I was in my junior year in high school and applying for scholarships and appointments to the Air Force and the United States Naval Academy. I was amazed that both Academies asked if I was an Eagle Scout. The profiles both showed an inordinate amount of Eagle Scouts in their alumni compared to the normal population. I decided to fly out and spend a week during the summer at the Naval Academy and see if I could handle it. It was brought up several times while I was there.
Being an Eagle Scout obviously meant something.
I decided to go the Naval Academy the following year. My appointment was from Orrin Hatch. They cut my hair. I had to memorize my chain of command all the way up to Ronald Reagan. I had to memorize the officers of the watch and the menu of the day… every day. We had to know two front-page articles and a sports article every day before breakfast or we got demerits… every demerit was at least an hour of marching at the worst possible time of the day.
We were there the year BYU won the national championship and I also memorized the articles about the Superbowl of the Washington Redskins. It was hard… very hard. I marched a lot.
I remember being at parade rest on the parade grounds with my left hand in the small of my back, my bayonet forward, and sweat rolling down the middle of my back causing an itch that couldn’t be scratched… not then at least. It was 98 degrees, and about that same level of humidity. I had never seen heat like that in the mountain west. But it was ok, I had done hard things growing up as a Boy Scout. I was only 17. I hoped I could get through.
I noticed the plebe in front of me starting to sway. We had been warned of the symptoms. He had locked his knees. He was going to fall… backwards this time. My choice was obvious even though I knew the consequences. I moved my bayonet from out of the middle of his back, threw my piece to the ground, moved out of rank and tried to leap forward to catch him. All I did was slow his fall, but I stopped his head from hitting the ground with full impact.
They came and got him.
And I got in trouble, again, for moving in the ranks. I couldn’t understand why.
Many years later I realized it was a time-proven model to grow men out of boys and put them in charge of leading the greatest military in the world. Flying those 30 million dollar jets was no small thing. The whole game was about how we react and lead in a no-win situation. If I moved I was in trouble. If I didn’t help my comrade I was in trouble. Which trouble was worse?
I had to decide… and quickly.
It was about leadership. It was about service. It was about being trustworthy in any situation.
Once again, I was marching. But that time it was worth it.
At the end of Plebe Year we climbed the greased Herndon Monument to take the Plebe cap off and to put the officer-style cap on top so we could end the most difficult summer of our lives. I was one of the guys holding up that last row or two of Plebes as one of our tallest class members reached to his very limit and exchanged the two hats. You can’t even see my face in the pictures, just my grease-smeared back.
We had taken off our t-shirts to wipe away the grease so we could just hold on to that granite pillar. Many had fallen to the ground in the early stages when the grease was still very thick. But we did the very hard thing and ended that summer of hell. It was amazing though, as hard as it was, you couldn’t pull us away. One of those love/hate situations you will never forget.
And I watched our First Class men and women throw their caps in the air as they graduated.
That day they took an oath. The United States Uniformed Services Oath of Office.
To lay their lives on the line, if necessary. To uphold our constitution and to protect our freedom:
“I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter. So help me God.”
Not a just recommendation or a guideline…
As I sat in that audience watching, I was struck with the impact of them taking that oath. I deeply wanted to. I never got to.
Many was the time my mind reviewed the only oath I had ever taken up to that time in my life… when I was a Boy Scout.
On my honor
I will do my best
to do my duty
and my country
and to obey the Scout Law;
To help other people
at all times;
To keep myself physically strong,
and morally straight.
I think I have rehearsed the words of that oath well over a thousand times…
It means something.
I mean it when I say it.
I feel it when I hear it.
In my heart…
For some reason when I repeat it I always get stuck on the line that says “and to obey the Scout Law.” But I can never forget those twelve simple words that make up the Scout Law:
I’ve said them so many times I can’t seem to forget them.
Do they still mean something?
To me they do.