“Over the Top”


Published in Boys’ Life

July, 1918


Private Edward J. Kelly, One Hundred and Sixty-fifth United States Infantry, went over the top one night in a raid, and the end of his story was written in the darkness of No Man’s Land. He was sixteen. A few months ago, the only uniform he ever had worn was that of a Boy Scout. He was a member of Troop 25, Manhattan.

Edward was a big boy – more than six feet – and weighed 165 pounds. He was the oldest of a family of seven. His father’s health was poor, and his mother had the babies to take care of. The support of the family fell largely upon his shoulders. And when he wasn’t working he was studying. He was a prize medal student at Epiphany School in East Twenty-second Street and won a scholarship to La Salle School. One night he came home in uniform. “Mother,” he said, “I’ve enlisted in the Sixty-ninth and we’re going to camp right away.”

His mother tried to prevail upon him that he was too young; that the army wouldn’t have him if it knew his real age, but he won his point. That’s the last the family heard of or from him until there came a message signed “H. P. McCain, Adjutant General.” But every month the pay check came and the mother and babies were safe. Up at the Boy Scout headquarters in Madison Avenue there is a star in the margin of the service flag. “You could never get Scout Kelly to talk about himself,” said his Scoutmaster, W. H. McElroy. “He was very retiring and the only time I knew him to be at all forward was when he put on the boxing gloves. That was the time to look out for a succession of short powerful jabs that came in trip-hammer fashion. There you saw the real Kelly: cautious, aggressive, clean, and resourceful. He was playing a man’s game then, and (let me assure you) he packed a man’s wallop!”

When the troop meets and roll is called, the patrol leader steps forward at the name of Kelly and says: “Dead in his country’s service. Salute!”

Edward Kelly was one of the many, many American Scouts who gave their lives over the past one hundred years for the ideals of Scouting. I could write indefinitely simply telling their stories… not to mention all the Scouts from all over the world who have made the same sacrifice.

Today, I wish to remember them all. They are constantly an inspiration to me as I seek to live out these principles in my daily life.

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