Hollywood actor recalls 'that one summer' at Boys Nation

A prolific actor, Donal Logue’s résumé boasts more than 100 television and film credits. He’s been on "Law and Order: SVU" and "Sons of Anarchy," and starred alongside Mel Gibson in "The Patriot." He’ll soon play Detective Harvey Bullock in "Gotham," the anticipated prequel story to the Batman legend.

All of those successes, he says, have their roots in the summer of 1983, when he was a long-haired, 17-year-old high school senior en route to Washington, D.C., to attend American Legion Boys Nation.

Coming from El Centro, Calif., a dusty bordertown that strafes Mexico, and mulling a future in public service or possibly even politics, Logue felt a mixture of feelings: elated at the chance to see the political process up-close, but anxious about venturing into the hustle-and-bustle of the nation’s capital.

Little did he know that it was the start of something that would help shape his life. He’d go on to be elected Boys Nation president, give a speech alongside President Ronald Reagan before a crowd of more than 10,000 and, most importantly, join a Boys Nation fraternity which he still holds dear.

“My experience with The American Legion changed my life indelibly,” Logue says. “It is an amazing fraternity to be a part of – the Boys Nation fraternity.”

He remembers all the names and faces, and still keeps in touch with guys like Donny Frederick from Alaska, Eric Wagner from his home state of California, Ricky Williams from Arkansas who he beat in a bid for president and Josh Berger, a now-prominent Hollywood executive whom he still calls one of his closest friends.

Mostly, though, the guys knew him as “Ted Nugent” – a nickname he earned because of his long hair resembling the 1970s rocker.

“I am 48 years old now, and it is amazing to think how many friendships I still have in my life from that one summer 31 years ago,” Logue says.

A Canadian-born immigrant from a depressed bordertown whose unemployment rate is among the nation’s worst, Logue’s journey to Boys Nation was atypical of someone who would be studying at Harvard a year later.

Though he admits that he wasn’t always the best student in high school, he showed skill in speech and debate, especially the impromptu forms. A teacher took notice of his promise when he was a junior and explained to him that he had no reason to be intimidated by his peers from more affluent parts of the country.

It was a transformative experience. He embraced his public speaking ability, establishing himself as one of the top high school debaters in his state.

“(He) told me that my mind was as good as any of these other people’s,” Logue says. “He told me I could stand up and speak my mind. It taught me about the value of that kind of self-belief.”

Next summer, he hopped a Greyhound Bus and rode 16 hours north to Sacramento to participate in California’s Boys State. Among the thousands of participants, he narrowly lost a bid to become governor.

He recalls fondly the relationships he built with the people he met there – especially the senior counselors who were all veterans. In particular, Logue formed a bond with a counselor who would sing the 1940s blues song “Caldonia” along the bunks each morning to wake the delegates.

“He was fantastic… He would sing ‘Caldonia, Caldonia, what makes your head so big?’ each morning to wake us,” Logue recalls.

That counselor gave Logue a memorable pep talk before he delivered a speech to rally support for his bid to become governor. Later that year, Logue was playing in a high-school tennis championship up-state and was delighted to see that counselor and a few other counselors from Boys State in the stands, cheering him on.

“I just felt like (the counselors) were these guys who had my back,” Logue says.

Logue was selected to represent California at the 37th session of Boys Nation, where he would go on to become the first non-citizen elected Boys Nation president. Touched and inspired by the veterans who surrounded him – and the various war memorials he visited there – he gave a speech that referenced John Paul Jones, the famed naval fighter from the Revolutionary War.

The message, Logue says, was that you shouldn’t judge by appearances, and the older veterans there were once young men fighting in wars abroad and confronting enemies to possibly die for their country.

“These were an amazing group of men who had put everything on the line to defend this country, and I have this incredibly deep respect for that,” Logue says.

Later that summer, Logue, as the Boys Nation president, was invited to give a speech at the American Legion National Convention in Seattle. His speech preceded one given by Ronald Reagan, the current president.

“He said to me, ‘That was a really nice talk,’” Logue says. He calls the experience “one of the highlights of my life.”

A year later, he was a freshman at Harvard – he says Boys Nation helped give him an inroad there. And about eight years after that, he launched his big-screen acting career, portraying Dr. Jack Gunter in the Robert Redford film "Sneakers."

Still, no matter how much time passes from his days as a Boys Nation delegate and no matter how big his star grows, Logue will never forget the summer of 1983.

“Talking about Boys Nation and Boys State is like coming back home and finding my high school yearbook, and opening it up and being overwhelmed with this flood of emotions about this incredibly transformative and important time in my life,” Logue says.