For Bernie Koehr, it was the night of his life.

But every time Erma Koehr gazed at her 13-year-old son - who was decked out in his Boy Scout uniform, complete with a blinding array of merit badges, skill awards and progress patches - the tears came.

Seated in the cafeteria of Groveton Elementary School in Alexandria, where the 40 members of Troop 871 were finishing last-minute preparations for a Court of Honor, Erma Koehr was waiting for the moment when Bernie would be awarded Scouting's highest honor, his Eagle Scout pin.

"Bernie doesn't want any emotionalism," she said, choking back her tears. "But it's so special - I cried at Jimmy's and at Johnny's I almost fainted."

Jimmy and Johnny Koehr, Bernie's older brothers, both are active in Troop 871 and both are Eagle Scouts. The youngest of the four Koehr children, 12-year-old Brian, hopes to earn his Eagle pin this spring.

For the Koehr family, Scouting is more than just something to occupy a few hours on Monday night. It's a tradition, an honor and a way of life.

The boy's father, Navy Cmdr. James Koehr, became an Eagle Scout on June 30, 1952 - he still remembers the exact day because "it was a big deal in my life. Being an Eagle Scout teaches you self-reliance and all the basic life skills."

And tonight, Bernie's grandfather, Edwin Koehr, 71, who had come from St. Louis with his wife Mae, would present the Eagle to pin to his third grandson.

"You see, this is kind of a family affair," beamed Edwin Koehr, a veteran Scout volunteer, who served as a local district advancement chairman for Scouting in the 1950s.

However unintentional, the Eagle fever puts some pressure on young Brian, who said he is working hard to earn his pin. "I have to or they'll kill me," he laughed, only half kidding.

To round out the family affair, Brian served as master of ceremonies at the Court of Honor. Although he admitted to some stage fright, he approached the podium at exactly 8 p.m., calmly, almost professionally.

The Cobra Patrol presented the opening ceremony, leading the five rows of uniformed Scouts and nearby 75 family members in the Pledge of Allegiance. Scoutmaster Eugene Richards, whose son Rusty is the troop's only Eagle Scout besides the Koehr brothers, presented new troop leaders with badges.

During the hour-long ceremony, parents and troop leaders presented more than 100 merit badges, which troop members had earned for skills ranging from wilderness survival to swimming, reading to reptile studies. Most badges were earned this summer at Lake Meriweather Scout Camp in Goshen, Va.

But the night belonged to Bernie. For the presentation, all Eagle Scouts in the audience were asked to come and sit in the "Eagles' Nest" on the stage.

With his father and older brothers seated behind him, Bernie stood at attention when his grandfather approached the podium. The sound of a home movie camera pierced the pre-presentation stillness, and Benie surpressed a grin of pride.

"They may not realize it today, but when they grow up to be men, becoming an Eagle Scout really gives them honor, pride and honesty," said Edwin Koehr. "Only about 1 percent of all boys in Scouting in the United States achieve the rank of Eagle Scout each year."

About 375 boys in the Washington area achieve the rank of Eagle Scout each year. To become an Eagle Scout a boy must earn 24 merit badges, including required badges such as first aid, citizenship in the community, personal management and emergency preparedness. He must show the "Scout spirit," serve in leadership positions, develop and lead a service project and plan what he intends to do with his life.

"Pinning an Eagle badge on a boy is in reality a double pinning - the boy and his mother," explained Edwin Koehr as he invited his daughter-in-law to come on stage. "How many camping trips at 6 a.m., how many advancement patches and patrol emblems has she sewn on his shirt and how many dirty uniforms has she washed and ironed!"

At her seat, Erma Koehr had been doing her best not to cry. She pursed her lips, took deep breaths and played hide and seek with a tissue tucked into the long sleeve of her shiny, polka-dot blouse.

But as she walked onto the stage, she appeared composed. With shining eyes, she accepted the miniature Eagle Scout pin and added it to two other on her vest.

Then the moment came: Erma Koehr leaned over and pinned the coveted Eagle medal over her son's pocket, straightening it a little and brushing the uniform with a motherly pat.

A solemn bugler ended the meeting with "Taps" and the crowd gathered in the back of the cafeteria for refreshments.

Bernie and his mother distributed slices of huge cake, decorated with the Eagle Scout emblem and blue frosting, reading "Congratulations Bernie."

The experience of becoming an Eagle Scout "ranked up at the top with the Rebel Yell (roller coaster)," Bernie grinned. "My heart was pounding.

"Being an Eagle Scout shows a lot to an employer," reflected the prospective naval officer as he cautioned a friend not to cut into the cake's eagle, which he intended to save. "But mostly it's a lot of fun."