It was 1968. I was 15 years old. It was summertime in northwest New Jersey, near Blairstown. I was at summer Boy Scout camp, Camp Pahaquarra. I was a patrol leader, leading a group of six boys on an overnight hike. We were hiking with other patrols, about 40 boys and 3-4 adult leaders in all.
Somewhere along the way, my patrol got separated from the rest of the group. At a crossroads in the hiking trail, we must have made a wrong turn. Once we realized we were lost, we backtracked along the trail to the crossroads, in hopes that the rest of our group would come back to find us. As night fell, we decided to stay put and began to set up camp for the night. The winds had picked up considerably and it felt like a storm was coming. We decided to set up our pup tents as a wind shield by tying them between trees rather than setting them up as individual tent shelters.
During the night, the rain started and the wind, thunder and lightning increased. It was late into the night and we had fallen half-asleep, drenched and laying in puddles of water. I woke up to a loud crack in the air and felt a jolt of electricity surge through me. I saw a metal canteen fly through the air. One boy awoke screaming. Within 30 seconds I had gathered my wits and determined that we needed to leave the site immediately.
I yelled to the others to follow me down the hill to safety. Crouching in our underwear deep in the woods as the storm raged and the thunder and lightning continued, I had to decide what to do next. In bare feet and underwear, I chose to lead the group down the hill in hopes of finding help. Sure enough, after a 1/2 hour walk we saw a house in the distance. We knocked on the door, shivering and scared. The family inside awoke, welcomed us in, and wrapped us in towels and blankets. They called the camp office where we'd been staying. A bus came to pick us up and bring us back to camp. The next day, we had to return to the site to retrieve our gear. Upon arrival, I saw our sleeping bags and gear strewn around the site. Then I saw a large tree, with a blackened trunk and branches, apparently the target for the lightning bolt that went through me.
There was little said to me by anyone after that incident. I made the local news: "Boys hit by lightning." One year later, I was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes. Later in life I suffered a heart attack and had triple bypass surgery. I'm not sure what effect, if any, the lightning strike had on my physical,mental or emotional functioning, but I will never forget that feeling.