For an 8-year-old boy growing up in London during World War II, outdoor fun usually meant playing on city streets or in craters opened up by Nazi bombs.
It was in this climate that Michael Callaghan became a Boy Scout, hoping camping trips would get him out of the city and into nature. Along the way, Callaghan said he became a man who learned to take care of himself in a way many others hadn't figured out. The experience was so powerful that he stayed involved with Scouts into adulthood to guide other youths.
Now at age 78, Callaghan is celebrating 70 years with Scouting in England and more recently with the Boy Scouts of America in Mesa's Troop 451. He said he enjoys keeping busy, but gets the most enjoyment in helping young Scouts learn skills important later in life.
"I like to think my input is turning boys into men," Callaghan said.
He's an assistant Scoutmaster and works with about 50 Boy Scouts. Callaghan has captivated boys with stories of carrying on Scouting activities even as London was being obliterated by the Germans, said Greg Randolph, Troop 451's Scoutmaster.
"I've never seen so many little kids pay attention to another person with that much intensity," Randolph said.
Callaghan said Scouting was one of the few ways a London boy could see nature. Few families had cars at the time and camping usually meant walking 10-15 miles to get out of the sprawling urban area. They carried all their camping gear, including heavy army tents that modern campers wouldn't recognize.
"You needed a gang of Sherpas to carry it," Callaghan said. "Now it's all lightweight, easy camping."
Other changes in society and technology have meant different merit badges and activities. He also sees more distractions: video games, computers, the intensity of school sports, drugs and more. But the core mission is the same, he said.
Callaghan moved to Arizona in 2003. U.S. Scouting is more in style with what he remembers as a youth, he said. The Scout Association in the United Kingdom has made more changes, including letting girls join troops in the 1990s.
Callaghan is a good fit for what Randolph said is one of Arizona's most active troops. The group tries to have an out-of-town event every other week along with weekly gatherings. That requires a lot of work for parents who can sometimes be overwhelmed with their own lives and makes it so important to have experienced adults like Callaghan, Randolph said.
Callaghan lives up to the Scout motto: Be prepared.
Randolph said Callaghan demonstrated this recently by volunteering to run one of the troop's most challenging events. Other adults wouldn't take on the fall camporee, but Randolph said he'd do it. Randolph set up a meeting shortly after and figured the talk with Callaghan would be preliminary.
"The first time I met with him, he already had everything planned out," Randolph said. "He had the complete book finished. He just wanted to go over it with me."
Callaghan said he'll stay involved as long as he's able and wanted. He has stopped driving because of an eye condition and now needs somebody to drive him to gatherings.
Callaghan worked for an engineering company and then for 37 years as a civilian in a police department. It was while in the Royal Air Force that Callaghan said he recognized how Scouts had prepared him for things beyond the camping trips he took as a kid.
"I felt I was more prepared, and looked after myself and my equipment, more than others who had never been away or on their own," he said.