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Success Through Service
Boy Scouts With Special Needs Excel in Local Troop

When the Boy Scouts of America Troop 724 is marching in a parade, you are likely to take notice. For one, they are usually near the front, carrying the colors, and standing tall with their red berets on their heads and gold braids on their left shoulders. They are also often leading the parade’s grand marshal or being escorted by the unmistakable loud rumblings of motorcycles.

“Those are the AMVETS Riders,” Scout Matthew Waelterman said. “They escort us at the parades.”

The American Veterans Post 1 sponsors Troop 724, and the AMVETS Riders are major supporters.

“All the motorcycle riders know my boys by name,” said Joe Vaughn, scoutmaster for Troop 724. “They holler and applaud for them—It’s great!”

Troop 724 is the only Boy Scouts of America special needs color guard in the nation, and according to Vaughn, the group takes part in 50 to 100 color guards across the region each year.

“It makes me feel proud,” Matthew said of being a part of the group.

The 17 Boy Scouts that make up Troop 724 are part of one of just three special needs troops in the area, and their history dates back 50 years. The troop has members that range in age from 14 to 46, and includes Scouts with a wide variety of abilities. And that means developing new ideas for projects and activities.

“About four years ago we had a Scout that had Down syndrome who was ready for his Eagle project,” Vaughn said. “He was also nonverbal, so we worked to find a project for him to show his leadership.”

What they came up with was for him to lead a silent flag retirement ceremony where he could direct the event through nonverbal communication. The project was a resounding success.

Since then, Troop 724 has retired thousands of flags. And through their Flags for Heroes program, along with accepting flags to retire, the group takes donations in order to purchase new flags to be displayed at Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery. This year alone, the troop retired 1,400 flags and purchased 6,475 new ones through donated funds. Next year, the troop hopes to raise enough to buy 170,000 new flags, so that all of the flags at Jefferson Barracks are new and pristine.

“They really get to know a lot about citizenship and patriotism,” said Ilse Waelterman, Matthew’s mother.

The troop has earned recognition for their patriotic works from the Lieutenant Governor of Missouri as well as other municipalities in the area.

“For these boys to honor those flags, that’s the greatest thing that I could ask for,” Vaughn said.

Although Troop 724 might be best known for their color guard and Flags for Heroes program, the lessons they learn through Scouting extend to all aspects of life.

“It exposes them to a tremendous palate of things to do,” said Jerry Waelterman, Matthew’s father. “It gets a lot of things in front of the Scouts that they can do and encourages them to do it.”

Cooking, camping, and learning about animals are just a few things Matthew has learned about during his time with Troop 724. “Basically, just learning new stuff all the time,” he said.

Robbie Wiegman, another member of Troop 724, stated his favorite part about being in Scouts is earning badges. He’s earned 58 in total, and is likely to become an Eagle Scout later this year. When asked about the top skills he’s learned, he highlighted “knots, fishing, and first aid.”

Robbie’s father, Bill Wiegman, emphasized the boost of self-esteem his son has gotten.

“He’s been in front of thousands of people as a member of the color guard,” he said. “Where else could he get an experience like that? It has to build his ego and give him confidence.”

Wiegman also highlighted the level of independence Robbie has gained through scouts.

“One of the things that he really likes is that he’s on his own—mom and dad aren’t there,” he said. “He’s doing things in this group with friends of his that he wouldn’t be able to do anywhere else.”

So the next time you see a color guard leading a parade in perfect step, look and see if it’s Troop 724. Or maybe just listen for the rumbling of motorcycles—it’s a dead giveaway.

arrow icon Click here for more info about Troop 724.

Published July 2015

group of boy scouts and troop leader

Troop 724 is the only Boy Scouts of America special needs color guard in the nation and takes part in 50 to 100 color guards across the region each year.


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Special School District of St. Louis County (SSD) is a leader in providing special education services to students with disabilities and also provides a wide range of career and technical education programs.
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