He mentored more than 100 Columbus area boys on their way to becoming an Eagle Scout, and he coached countless other children in the local Special Olympics program. So when his daughter, Dawn Hoag, sums up the impact her father made on this community after his decorated military career, it doesn’t seem like hyperbole.
“My dad’s entire life was volunteering,” she told the Ledger-Enquirer on Tuesday while confirming that Fred Sieg had died in his Columbus home Monday night after battling cancer.
He was 77.
In the L-E’s January 2017 story about Sieg as he was on the verge of seeing his 100thscout earn an Eagle badge, the highest rank in the Boy Scouts of America, BSA communications director Effie Delimarkos said it’s unclear how many other scoutmasters have such a legacy because that data isn’t tracked.
“I can share that this is certainly a rare accomplishment and we appreciate Mr. Sieg’s commitment to Scouting,” she said.
Rodney Barham, a retired U.S. Army brigadier general, was the second scout Sieg helped earn an Eagle badge, back in 1973, when they were part of Troop 120 off Farr Road in south Columbus.
“Capt. Sieg provided the leadership, the mentorship, the cajoling that I needed as a young man to achieve that high honor,” he told the L-E in that article. “I believe making Eagle Scout, the skills that I learned, the experiences I had during that time, led to the person that I am today, and I thank him very much for what he did for me and my family and for all of those he helped achieve that rank.”
The troop, before Sieg arrived in 1972, “had gone through quite a few scoutmasters, and none of them wanted to stay with us,” recalled Barham, a 1975 Carver High School graduate. “I mean, we were a pretty wild group of kids. Capt. Sieg came in, and he was different. He was different. He was Scouts.”
During a Troop 120 campout at Fort Benning, the boys didn’t think Sieg was awake yet as they gathered around the campfire for breakfast. So they took advantage of their unmonitored time to practice curse words they had learned from someone other than their scoutmaster.
Sieg overheard them. He didn’t holler at the boys, Barham recalled, but he did tell them, “Y’all sound very ignorant talking like that. There are much better words in the dictionary to use.”
Barham reflected, “That changed the way I thought and had me grow up a little bit at that point in time.”
And that lesson lasted. In the Army, during one of his annual evaluations as a major, Barham recalled, the colonel noted, “Maj. Barham has the language of a gentleman.”
“That’s something I attributed to Capt. Sieg’s guidance,” said Barham, who in 2015 became the first Distinguished Eagle Scout in the Chattahoochee Council since 1986, the eighth in the council’s history and one of approximately 2,000 in the nation since the award was implemented in 1964.
“There are presidents, astronauts and all that on the list,” Barham said, “and then there’s little ol’ Rod Barham because of Capt. Sieg.”
Chris Largent, the executive for the BSA’s Yellow Jacket District in LaGrange, said he is in that position to lead one of the Chattahoochee Council’s four districts because of Sieg. In fact, Largent said, he was the most influential person in his life.
“I am a product of the program and of being under his leadership,” Largent told the L-E on Tuesday. “… Because of his devotion to see me and other people, especially youth, succeed in life through various activities, he put me on the path I’m on now.”
Then he explained how.
“His patience and kindness were the biggest things that hit with me, explaining things and developing our leadership skills,” Largent said. “There were times that we tested that patience, but he never seemed to run out of it.”
Sieg taught Largent and his fellow Scouts skills that ranged from as mundane as properly dressing to as extraordinary as lifesaving. No wonder Largent viewed Sieg as embodying “pretty much the definition of what it was to be a Boy Scout, living and breathing the Scout Law, the Scout Motto, everything.”
Largent, a 2005 Columbus High School graduate, said he “didn’t grow up on the best side of town,” but he was one of the 104 boys Sieg helped become an Eagle Scout. He earned that badge in 2004 with Troop 2 at St. Matthew Evangelical Lutheran Church.
“There’s no telling where I would have been without that,” he said.
Sieg was born in Wheeling, W.Va., and grew up in Ohio and New Jersey. His father, Marlin, was an Eagle Scout, became the assistant director in the BSA’s Cub Scouts division and helped write the manuals.
In June 1965, as a second lieutenant in charge of a platoon, Hoag said, Sieg was shot in the head while aiding one of his men who was shot by a sniper.
A telegram informed Sieg’s parents that he was mortally wounded. But after 18 months of learning to walk and talk and read and write again, Hoag said, he recovered enough to return to active duty and another tour in Vietnam — with a plastic plate in his head. Before he medically retired from the Army in 1973, Sieg served as the protocol officer for the commanding general at Fort Benning.
“He was absolutely an incredible man,” Hoag said.
His military decorations include a Parachute Badge, Good Conduct Medal, Vietnam Service Medal, Purple Heart, National Defense Service Medal, Combat Infantryman Badge, Valorous Unit Award, Army Commendation Medal, Vietnam Honor Medal, Air Medal, Ranger Tab, Meritorious Unit Citation, Presidential Unit Citation, Vietnam Campaign Medal, Bronze Star Medal with Valor and Bronze Star Medal with Oak Leaf Cluster.
Sieg and his wife, Connie, adopted Hoag in 1977 and had a son, Scott, in 1979. Scott was diagnosed with Down syndrome, prompting Connie to retire from her teaching job. Together with Sieg, they became so involved in the Special Olympics, they started their own chapter, Muscogee Sports.
Sieg coached bowling, swimming and bocce ball in addition to being Scott’s unified partner during the competitions. Ruth Anthony’s special-needs daughter has been one of Sieg’s athletes for 29 years.
“He was a very loving and caring and giving person,” Anthony, the cafeteria manager at Forrest Road Elementary School, told the L-E Tuesday. “He had the time of day for anybody who needed help. … He always had time to sit and talk and help in any way.”
Such as giving car rides to athletes who couldn’t otherwise get to the weekly practices or periodic competitions.
“He was just a good mentor,” Anthony said.
The following gatherings are scheduled to honor Sieg:
▪ Friday, starting at 1:30 p.m., a service with military honors at Fort Mitchell National Cemetery.
▪ Friday, from 5-7 p.m., visitation at Striffler-Hamby Mortuary, 4071 Macon Road.
▪ Saturday, starting at 2 p.m., a celebration of life at St. Matthew Evangelical Lutheran Church, 4026 Macon Road, with a reception following the service.
▪ Saturday at 6 p.m., a campfire at Camp Pine Mountain in West Point. The gate will open at 5 p.m.
Mark Rice, 706-576-6272, @MarkRiceLE.