EDMOND — A black-and-white photo from the early 1960s shows Hal Yocum, a Boy Scout in his late teens, standing next to radio icon Paul Harvey.
That's fitting, since Yocum loves to tell the rest of the story, the history within his collection of Scout uniforms and memorabilia that spans the early 1900s to the modern era.
Start with his own uniform, the one he's wearing in the photo with Harvey. The 70-year-old pulls it from the closet of his “Scout room” on the second story of his Edmond home.
Yocum earned 81 merit badges. But his first was the First Aid merit badge. The rest of the story is that hand surgeon Dr. Hal Yocum plans to retire this year from his surgical practice. In 2002, he retired as a colonel from the Medical Corp of the U.S. Army.
“Maybe there's a relationship between that badge and my career,” he said, smiling.
After that story, Yocum moved on to the Star Badge his father, John, earned as a Scout in the late 1920s or early 1930s. John and Evelyn had four sons. All achieved the Boy Scouts of America's rank of Eagle Scout. John did not. Yocum asked his father for the rest of the story.
“He didn't make Eagle Scout because he couldn't pass the Lifesaving badge,” Yocum said. “I think some of the kids today would say, ‘What do you mean he couldn't pass the Lifesaving? That's not too bad; you just work at it a little.'”
The difference is that today's Scouts likely would be tested in a swimming pool. However, in the mid-1930s, John took the test in the strong May or June current of a river near his home in rural south-central Pennsylvania.
“They'd go out there in a boat, somebody would jump overboard and the water would start taking them down the river,” Yocum said. “You had to swim out after him, get him and take him back to shore. He was a good swimmer but not good enough to bring in another kid bigger than him — not against that current.”
Sharing his collection
Yocum reaches back in the closet. He pushes hangers across the metal rack before locating a uniform labeled “1910-1920.” It's among the 15 in his collection that he takes to Scouting events, along with books matching the time period of the uniform.
That way, young Scouts can look in the book and see what it took to achieve Eagle in a particular time period.
“As part of First Aid in the early days of Scouting,” Yocum said, “you had to learn how to stop a runaway carriage.”
In addition to the uniforms, Yocum will attend events to portray the founder of the Scout movement, Lord Baden-Powell.
Reading the uniform
Opposite the wall the Paul Harvey photo hangs on is a Scout uniform in a glass case. In the 1960s, Yocum started collecting Scout uniforms “mainly to preserve the history” of Scouting. He'd find them at garage sales or flea markets. But to locate the truly old ones, Yocum would either meet with other collectors at gatherings or write them.
That's how he came to have Harold Doerr's uniform, Scout knife, watch compass and the newspaper photo and story about how Doerr in 1921 became the first boy from Passaic, N.J., to achieve Eagle.
The rest of the story is how Yocum reads not the article but the uniform.
“Those little strings around the sleeve are tenure strings,” he said. “The red one stood for three years apiece and the green one was one year, so because he's got two red and one green, it indicates he had seven years' service. Today we have little pins that tell how many years you have been in Scouts.”
On the third row of merit badges is one that caught Yocum's attention. It's a symbol of two people shaking hands.
“That's called interpreting. It had to do with language skills” he said. “New Scouts look at these uniforms and are amazed.
“The history disappears very quickly, almost with every generation. I didn't want to see that happen.”
Ryan Lemons, program director for the Boy Scouts of America Last Frontier Council said, “Hal's objective in Scouting is to help the program.”
“He uses his uniform project as a tool to inspire young people and adult leaders,” Lemons said, “to continue in Scouting and to get excited about Scouting today.
“Hal is a very forward-thinking guy.”