From A Second Chicken Soup for the Woman's Soul

The Best Badge of All

When I became a Girl Scout, my mother told me this story about her scout troop and what happened to them a long time ago, during World War II:

On a chilly Saturday morning in December, the eleven-year-old girls in our troop gathered excitedly at the bus stop, where we met our leader, Mrs. Taylor. We carried large paper sacks filled with skillets, mixing bowls and assorted groceries. On this long-awaited day, the girls of Troop 11 were going to earn our cooking badges.

“Nothing tastes as good as the first meal you cook yourself, especially on an open fire,” Mrs. Taylor smiled.

It would take three bus transfers to get us all the way out to the wilderness. As we boarded the first, we clutched our groceries as if they were bags of jewels. Several mothers had generously contributed precious ration stamps so we could buy the ingredients for a real breakfast: pancakes with actual butter, bacon, and even some brown sugar for homemade syrup! We scouts would earn our badges in spite of hardship, in spite of the war. In our minds, we were not only learning to cook in the wilderness; we were doing our parts to keep life going apace on the home front.

We finally arrived at Papango Park, a beautiful desert refuge filled with palo verde trees, smoky mesquite bushes and massive red rock formations. As we started hiking up the dirt road into the park, a U.S. Army truck filled with German prisoners of war passed us, heading into the park.

“There go those Germans!” one of the girls said, contemptuously. “I hate them!”

“Why did they have to start the war?” another complained. “My dad’s been gone for so long.”

We all had fathers, brothers or uncles fighting in Europe.

Determinedly, we hiked to our campsite, and soon the bacon was sizzling in the skillets while the pancakes turned golden brown around the edges.

The meal was a success. Mrs. Taylor’s prediction about our gastronomic delight was proved correct.

After the meal, one of the girls started a scouting song as we cleaned up our cooking site. One by one, we all joined in. Our leader started another song, and we continued wholeheartedly.

Then, unexpectedly, we heard male voices. A beautiful tune sung in deep, strong tones filled the December air and drifted down to us.

We looked up to see the cavernous natural shell in the red sediment boulders, called “Hole in the Rock,” filled with the German prisoners and their guards.

As they finished their song, we began another. They reciprocated with another haunting melody. We couldn’t understand a word they were singing, but to our delight, we continued exchanging songs throughout the clear desert morning.

Finally one of the girls began to sing “Silent Night,” and we all added our voices to the Christmas carol. A few moments of silence followed, and then . . . the familiar melody flowed back to us.

“Stille Nacht, Heilige Nacht . . . ”

“How can they know our Christmas carols?” one of the girls asked our leader. They were our country’s enemies!

We continued to listen in awe. For an odd, unforgettable moment, the men in the cave became somebody’s fathers and brothers, just as they understood us to be beloved daughters and sisters.

In the years that followed, others probably looked at our new badges as proof that we could cook over a fire. But to us, they were reminders of the need for peace, and a very strange transformation that happened one Christmastime.

Gerry Niskern

You are currently enjoying a preview of this book.

Sign up here to get a Chicken Soup for the Soul story emailed to you every day for free!

Please note: Our premium story access has been discontinued (see more info).

view counter

More stories from our partners