Eldersburg Scout ascends to highest honor 10-year trek ends with Eagle badge SOUTHEAST -- Sykesville * Eldersburg * Gamber

December 29, 1992|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,Staff Writer

Two percent of all the millions of Boy Scouts earn an Eagle badge. Marine Pfc. James Matthew "Matt" Zeigler became a member of that elite group last week at Wesley Freedom United Methodist Church in Eldersburg.

The 18-year-old Eldersburg native switched from his military uniform to his Scout garb and received written congratulations from President Bush, Gov. William Donald Schaefer and U.S. Rep. Beverly B. Byron.

When he took the podium to acknowledge all the recognition, he thanked his father and Scoutmaster, Herb Zeigler.

"So you may feel some of the same pride I feel," he said as he heartily shook his father's hand and gave him an Eagle tie tack.

Herb Zeigler said he encourages all members of Troop 719, which he has led for four years, to work for Scouting's highest honor.

Matt Zeigler, who had just returned from boot camp in Camp Lejeune, N.C., stood at attention as his beaming father recounted a few of his son's achievements to about 100 people gathered at the church.

Among the onlookers were Matt's mother, Donna; older brother, Mark; and Marine Sgt. Kevin Dulany, who recruited him for the Corps.

Mr. Zeigler said he knew several years ago that his son had the stamina to "go the distance" for the Eagle honor.

He recounted the arduous rescue Matt organized when another leader suffered a heart attack on a camping trip.

"Matt and three others made a stretcher out of sleeping bags and carried that man a half mile through the woods to an ambulance," said Mr. Zeigler. "He was a hefty-sized man. The Scouts saved his life."

Dressed in a Scout uniform decorated with the badges and awards that led to the Eagle, the young Marine listened as several friends and former leaders sang his praises.

"The trail was never too tough for Matt," said Bob Reigel, a former troop leader. "He hiked on well past the point where most Boy Scouts take a break."

Matt can look at his achievement with pride, said Mr. Reigel.

"He is a doer, not a wannabe," said Mr. Reigel. "He has never been afraid to work. What he lacked in skill, he made up in will."

Said Bill Good, another former leader, "He knew how to keep after a task and how to follow through."

Private Zeigler, who spent his summer working as a camp counselor for young Scouts, said, "Earning an Eagle takes a lot of work; most of my high school years were directed toward it."

Months before he left for boot camp in September, he had completed all the requirements for the badge, including five special awards, 28 merit badges and a service project -- removing and planting 10 large trees at Piney Run Park. A snag in the paperwork held up the presentation.

"I was at boot camp before the paperwork got all processed," he said. "There's bureaucracy in the Boy Scouts, too."

After he graduated from Liberty High School in June, he enlisted in the Marines for six years as "a change of pace."

"So far I like it, but I won't make a career choice until I have been in for a few years and earn some rank," he said.

His Scouting and athletic background -- he ran track and cross country at Liberty -- helped prepare him for the rigorous three months of basic training.

"I didn't have to worry about getting in shape, although the Marines put everybody in shape," he said. "Scouting helped me deal with military discipline, too. I learned a long time ago not to question authority. We aren't told why, we just do it."

Scouting and countless soggy camping trips also helped him cope with the weather.

"Pack a water-resistant poncho first," he said with a laugh. "Regardless of the weather at home, it always rains on our camping trips."

Said Herb Zeigler, "We never canceled a trip because of weather."

Last spring, after 10 years of scouting, Matt Zeigler finished his Eagle service project in a downpour at Piney Run Park. Marine boot camp includes Basic Warrior Training. It rained there for a solid two weeks.

"All that outdoor training didn't bother me," he said. "The rain was hard on some others, but I've been outdoors and camping in bad weather a lot. I am used to storms."

Both father and son said they have weathered many storms together. After the ceremony, Matt presented his father with a carved plaque that read, "Through rain, sleet, snow, Dad is always there. Thanks, Dad."

Several young troop members gathered around to offer congratulations.

"Scouting is a good character-building experience that you can always use," he told them.

Joey Nagle, 13, said a letter from the president would make all the work worthwhile.

Said 11-year-old Daniel Wachter, "I want to be an Eagle, too. I know it will take a long time and be a lot of hard work."

Private Zeigler returned to Camp Lejeune today to resume training. In February, he will transfer to avionics school in Memphis, Tenn.

"I would like to be an adult leader, when I get permanently based," he said. "I hope my dad sticks with the troop, too. He really enjoys it."

As Assistant Scoutmaster John Hevey pinned the Eagle over Matt's heart, he said, "May the pledge taken today be graven on your heart always."

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