CLINTON — Billy Kline joined Boy Scout Troop 60 just over a month before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor thrust the United States into World War II. That would make his scouting experiences different from those who came before or followed him.
But, like many who went on to earn the Boy Scouts' highest rank, Eagle Scout, those experiences shaped him.
“I give a great deal of credit to the Boy Scouts because ... it gave you a foundation,” said Kline, a retired district court judge.
The Boy Scout Istrouma Area Council recognized the 88-year-old Kline as the council’s oldest living Eagle Scout at a reception Oct. 25 at the Landmark Bank in Clinton. Scout officials, friends and family showed up as Kline received a plaque noting his status in the council’s 100th year, as well as a framed certificate recognizing his promotion to Eagle Scout on March 18, 1947.
Kline, who joined the Boy Scouts in 1941, remembered that Troop 60 honored its Eagle Scouts by choosing a tree and nailing a board with their name on it. It made quite an impression on him, impetus for earning his Eagle rank six years later.
Kline recalled that in the early days of World War II, local Boy Scouts were given some important duties.
The Scouts, he said, were enlisted to ride their bicycles at night enforcing blackout rules created to hide the city should enemy warplanes approach.
“One night, we put a blackout in the town of Clinton, so the Boy Scouts with bicycles and flashlights went around the town and made sure everybody’s houses were darkened,” Kline said. “We were so proud to be on our bicycles. I had to tell one lady to close her door because the light was coming out. That was an exciting thing for a 12-, 13-year-old, however old I was.
“Another thing we did was we had to call Harding Field and say, ‘This is Billy Kline, Boy Scout, Troop 60 in Clinton, and two airplanes are flying over Clinton going northeast.’ That was an exciting time for us. I guess it was a precaution because ... Standard Oil was down there. Boy Scouts had to be observers, early in the war effort, anyway.
“We Scouts were so proud to make that phone call.”
The Scouts also participated in collection drives of war-essential items like aluminum, scrap iron, rubber tires and paper, Kline recalled.
He went on to earn bachelor’s and master’s degrees from LSU, spent four years in the Air Force and returned to get his law degree from LSU. After a 16-year legal practice, Kline was elected a district judge in 1976 and later served as a pro tem state appeals court judge. Along the way, he continued to assist the Scouts, including doing legal work for Camp Avondale, which did not exist when he was a Scout.
He told those attending the recognition ceremony that scouting’s structure is a big part of why it has such an impact.
“I believe the patrol system that the Boy Scouts use is a powerful influence,” Kline said. “It has a patrol leader that’s a peer, more experienced in scouting. He keeps the encouragement of the young Scouts. The patrol engages in competition with others. They gave a sense of pride, accomplishment, responsibility, and the patrol system, I think, is a wonderful concept of developing leaders and developing followers.”