Missouri Boy Scout on his way to the White House

Friday, February 7, 2003

ST. LOUIS -- John Reese III speaks with the thoughtfulness of someone who's walked through the fires of life. He has, though he's only 12.

John, a sixth-grader at St. Roch Catholic School in St. Louis, is a Boy Scout honored for his heroism in leading his younger brother and himself to safety from a burning house three years ago.

He travels to Washington this weekend to meet President Bush at a White House ceremony marking Scout Anniversary Week Feb. 8-12. But it's not just the Scouts' annual report he'll hand Bush. He'll deliver some advice.

"I'll tell him I think he should give money, clothes and shelter to the homeless, and give them a job to do," he said. "And he should stop talking about war with Iraq. I want more peace in the world."

Spiritual child

His principal, family and scouts describe John as an ordinary child with extraordinary sensitivity, enthusiasm and spirituality. He also has a great memory for fire-safety instructions he'd learned almost a year earlier during a Boy Scout tour of a city fire station.

"He was led by the Holy Spirit to find his brother to lead him to safety," his mother, Sharon Reese, recalled. "When his brother said, 'We're gonna die,' he said, 'No Michael, the Holy Spirit is going to lead us out of here.'"

The Reeses are Baptist and send the boys to a Catholic school, which reinforces the family's spiritual life, family members said. But John's humility and outgoing nature are all his own.

"He doesn't let people know the goodness that he has," Reese said. "All this publicity hasn't affected him. He hadn't even told his troop master about his heroism award."

On July 7, 2000, John and Michael were watching television at their grandmother's house while she was outside when a faulty electrical outlet behind the couch caught fire. The boys ran to the kitchen for water but the fire was too far along.

In the smoke and confusion, Michael, then 4, got separated from John. John said he kept low to avoid the rising smoke and crawled to the second-floor where he called out to Michael and found him frightened under his grandmother's bedcovers.

They made their way out the balcony where they were met by rescuing firefighters.

'Be prepared'

John said he considered briefly that the boys might not make it, but didn't stay with that notion long.

"I kept thinking about the Boy Scout motto, 'Be prepared,' and I was prepared," John said. "I knew what to do.

"I thought if I doubted myself -- I'm a little superstitious -- I might jinx myself. I kept telling Michael, I know we're going to get out."

Ida Rogers, speaking to reporters with her oldest and her "baddest" grandsons close to her, thanks God they are alive and that John was thinking so clearly that day.

For his part, Michael, now 7, said he'll never forget the day, or his brother's heroism.

"My brother helped me to be braver," he said. "I heard his voice. ... I feel really glad for him, I feel really proud of him. I'm glad I have him for a brother."

The rescue was profiled in the June 2002 issue of "Boys' Life" magazine.

John's Cub Scout den leader at the time, Beth Going, said scouts are required to learn emergency skills. Still, she said John was remarkable in remembering the fire-safety rules: stay calm, stay low, know where the fire is before opening doors.

"It's what every parent wants their kid to know and do," she said.

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