Current and past members of Boy Scout Troop 355 of Essex gathered on Sunday, September 30 to celebrate the organization’s 80th year serving the community.

A reunion and ceremony was held at the Essex Elk’s Lodge to bring together multiple generations of troop members while looking back on its long and illustrious history.

One of Troop 355’s biggest accomplishments has been the success of its former member, Thomas D. Jones, PhD, a scientist, author, pilot, and veteran NASA astronaut.

Born and raised in Essex, Jones has been with NASA for 11 years, embarking on 4 space shuttle missions and leading 3 spacewalks. In total, Jones spent 53 days in space.

Jones returned to his hometown to be the event’s keynote speaker, which he called a “great honor.” He looked back on his aerospace adventures through the lens of a former Boy Scout, saying that his “path to stars started back here at Troop 335.”

He reminisced on visiting Martin State Airport during a scouting field trip and getting to see the Titan II rockets being made for NASA’s Project Gemini.

“I got to see the space program come to my hometown and that’s what got me inspired to start thinking about space exploration and becoming an astronaut,” he said. “It really brought it home for me, and the troop gave me the opportunity to put some of those experiences to good use.”

He became the first in the troop to receive the space exploration merit badge and eventually went into Air Force Academy and to get his pilot qualifications, a requirement for being an astronaut.

“A lot of the things you learn in Scouts, like compass navigation and map reading and survival techniques, all of those flow right into what you do in an aircraft cockpit.”

Jones reflected on how he was rejected from the space program multiple times before they finally accepted him. However, the lessons about hard work, determination, and passion that he learned in Scouts motivated him to keep trying.

“You achieve your goals with persistence and stubbornness as much as with intelligence and skills.”

He said that of the 24 men who traveled to the moon for the first time in the 60’s, 21 were Boy Scouts and of the 12 who actually walked on the moon, 11 were Scouts.

Also, 41 of the 350 American astronauts selected for space program over the decades were Eagle Scouts.

“There’s a lot of similarity between camping on earth and camping out in a space station,” he joked.

Jones said that this impact that Boy Scouts had on space exploration is only the beginning.

He looked into the crowd and said that anybody in the room could be the next to walk on the moon or explore Mars.

“Boy Scouts will be at the center of that effort, as they have since the space race began.”

At the end of his presentation, Jones looked into the crowd and told the Scouts, both young and old, to “never stop exploring.”

Troop 355 was founded in the spring of 1938 by Our Lady of Mt. Carmel parishioners Joseph L. Tuder Jr. and assistant pastor James H. Brooks. The two 12-year-old and seven 13-year-old early members of the troop all came from the Essex and Stemmers Run neighborhoods and met in the basement of the old Mt. Carmel Elementary School every Friday evening.

Troop 355 began expanding rapidly to over 100 members in the 1960’s after the Essex population grew after the end of the war. Two patrols eventually developed, the Rattlesnakes from Essex Highlands and the Flaming Arrow from central Essex.

Since then, the Troop has continued for decades to make a name for itself in the Essex community, receiving quality and excellence awards every year from the Baltimore Area Council BSA and the Order of the Arrow.

“This troop has become an institution in the community and you all should be commended,” said Councilman Todd Crandell (R-7) who noted that Troop 355 has produced 142 Eagle Scouts in its history. “Scouting teaches the core values that makes our country what it is. We’re in great shape because we produce great young people that become assets to our community.”

Tony DeRuggerio, Scout Master since 2002, said that he is proud of all the accomplishments of Troop 355 and that he is looking forward to the next 80 years of service.

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