I have always had an affection for Smokey the Bear. When I was little, my grandmother gave me a "Smokey the Bear" teddy bear. He had a badge, hat and the rest of his uniform. He even came with a badge and certificate for me, designating me as a "Junior Forest Ranger," with all the duties and privileges contained therein. Included was also a comic book telling the true story of the real-life Smokey the Bear. Before my grandmother let me wear my new Junior Forest Ranger badge, I had to take the oath to always use care while in the forest and to always practice fire safety. Mama Patrick was not one to allow you to wear a badge like that without realizing the great responsibility that came along with it.
Growing up, I was very fortunate to be in a family that respected the outdoors. Many of my fondest childhood memories are of time spent outdoors with my dad. I learned more lessons about life than I could ever fit into a newspaper column. My father taught me the importance of leaving a campsite at least as clean, and usually cleaner, than we found it. This included practicing fire safety while building and keeping a campfire. A major part of that fire safety was making sure the fire was completely extinguished before leaving the campsite.
Recently, Smokey the Bear celebrated his 75th birthday. This makes him one of the oldest and longest-lasting advertising icons in history. The forest service began using the image of a bear for their fire prevention campaigns in 1944. There was even a popular song recorded by Gene Autry dedicated to Smokey the Bear. In the 1950s, a young bear cub was rescued from a wildfire in New Mexico and became a living symbol of the importance of preventing unnecessary wildfires. This orphaned bear cub was named "Smokey" and was an instant celebrity, receiving cards and letters from children nationwide.
So, I happily say "Happy Birthday" to Smokey the Bear. Thank you for helping a little boy learn and understand the need for all of us to care for and protect the natural beauty the Good Lord has given us.