Finding Solace As Scout Leader After Losing Son
by Sean Kimmons, Army News Service
July 27, 2022
Kim McCann never had the opportunity to be in the Boy Scouts as a kid. But as a father, he got a second chance.
One day while at Yokosuka Naval Base in 2007, McCann and his son, Ian, walked past the chapel when they noticed a social event inside for the local scout den.
McCann, now the physical security manager at Kure Pier 6, recalled that he had little interest at the time, but he still waited outside as his son checked it out.
His son ran into some of his friends, who were scouts, and he instantly became hooked. When McCann went to retrieve him, he realized what he had to do. He asked for an application for his son and was provided two of them, which he both completed.
As he inquired about the next den meeting, the attendant told him he had just filled out an application to become the den leader.
Top - Kim McCann, left, who serves as the physical security manager at Kure Pier 6 in Japan, became a became a Boys Scout leader shortly after his son, Ian, became a scout. He also had the honor of placing an eagle scout neckerchief on Ian during a ceremony in 2014, who unexpectedly died shortly afterwards. Bottom - Kim McCann, center, helps lead a Boy Scout summer camp at Tama Hills, Japan in 2019. McCain still volunteers (July 2022) as a Boy Scout leader in honor of Ian. (Image created by USA Patriotism! from courtesy photos from Kim McCann.)
“So they got me,” he said, jokingly. “I became an adult leader then and I’ve loved it ever since. I thought, if I’m going to do it for [my son], I might as well do it with him, and we figured it out together.”
Over the years, the former Navy chief petty officer went on to hold several leadership roles for the Boy Scouts, including cubmaster, scoutmaster and committee chairman. Today, he serves as an at-large district member and is often called upon to assist.
Last month, the 66-year-old Army civilian took vacation days to lead a weeklong summer camp at Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni, which had about 200 American scouts attend from locations across Japan.
“You get to mentor a lot of really good kids, boys and girls, in scouting to make sure they are doing the right thing and being good citizens,” he said. “That’s what scouting is all about.”
As part of his duties during the camp, he also participated in review boards to ensure older scouts were ready to become an eagle scout, the highest achievable rank.
Similar to a Soldier of the Year board, eagle scout board members press candidates with questions related to their scouting experience and knowledge as well as have them recite an oath.
Prospective eagle scouts must also complete a community service project. A recent candidate, for instance, rebuilt a fire pit in the Tama Hills region. Another candidate, who is autistic, built a water drainage system on top of the roof of a small building in Tokyo.
“He did a good job with it and he was so passionate,” McCann said. “I was so proud of him, because he had been through a lot and he still made it all the way to eagle scout.”
McCann’s son also put in the hard work to earn the coveted badge. Ian created a fundraiser to purchase 3,000 U.S. flags, sized 3 feet by 5 feet. He then taught fourth and fifth graders how to properly fold them.
As the USS Ronald Reagan aircraft carrier prepared to deploy on a mission from Yokosuka, McCann said his son went down to the waterfront and handed out the flags, along with messages of support, to every sailor who boarded the ship.
“It would remind them that people still cared about them at home,” McCann said of the project.
Shortly after he became an eagle scout, Ian, who had been attending college in Japan, died unexpectedly in 2015. He was 19.
“All of the roles I did for scouting were because of him, and I fell in love with it,” McCann said. “Now I still do it because of that. I do it for my son and I do it because I like to mentor.”
Just like with his son, McCann has seen many other scouts climb the ranks from cub scout to the pinnacle of eagle scout.
McCann said former scouts will sometimes reach out to him for advice or to check in. One of them, who is currently in basic training with the Navy, recently texted to let him know he’s doing well.
“I get texts like that all the time from different scouts,” McCann said. “That, to me, is a breath of fresh air when they do that. It lets me know what I am doing is right.”
Dale Scholle, the district advancement chair for the Boy Scouts’ Far East Council, said he has known McCann for about 15 years when they both got involved in scouting.
"Kim just brings a ton of energy into scouting,” Scholle said. “He understands how to encourage youth and how to prevent them from getting discouraged."
He said McCann will often take charge when he sees an opportunity to step in and help. He has even earned the wood badge, the highest level of scout leadership training for adults.
“Wood badge is what I consider the NBA of scouting,” Scholle said. “You walk away with a huge toolbox of different techniques from problem solving to communicating, planning and conflict resolution – all of those key skills that a great leader needs to have under his belt.”
While scouting is a youth-led program, Scholle said adults are needed to ensure a safe, positive environment.
“When you have a great leader who can mentor, encourage and guide those youth leaders, then basically the unit runs itself and the adults just kind of provide the support," Scholle said.
He added that adults will offer unique adventures to the youth like fishing, rock climbing, rappelling or even scuba diving.
“These are phenomenal life skills that scouts will remember for the rest of their lives,” Scholle said. “Kim is one of those leaders who provides such skills.”
When not in his scout uniform, McCann leads a team of nearly 90 personnel, most of whom are security guards who protect Kure Pier 6 and three Army ammunition depots near Hiroshima.
McCann said he has a great team and enjoys working with his host-nation employees who are always professional.
“They are all good,” he said. “Every guard I have, every admin person I have, is really good.”
While in the Navy, McCann served as an electronic warfare specialist who operated navigational radars and computers. Then the 9/11 terrorist attacks happened.
At the time, his collateral duty was being the force protection officer. But with the new heightened level of security, it became his full-time job as he taught other sailors about plans and policies, standing watch and how to fire weapons.
“It turned into my career after that,” he said.
McCann, who is originally from West Covina, California, near Los Angeles, has also made Japan his home. Since 1985, he has been in and out of the country, which he describes as a friendly and safe place to live, while taking on various roles as a sailor and an Army civilian.
In his first assignment to Japan, he initially didn’t like living here. He stayed on the base, drank at the club and constantly complained about there being nowhere to go, he said.
He left Yokosuka on a yearlong tour to Bahrain, where he had plenty of time to think about the life he led in Japan. When he returned, he decided to make some changes. He moved off base, stopped drinking and traveled around the country.
In only a few weeks of being back, he also met a Japanese woman named Misuzu Kato whom he eventually married.
“I just started enjoying life,” he said. “And what I really like here is the honesty and the friendship of the people.”
One memory that stood out to him was when he accidentally left his wallet inside a phone booth outside the base. He spent the day in nearby Kamakura and tried to have fun, even though he was sure his wallet was long gone.
When he got back that evening, he was amazed to see that no one had touched the wallet and it still had all of his $300 in it. “That impressed me so much,” he said.
As a devout Catholic, McCann would go on to share his own acts of kindness, such as feeding the homeless in the city of Yokosuka and volunteering at church. He now attends a Japanese Catholic church in Kure, where he believes he is the only parishioner who is American.
When there is a service, he helps read scriptures in English and makes the church bells come alive. “I go up in the tower and ring the bells before mass starts,” he said. “I feel like Quasimodo up there.”
Whether in church or working with the Boy Scouts, McCann said he receives a wonderful feeling whenever he lends a hand to others.
But McCann said he had to quit his volunteer work as a scout leader following the death of his son. The shock of losing his only child was too much to bear.
“I stopped for a while, because I just needed to step back,” he said. “I needed to step back and catch my breath.”
About a year and a half later, a request came for him to share his expertise once again as another summer camp approached.
“They called me and asked me to come back,” McCann said. “I wasn’t going to, but I did and I’m glad I did, because it helped me.”
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