certainly tough, mentally as well as physically, but we made it through with determination and mental toughness.
"Bill was assigned to reconnaissance where he became a scout for the Marine Corps. Recon Marines are an elite part of an elite group. There was no job more stimulating and dangerous than reconnaissance. As their primary mission, "Recon" Marines are trained to venture out in small units, miles away from friendly troops in the middle of hostile territory, and observe the enemy without being seen themselves.
"Khe Sanh Combat Base was just about as far north and west as you could go in South Vietnam, located in a mountainous area near the DMZ and just east of the Laotian border. It is a place of great natural beauty with vast green mountains, lush valleys, trout-filled streams, and thick triple-canopy jungle. The region was a wild and forbidding part of the world, famous for its Bengal tiger hunting expeditions, and inhabited by elephants, crocodiles, apes, monkeys, and numerous species of constrictors and poisonous snakes.
Because of its location near the border of North Vietnam, in late 1967, Khe Sanh became a strategic outpost for recon missions along the Ho Chi Minh Trail. In January of 1968, intelligence reports estimated there were somewhere in the neighborhood of twenty thousand well-trained and heavily-armed North Vietnamese Army (NVA) soldiers in the thickly-wooded mountainous area protected by only five thousand Marines.
"One of Billís recon team, Robert ĎPJí Pagano from White Plains, New York, himself a former Boy Scout, remembers when he first met Bill:
ĎBryan was a Corporal when he was assigned to Bravo Company. Everybody liked him from the start, which is unusual, as most guys had to prove themselves first. I was very impressed with Cpl. Bryan. We were operating in jungle, and I mean real jungle; the kind of place where if the enemy didnít kill you, the jungle itself would. He was strong, had a good attitude, and was very good at his job. Bryan was a very likable guy, always steady, evenhanded, levelheaded, respected by everyone, a natural leader.í
"On the afternoon of January 18, the first of three Recon team was ambushed on Hill 881 North, about five miles northwest of Khe Sanh, and suffered several casualties. During the intense firefight, the radio, and a code sheet were lost. The sheet contained codes for calling in fire support and extraction coordinates. The Marines certainly didnít want that to fall into the hands of the enemy. The next day a second Recon team was dispatched to retrieve the radio and code sheet, but were ambushed by a large force of NVA and suffered numerous casualties, as well, and had to abandon the search.
"The day after, January 19, a third Recon team was ordered to go up Hill 881 North. This was the second team assigned the mission of finding the lost radio and code sheet. That team, code-name Barkwood, was lead by Corporal Bill Bryan and consisted of seven Marines. They departed their base camp on Hill 881 South near Khe Sahn early the next morning. At the same time, a reinforced infantry platoon from "I" (India) Company, 26th Marines, was ordered up Hill 881 North to do a reconnaissance in force.
Recon Team Barkwood was to follow in their footsteps and to drop off from the company and melt into the jungle, unseen by the enemy. They were to work alone in the heavily infested enemy territory in the area of Hill 881 North. Bill was given orders that if they came under fire to abandon the search and return to base.
"Before they were able to leave the platoon from India Company, the enemy spotted all the Marines and opened up with heavy machine guns from well-hidden positions. The lead element of the infantry Marines suffered many casualties in the initial firefight. The battle of Hill 881 North, now famous in the history of the War in Vietnam, had begun.
"At that time, the mission of Team Barkwood was aborted. It would be impossible to search the area now that the enemy was on full alert. Instead of following his orders strictly, however, and going back to the base, Bill volunteered his seven-man team to replace one of India Companyís squad that had been decimated. India Companyís platoon commander accepted and assigned Bill the task of setting up a landing zone (LZ) for helicopters to come in and evacuate the casualties. Bill was able to complete that mission, all the while exposing himself to hostile fire. The enemy was hidden and were all around. In the process, Bill led his team to take out an enemy machine gun nest. The LZ was under constant attack; and although one of the choppers was shot down, many wounded Marines were successfully evacuated.
"After the helicopters left, Billís team, now acting fully as a squad of what was left of the rifle platoon, took up position on their right flank. The Marines were under tremendously intense fire and kept taking casualties. The Platoon Leader and other leaders were killed. The order was given to assault the hill from where most of the deadly fire was coming. Billís team and the remaining Marines were ordered to fix bayonets and attack.
Billís team was at a disadvantage as they were dressed for a mission of stealth and quickness. They were not wearing the standard helmets and flack jackets of Marine infantry. Their floppy hats and jungle utility uniforms offered little protection from the hail of bullets; but they didnít hesitate when the word was given to advance up the Hill 881 North.
Hereís what the men who were there remember:
"Pagano: ĎWe were on the right side of the hill and with the grass so tall and thick, I couldnít see any grunts (infantrymen) to my left. I figured there was a gap there so I moved to that position to fill in. Not being able to see the grunts, I didnít know if they were advancing or not; but we were. I could only see assistant team leader Cpl. Lionel Guerra to my right. Lionel and I got near the top of the hill and came across a break in the grass, a small eroded piece of ground. We hurried to get across it to the thick grass on the other side. Suddenly, weíve got rifle fire, mortars, and grenades hitting real close.í
"At about the same time Pagano and Guerra were both hit, not realizing at the time they were directly on the edge of the enemyís fighting holes. They had advanced faster than the Marines from the remainder of the rifle company had done and were up above them. So, those members of Billís team still alive and fighting were taking fire from both the Marines below who didnít know they were there, and the NVA who were all around them. Bryan was yelling for Pagano to get on the radio and tell the Marines of "I" Company to stop the mortar shelling.
"Bill Bryan and his tiny seven-man recon squad were in a grave situation. Every member of the team was wounded. They were fighting for their lives.
"Cpl. Guerra: ĎAt some point an AK 47 round hit me in the left arm and exited through my shoulder, twisting me completely around and slamming me hard to the ground. Everything just went black all of a sudden. I was lying on my back and looked up at my arm and it was all twisted and bleeding heavily. My first thought was, ĎOh my God, Iíve lost my arm!í I then looked at my fingers, concentrated, and said, ĎMove. Move.í I was so glad to see one of them wiggle a little bit. We were in tall grass; and I couldnít see anyone but PJ and Bryan. PJ had been hit in the leg and looked to be in bad shape. He yelled for help as he was lying in an open area. Rounds were whizzing by and grenades were going off everywhere. I hollered back and told him to hold on I was coming. I pulled my arm to my stomach, and tried to apply a bandage on it to stop the bleeding; but then to make things a lot worse, a grenade came from out of nowhere and landed behind me. I couldnít get out of its way and was hit again. At that time Bryan came running up to me in a low crouch to see if he could help me. I could see on his face a look of great concern.í
"Pagano: ĎThe rain of mortars finally stopped but we were still under intense fire coming in from all directions. I heard a gun shot from an enemy soldier not more than six feet away who fired his weapon at Guerra and Bryan. The guy was so close to me that I could feel the heat from the muzzle of his barrel. I think we were lying right in front of his fighting hole. Meanwhile, Iím on the radio; and I canít remember if Iím calling in fire-support or Medevac. After a while, my hands started getting numb which made it hard for me to hold and key the handset. Then, my chest and face started feeling numb. I was feeling very weak and knew I was bleeding to death. Bryan was on the other side of Lionel moving in my direction.í
"Cpl. Guerra: ĎBryan could see that Pagano and I, lying not more than six or seven feet apart, were in bad shape and needed to be Medevacíd as soon as possible; or, we were surely going to die. Before I knew what he was doing, Bryan jumped up to run to the aid of Pagano and to retrieve the radio.í
"Pagano: ĎBryan ran over to me. My leg was pretty blown up. He was on his elbows and tearing open a battle dressing with his teeth. He was assuring me that I wasnít going to die. An NVA soldier come out of the grass and fired at us. The bullet passed less than an inch from my ear, over my chest, and into Bryanís armpit. Billís head went down on my legs. I said ĎBryan, Bryan, are you okay?í At which time he said, ĎHit bad. Gonna die.í Then, his head slowly went down and rested on my legs. He didnít raise up.í
"Pagano: ĎThe same guy then threw a grenade at us. I saw it land. It hit near my feet and; I couldnít do anything about it. I put my feet together, covered up my face, scrunched up, and anticipated the rest. It got me mostly in the hands and face, but not as bad as it could have. Somehow, I managed to throw a grenade at the guy. After it went off, I didnít hear anything from him again. I couldnít much move at all by then; I was numb all over. My hands and face fell asleep and I became very tired. I made peace with my maker and had pretty much accepted the fact that I was going to die right there.í
"But PJ Pagano didnít die that day; neither did Lionel Guerra; but they were the only ones from Team Barkwood who survived to tell the story.
By this time Marine artillery was raining down on the enemy positions higher up the hill; and 3rd Platoon was able to advance once again on the other side of the hill and overran the positions as they moved toward the top of the hill.
The Marines who offered fire support (artillery and mortars) along with Major Matthew P. Caulfield remained on Hill 881 South, not quite a mile away. Major Caulfield and others by using long-range binoculars were able to observe the action as the Marines came under fire and fought up the hill. Particularly, he was able to observe Bill as he led his Recon Team aggressively; and held the ambushed Platoonís flank. He and other members of the company saw Bill brave heavy fire and move to his fallen comrades to save them. When Bill was cut down, many in the company saw it happen. This angered and inspired them. As they were ordered to attack and relieve the Marines on Hill 881 North, their memory of what they seen Bill do contributed massively to their aggressiveness.
Captain William Dabney, Commander of India Company, 26th Marines, remembers: ĎThe assault was successful but costly. The platoon leader was killed along with several others; and in the confusion, the Recon team became separated. All its members were hit. For the next couple of hours, we were busy finding the Recon team, evacuating the casualties, and reorganizing the company which had lost almost fifty Marines killed or wounded.í
ĎAfter we returned, I recommended that the Recon team leader, Corporal Bryan, be put in for the Navy Cross. At that time, I did not know whether heíd made it or not; but I felt that his action in volunteering the team as an assault element, the spirit and effectiveness with which the team carried out the assault, and the superb discipline and cohesiveness of the team after it was hit, were the epitome of Marine spirit and evidence of his outstanding leadership under fire.í
"After returning to the fire support base, Captain Dabney told Major Caulfield what he intended to do for Bill. Major Caulfield had also seen the whole action and concurred. Through their efforts, Bill Bryan was awarded the Navy Cross for his heroic actions on that day. By all rights, when the fighting started he could have followed his mission orders and retreated back to the base camp; but he didnít. Bill Bryan, at twenty years of age, was a leader of men. He could have easily become a sheep. He chose to be a Lion.
"The Boy Scout Oath begins with ĎOn my honor, I will do my best to do my duty to God and my country.í
"Bill Bryan lived up to that oath, and will always be remembered not only as a Marine, but as a Boy Scout, as well. As we Marines say, ĎSemper FidelisóAlways Faithful.í "
Letter from Joe Bryan, older (and only)
brother of Bill:
Letter From Robert ĎPJí Pagano
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