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Jamboree comes home to old W.Va. Scout

By Laura Reston

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MOUNT HOPE, W.Va. -- Seventy-six years ago, Boy Scouts from around the world traveled to Washington, D.C., to spend 10 muggy days camped out on the National Mall. It was the very first Boy Scout Jamboree, and Mount Hope native Berta B. Lambert was there.

Now, at age 94, Lambert has seen the Jamboree come to him.

The Jamboree draws thousands of Scouts from across the nation every four years. It kicks off Monday at a massive new campsite located on more than 10,000 acres around the New River Gorge.

Lambert grew up roaming these hills. He used to trap rabbits and he knew exactly where to find the best blackberry and hazelnut bushes.

Starting Monday, another generation of Boy Scouts will hike across the same paths that Lambert once used.

During that first Jamboree, in 1937, Lambert still remembers President Franklin Delano Roosevelt driving an open car around the National Mall to meet the Scouts. He remembers the concerts, songs and baseball games. And, above all, he remembers the youthful enthusiasm of the Boy Scouts who traveled to Washington -- some from around the world.

Lambert joined the Boy Scouts at age 13. Four years later, he traveled to the National Jamboree, where he remembers wandering from camp to camp meeting troops from Nigeria, the Netherlands, England and North Africa.

"You learn so much from the other fellows," Lambert said. "You learn more from them than from your Scoutmaster."

The boys attended baseball games between the Washington Senators and the Boston Red Sox, Lambert said. Famous vocalists of the time were there to perform American classics like "Home on the Range." Lambert recalled that he and the other Scouts splashed around in the reflecting pool beneath the Washington Monument.

Throughout the fun and games, though, Jamboree organizers ignored the possibility that war might break out soon, Lambert said. Lambert recalled that Nazi Germany's Adolf Hitler did not send representatives to the event. However, the threat from Germany loomed, unspoken, over the Jamboree. The U.S. Army had posted officials to observe the Jamboree, Lambert said.

The United States would be drawn into World War II four years later, with the Dec. 7, 1941, Japanese attack on the U.S. Navy base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.

Lambert joined the Army in 1944 and during the war often used the survival skills he learned from the Scouts.

"We knew how to improvise," Lambert said. "We had to work with what was on hand."

Lambert was stationed at Camp Lucky Strike -- an Army encampment located near Le Havre, France. He used his camping know-how learned in the Scouts to make it through the bitter cold that settled over his encampment.

Lambert passed similar survival strategies along to younger Scouts when he served as a Junior Assistant Scoutmaster. His Scouts learned how to cook without utensils and how to craft a fishing rod and line from a hickory sapling, Lambert said.

Many former Scouts have reached out to Lambert over the years. Several have thanked him for the lessons he imparted as a Scoutmaster.

"There are such rewards you receive from people that you never knew you were influencing," Lambert said.

Lambert also spearheaded an effort to create a black Boy Scout troop. As a child, he was friends with the grandchildren of a black physician and hoped they would join a troop, but the Boy Scouts of America was strictly segregated at the time.

So Lambert started a Boy Scout troop at Mount Hope's DuBois High School, the school for black youth in the area. The troop lacked leadership, though, and lasted only a few years, Lambert said.

Today, the Boy Scouts is even more important than ever before, Lambert said. Children today face greater temptations from drugs and alcohol, he said, and the Scouts can help keep them out of trouble.

"Most Scouts are doggone good kids and they stay out of trouble," Lambert said. "They have other interests other than pot-smoking and sex."

Reach Laura Reston at laura.reston@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5112.


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