1929 Diary of a Teenage Boy Scout Who Would Eventually Storm a Beach in Normandy and Become a Respected Pennsylvania Entrepreneur

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On offer is a rare deep dive into the mind of a teenage boy in the interwar years through the jam-packed Boy Scouts of America diary kept by 15-year-old Martin William Popkin (1914-2008). 

Popkin was a 15 year old boy who was born in New York and grew up and lived in Reading and Allentown, Pennsylvania. He joined the Boy Scouts when he was 14 and his diary keeps a careful record of his accomplishments. In his later years, Popkin became the editor of his high school newspaper in Reading. He became an Eagle Scout and later on an extraordinary photographer. He had the good fortune to be able to travel the world, visiting 110 countries throughout his life. When World War II broke out, he joined the Army at 28 years old in November, 1942. He was shipped off to England on the Queen Mary. Marvin participated in the invasion of Normandy at Utah Beach. On December 31, he was honorably discharged as a Captain in the corp. of engineers. After the war ended he settled in Allentown where he built a successful surgical supply business. He had one daughter named Marjie. 

His diary is chock full of the things that would matter to a 15 year old boy – things like school, social life and fun activities. However, Popkin spends a great chunk of his time working toward his Boy Scout badges and working. He records the badges he receives and when he reaches new ranks in the Boy Scouts. He also reports on his work and income on occasion. Some excerpts follow:

“Up at 8:30. Went over to school and then up to Sr. H.S. Sat around and talked to girls. Ate lunch and watched ‘kids’ practice senior play. Saw B. Miller. Ate supper and went to Troop 13’s meeting. Was put in Lion patrol. Was to meet with Leaders. Came home with Russell Shull. Went to bed at 10:05” [Jan 21]. 

“Got 70 in Latin. Got sent to detention for throwing rubber. Played baseball. Determined to become Life Scout. In bed at 12:00” [May 9]. 

“Got up and put on my new suit Its a close knitted gray. Went to Philadelphia. Stayed at the Weinrachs. Had a nice time. Athletics won the World Series Had a good ride home. In bed at 10:00” [Sept 15]. 

“Walked 6 1/4 miles. Had to run 2 blocks Had my basketry paper signed. Passed remainder of Athletics Badge. Am now a Life Scout. Have 39 Merit Badges. In bed at 9:30” [Nov 6].

“...Am satisfied with this year for my health and that of all my scout advancement & I hope my next year school work will be much better and I hope I pass all my subjects. Am glad I was able to keep diary and hope I will continue to do so. I am thankful for a [ ] of success” [Dec 31].

The diary also has nearly 100 additional pages of Boy Scout memoranda. These include first aid tips, signaling, information about plants and wildlife, safety on the road, etc. Popkin has added notes to some of these pages including keeping careful track of his finances, and adding notes about the Boy Scouts. 

For a social historian, this diary provided a detailed look into the life of a 15 year old boy during the inter-war years. While we have a lot of diaries written by young women, a complete and consistent record of a young gentleman is less common, particularly given how legible Popkin’s writing is throughout! This diary is detailed and shows how important the Boy Scouts youth program was to this teenager. It opens a fascinating window into a world so often closed to adults

The diary measure 5.0 inches by 2.5 inches. It contains 122 pages and is 100% complete. It also has many many more pages of information and explanations, as one would expect in a Boy Scouts diary. The covers are in good condition. The binding is intact but loose and there is wear damage on the spine. The pages are in good condition and the handwriting is legible.

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