At the time the U.S. was embroiled in a very controversial war in Vietnam and neighboring countries. Most of the controversy was lost on me and my friends. We didn't know why we were at war and we didn't know why so many people in the U.S. were so unhappy about the war.
At any rate, when I asked my friend what his wristband meant, he explained that the name belonged to a member of the U.S. military that was missing in action. It was unknown whether this man was dead or alive, whether he was a prisoner of war, injured, or whatever.
My friend had obtained the band as a patriotic gesture for the cost of a donation. We didn't understand the war, but we did know that it would be good if the individual missing in action could be safely returned home. Maybe the donation could help with that. Several of us soon obtained similar wristbands.
At a time when we saw angry crowds on TV burning American flags, our scouting leaders taught us to reverence the flag. We learned how to salute it, how to fold and unfold it properly, how to raise it briskly and lower it slowly, how to display it, how to carry it, and how to post it properly.
Every summer I attend several ceremonies at scout camps where worn American flags are burned. Unlike the angry crowds on TV, those performing the ceremonies at camp burn each tattered flag with love and respect for the "republic for which it stands." I have often enjoyed hearing someone at these ceremonies recite Johnny Cash's Ragged Ol' Flag (see video below).
But a scout doesn't just promise to love his country. He promises to do his duty to his country. There are many different ways to do that. My best friend from my young scouting days has spent his adult life serving as a naval reserve officer. Although he runs his own business, he has several times left his family and business behind to serve his country abroad.
Another friend has done his duty by serving in a state legislature where he fought to reduce unnecessary spending and excess taxes. I have watched for decades as young Boy Scout camp staffers have led scouting groups into the Yellowstone back country, teaching them to love, respect, and care for this cherished national park that they own along with their fellow Americans.
As important as is duty to country, the Scout Oath puts duty to God first. I recently covered this topic when I wrote about reverence. The approach to doing one's duty to God differs according to one's beliefs. As a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, I entered into the church's lay ministry along with most of my scouting friends when I was a Boy Scout.
Part of our duty to God entailed serving the Sacrament to the congregation each Sunday, attending weekly church meetings, fasting once a month, collecting fast offerings for the needy, working on the welfare farm where the produce went to help others, and accepting a variety of service callings. Most of us eventually spent two years serving as full-time missionaries for the church at our own expense.
I find it interesting that the Scout Oath links doing one's duty to God and his country in the same phrase. Perhaps this is because scouting envisions a certain level of sacredness in both of these endeavors. But I think the main key is the word "duty."
Duty means performing some action that we owe. Scouting recognizes that each scout is indebted to his God and to his country for the tremendous blessings of life and opportunity that he enjoys. The word duty implies humility, gratitude, and allegiance to causes greater than the individual. It implies a certain level of selflessness.
Another important word in the Scout Oath is "do." A scout promises to do his duty to God and his country, not just to think about it. This promise is one of action. Scouts are to recognize that they have a duty and they promise to do their best to fulfill that duty.
On my honor, I will do my best to do my duty to God and my country....