Nearly six decades after qualifying, Vann Johnson attains Eagle rank

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, November 23, 2005

All Vann Johnson ever wanted was to be an Eagle Scout.

And on Monday, nearly six decades after meeting the requirements to reach the highest level in Boy Scouts, the 74-year-old Bennetts Creek man raised his right hand and solemnly uttered his Eagle oath.

“I could never tell my son I was an Eagle and I could never put it on my resume,” said Johnson, wiping an occasional tear. “Very few people who get involved in scouting ever make it to Eagle status. Now I’ll finally be able to say I did it.”


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While growing up on a farm on White Marsh Road, Johnson and his brother belonged to Troop 5. The two frequently hiked five miles roundtrip to attend weekly meetings at Suffolk Christian Church.

“I loved Boy Scouts,” he said. “I still remember when my mother and father bought my first Scout uniform.”

Johnson rose through the ranks of scouting, finally meeting all the requirements for 14 merit badges in 1946. He went to Camp Waters n a now-closed scout camp on the shores of the James River in Surry County n during the summer of 1947 to earn his final four badges need to become at Eagle.

Johnson, then 15, met all the obligations to fulfill those final four badges n rowing, cooking, camping and civics – during his weeks at camp.

Then, just hours before reaching the pinnacle of his scouting career, Johnson slipped.

On the Saturday before he was to receive his Eagle award, he and three other Scouts snuck out of camp to go visit a family friend staying nearby at Scotland Neck.

The boys didn’t get into trouble while they were away from Camp Waters. But in the hour they were gone, the boys missed bed check.

As punishment, the camp director told the four scouts they would not received their Eagle merit badges.

“We were wrong to sneak out,” Johnson said. “But not getting the medals was absolutely devastating to me. It tore my heart out.

“To be an Eagle Scout doesn’t mean as much as being married to Elizabeth,” he said, referring to his marriage of four years to a childhood friend. “But it is pretty damn close.”

Johnson, a 1950 graduate of Suffolk High School, earned a business degree from Virginia Tech. He had a successful banking career and raised three children.

But through it all, he never forgot his dream to being an Eagle.

Whenever he had the chance, Johnson shared his story with people involved in Boy Scouts. But it wasn’t until last May, when Johnson ran into Dave Robertson, leader of a troop that meets at The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints in Driver, that someone did more than listen to his tale.

“I saw the concern and pain in his face as he talked,” Robertson said. “Even though I had never met him, I believed his story.”

So Robertson asked Johnson to write down his story. Robertson hand delivered it to scout executives in the Newport News district office, who eventually forwarded it to Boy Scouts of America’s national office in Irving, Texas, for a final decision.

Several months later, national officials gave the green light for Johnson to get his long-awaited Eagle award.

“I’m so happy about this,” he said. “Not getting my Eagle was one of the biggest disappointments in my life.”

More than 75 friends and family members turned out for Johnson’s awards ceremony, held at Glebe Episcopal Church in Driver. In addition to the recognition from local scouting officials, Johnson also received letters of congratulations from President George W. Bush and U.S. Rep. J. Randy Forbes.

During the ceremony, Del. Chris Jones, R-Suffolk, praised Johnson’s perseverance.

“Vann never lost sight of his dream,” said Jones, a former Boy Scout. “He is proof that having a passion for what you believe in and being in the right place at the right time can make a difference.”