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Boy earns Scout badge by helping Navy commission nuclear sub


TAYLORSVILLE -- Earning this Boy Scout badge was great fun.

Twelve-year-old Melvin R. Szymanski and his family traveled to Connecticut last weekend and participated in commissioning ceremonies for the Navy's newest submarine.

The trip was the result of Melvin's ingenuity in trying to earn a citizenship badge, for which he was required to offer a service to the government, his mother, Robin Szymanski, said.

Several months ago, he wrote to Gov. William Donald Schaefer to ask if he could present a plaque from the children of Maryland to be hung in the USS Maryland, an 18,000-ton nuclear submarine.

He received word back that the Navy could hang only one plaque, but that he was invited to help present the plaque that had been chosen, Mrs. Szymanski said.

"They really treated him very well," she said. "He was in his element.

"The commissioning was very exciting -- a lot better than I expected," she added, laughing and saying she expected a string of speeches.

Instead, the family toured the submarine, watched Navy personnel open the missile hatches and move the rudder and met veterans who had served on the battleship USS Maryland, which survived the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.

Melvin presented the plaque at a Friday night dinner and read aloud the message inscribed on it -- after practicing it only once. The plaque was in memory of the men who died aboard the battleship.

Asked to describe the $1.5 billion submarine, Melvin said, "Big." His tour did not include parts of the submarine that are "top secret," he said.

Mrs. Szymanski said she and her husband, Melvin F. Szymanski, have been encouraging their son's interest in the military by visiting ships and submarines on the East Coast during summer vacations.

Their three boys have a difference of opinion about the military, however.

Melvin, who just finished sixth grade at Mount Airy Middle, wants to attend the Naval Academy in Annapolis.

Devin, 9, has an interest in the Marines.

But Weston, 5, wants no part of it. After the ceremonies last weekend, his mother asked if he would be interested in the military.

"He said, 'No, I don't like war,' " she said.

Melvin, who's halfway to earning enough badges to become an Eagle Scout, said he became interested in the Navy after seeing the movie "Top Gun," with Tom Cruise cast as a fighter pilot.

He has lots of Navy memorabilia in his bedroom in a case with his baseball trophies -- he plays for the Winfield Orioles -- and model airplanes and ships. His favorite Navy souvenir is the program from the commissioning ceremony -- it mentions his name.

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