Fallen scout leaders honored

Scouts sculpt tribute to Alaskans who died in accident

Posted: Wednesday, August 03, 2005

BOWLING GREEN, Va. - With the tap, tap, tap of a hammer, Brett Finkler chisels away at a block of Indiana limestone and a star is born.

The 1st Class Scout from Chicago's Troop 1013 is helping create a mini-galaxy on the side of the 300-pound rectangle in a pine grove at Fort A.P. Hill in Caroline County. It will likely earn Brett a merit badge for sculpture and be a rock-solid reminder of his 10 days at the National Scout Jamboree.

But more importantly, it will be a lasting tribute to four Alaska Scout leaders killed on the first day of this year's jamboree when the tent they were erecting struck a power line.

The U.S. Forest Service has commissioned sculptures at each of the past three jamborees to mark the agency's participation. This year, artist Pietro Smith was asked to create a botanical design.

"Then the tragedy occurred and we decided immediately to make this a memorial to them," he said.

The 59-year-old former investment officer from Princeton Junction, N.J., decided to add a forget-me-not, the state flower of Alaska, above the original opening lily design. On the sides of the stone, he is having Scouts and visitors punch stars, because Alaska's state flag includes the Big Dipper and North Star.

Brett was smoothing out a few of the stars Monday. The 13-year-old is interested in drawing and already has an art merit badge, but this is his first attempt at sculpture.

He and troopmates William Sutphin and Andrew Hull came across the sculpture last Tuesday and have returned each day to work on it.

"I'm getting into this a lot," he said.

The stars are created using a small hammer and an aptly named star chisel, a pointed tool with a tip resembling a large Phillips screwdriver. About two dozen taps from the hammer are needed to gouge the sandy stone to the right depth, then a few twists of the chisel smooth out the hole.

Carving the flowers was more painstaking. First, Smith drew the design on the stone, then used a flat chisel to mark the lines. A triple-toothed claw chisel was used to clear away the rock around the design.

"That's very hard," Brett says. "You have to watch out not to chip off any of the petals."

Smith estimates that more than 3,000 Scouts and visitors have dropped by since he began work last week.

The memorial now has more than 200 stars on its sides, and four special ones on the front around the forget-me-not.

Those stars, which Smith filled with 22-karat gold leaf, were created by relatives or colleagues of Michael J. Shibe, 49; Mike Lacroix, 42; and Ronald H. Bitzer, 58; all of Anchorage; and Scott Edward Powell, 57, of Perrysville, Ohio, who had worked for decades with Alaska Boy Scouts.

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