Thoughts from Dr. Joe: The importance of being an Eagle

I was perusing one of my old journals dated 1964, trying to understand what went wrong. I was two weeks away from making Eagle Scout. But after participating in a gang fight on 237th Street, becoming an Eagle was out of the question.

My biggest regrets in life are not for the things I have done, but for the things I haven't done. It's been 49 years since I was expelled from Troop 136 and the regret of not making Eagle hangs like an albatross around my neck.

Becoming an Eagle Scout is one of the greatest achievements for boys. The trail of the Eagle is an important part of a young man's development and the Eagle Scout rank is a resume in itself. But it's never the destination that counts, it's the journey.

A Scout's journey begins with the basics: learning how to hike, camp, swim, cook, identify wild plants and animals, read a map, use a compass, make things with knife, ax and ropes, and give first aid. Scouts learn that they are not only responsible for themselves, but they are responsible for their brother Scouts as well. In an outdoor setting, there is little margin for error. Such experiences are strong teachers as boys learn that great American trait called ingenuity.

I recently attended an Eagle Scout Court of Honor for Troop 398 in La Cañada. Four local boys, Sam Geller, Matt Gilmour, Clay Massimino and Cal McFadden, were being inducted into a select group of young men and will forever be part of a distinct mythology.

I watched the ceremony and paid close attention to Sam's dad, Carl Geller. On the lapel of his suit, Carl wore his Eagle Badge, earned when he was a boy. The medal was old and tattered, but the distinction of honor that it carried still made a statement. It's a sense of pride, honor and achievement that is indelible, and written on the soul of those who wear the badge. Sam would be a third-generation Eagle Scout. Carl's eyes beamed with pride as he watched his son make the transition to Eagle, but I saw something else there: the pride that he felt for being part of this small segment of individuals who became Eagle Scouts. It never leaves you.

A Scout does not do these things alone. Behind every Eagle Scout there usually stand parents who have given of their time and talents, who have cheered and encouraged, and, yes, sometimes even threatened, to keep their son on the right track. And so the Eagle ceremony has a place for both mother and father to be recognized for their sacrifices and commitment to their son.

An Eagle Scout represents time-tested values of virtue, loyalty, courage and fidelity. There's a code of behavior similar to the Arthurian knights defined as a legacy of honor. The Eagle badge says, “Be Prepared.” It's the mantra of Scouting.

When I was a platoon commander in the Marines I would interview each man transitioning into my outfit. I would ask, “Are you an Eagle Scout?” When I needed a fire team or squad leader, invariably I would give the job to an Eagle because I knew that when the chips were down, they would step up and lead.

Only about four percent of Scouts will achieve this rank. Becoming an Eagle takes initiative, focus and perseverance. It's easy to let this opportunity slip away. If you're a Scout, don't do it. Don't throw this away. You may not regret this now, but one day you will, and that's a hard pill to swallow.

JOE PUGLIA is a practicing counselor, a retired professor of education and a former officer in the Marines. Reach him at Visit his website at

Copyright © 2019, La Cañada Valley Sun
EDITION: California | U.S. & World