Tens of thousands of Boy Scouts, hoping to get things back to normal at their National Jamboree after four Scout leaders were killed on opening day, endured another disappointment Wednesday when they learned that President Bush was postponing his visit -- and their kickoff show.
The announcement of the postponement, which came after the Scouts had waited in the blazing sun in their dress uniforms for more than two hours, was met with loud boos. Dozens of Scouts became so overheated while they waited that they had to be escorted to medical tents. There were no serious injuries.
The president's visit and the opening show were postponed because of severe storms. Both were rescheduled for tonight. The event is to include a memorial service for the Scout leaders from the Western Alaska Council who were electrocuted Monday when a pole they were hoisting for a dining canopy apparently struck a power line.
The deaths made for a somber beginning to the 16th National Boy Scout Jamboree, held every four years at this military base 80 miles south of Washington. Word of the deaths traveled from tent to tent, and some Scout troops gathered for moments of silence to honor the four men.
Boy Scout officials offered no further details yesterday about the accident. A metal pole in the center of the canopy hit an overhead power line, officials have said, but the investigation is continuing.
The Scout officials would not disclose the new camp location of the two Alaskan troops, which were moved from the accident site.
Five Alaskan Scouts stopped Wednesday afternoon to check out patches offered by a Hawaiian Scout for trading. Their faces turned serious when they were asked about the accident, which some said they had witnessed, and they declined to be interviewed. Several of their fellow troop members had gone home, they said, but those who stayed were managing to enjoy themselves as best they could.
"You can just say we're doing fine," one Scout said.
Matthew Adams, 17, a member of the Western Alaska Council, said that his first Jamboree in 2001 was so much fun that he "couldn't pass up the opportunity" to come again. But he said he and other members of Troop 711 did not begin to enjoy this year's Jamboree until Tuesday afternoon.
On Monday night, they slept in an Army barracks and waited for more details of the accident. "It was pretty tough," Adams said. He said the leaders who were killed were role models "for every Boy Scout in central Alaska."
David Apperson, 17, also of Troop 711, said: "Things have been better today. This is amazing. It's incredible.
"It's just cool to be a part of this," Apperson said of his second Jamboree.
Gregg Shields, a Boy Scouts national spokesman, said he could not confirm whether the four Scout leaders killed were asked by contractors to help set up the canopy. Family members of some of the troop leaders have contended that is what happened.
Military officials and other Scoutmasters said most troops had hired contractors to erect the largest tents. That, however, would not have stopped a troop leader from pitching in, said Scoutmaster Jim Carson of Idaho Falls, Idaho.
"You're going to jump in and help," he said. The Alaskan troops might have been trying to save money by hiring only a few contractors, he added, meaning the leaders would need to assist.
On Wednesday, most of the 32,000 Scouts from around the world went about their regular activities. And that included enduring a beastly, oppressive heat that prompted troops to bristle when putting on their uniforms, neckerchief and all, for the Bush visit.
"I try to stay out of the heat," said T.J. Risseeuw, 14, of Wyckoff, N.J., standing nowhere near the shade. "It's not really working."
And looming in the backdrop is the threat that the Jamboree might not take place again after a recent federal court ruling that Defense Department contributions -- about $8 million -- to fund the event are unconstitutional because the organization requires members to affirm a belief in God.
Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.), who spoke to the Scouts on Wednesday, said he would ensure federal funding for future Jamborees. "Scouts of tomorrow deserve the exact same opportunity that you are having now to forge skills and forge friendships," he said.
The ruling didn't appear to matter as Scouts toured their campus freely, stopping for fishing, knot-tying and woodcarving.
Scout officials have rolled out statistics to lend perspective to the demands of a 10-day outdoor extravaganza for 32,000 adolescent boys: The youths will deplete enough electrolytes carving wood and running obstacle courses to require 169,000 gallons of energy drink. They will eat so many submarine sandwiches that, if lined end to end, the subs would line the course of a half-marathon and then some.