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What was John Wayne’s take on the Scout Law?

In 1979, dignitaries including President Gerald Ford honored Academy Award-winning actor John Wayne at a dinner hosted by the BSA’s Los Angeles Area Council.

The council named the John Wayne Outpost Camp after The Duke, paying tribute to the actor only a few months before his death on June 11, 1979.

It was at this dinner that Wayne shared his own interpretation of the Scout Law and what it means to him. (This script is from the May-June 1979 issue of Scouting found in our archives.)

“A Scout is trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean, and reverent,” he said.

“Nice words. Trouble is, we learn them so young we sometimes don’t get all the understanding that goes with them. I take care of that with my family. As each boy reaches Scout age, I make sure he learns the Scout Law. Then I break it down for him with a few things I’ve picked up in the more than half century since I learned it.

“A Scout is …


Trustworthy – The badge of honesty. Having it lets you look any man straight in the eye. Lacking it, he won’t look back. Keep this one at the top of your list.

Loyal – The very word is life itself, for without loyalty we have no love of person or country.

Helpful – Part sharing, part caring. By helping each other, we help ourselves, not to mention mankind. Be always full of help — the dying man’s last words.

Friendly – Brotherhood is part of that word. You can take it in a lot of directions — and do — but make sure and start with brotherhood.

Courteous – Allow each person his human dignity, which means a lot more than saying “yes ma’am” and “Thank you, sir.” It reflects an attitude that later in life you “wish you had honored more … earlier in life.” Save yourself that problem. Do it now.

Kind – This one word would stop wars and erase hatreds. But it’s like your bicycle. It’s just no good unless you get out and use it.

Obedient – Start at home, practice it on your family, enlarge it to your friends, share it with humanity.

Cheerful – Anyone can put on a happy face when the going’s good. The secret is to wear it as a mask for your problems. It might surprise you how many others do the same thing.

Thrifty – Means a lot more than putting pennies away, and it’s the opposite of cheap. Common sense covers it just about as well as anything.

Brave – You don’t have to fight to be brave. Millions of good, fine, decent folks show more bravery than heavyweight champs just by getting out of bed every morning, going out to do a good day’s work, and living the best life they know how against a lot of odds. Brave. Keep the word handy every day of your life.

Clean – Soap and water help a lot on the outside. But it’s the inside that counts and don’t ever forget it.

Reverent – Believe in anything that you want to believe in, but keep God at the top of it. With Him, life can be a beautiful experience. Without Him, you are just biding time.

Wayne thanked the hosts for putting his name on the Scout camp, adding, “I would rather see it here than on all the theater marquees the world over.”

27 Comments on What was John Wayne’s take on the Scout Law?

  1. Kathy ferreira // August 13, 2015 at 8:22 am // Reply

    What a great explanation . going to sa be it so I can copy it after my vacation. Going to pass out a copy to each of my boys in my pack..

  2. Dean Whinery // August 13, 2015 at 8:24 am // Reply

    As a newspaperman, I was fortunate to have met this real American idol a couple of time. Even was honored to visit his home, as well as John Wayne Outpost Camp. He was “bigger than life” while remaining a genuine down-to-earth person.

  3. He was a great scout, a great actor and a great man. America could use a man like that again. Thanks Bryan. Great speech that could be shared with any Scout Troop. Someone made a YouTube (still shot) video of this speech written in and mixed with different pictures of John Wayne.

    • Sorry Gretchen. I should have said “Thanks Gretchen” in my post. Here is the web address of the John Wayne video or rather the “vimeo” that is available referencing this speech by John Wayne.

  4. Thank you Gretchen, my son’s fellow scouts recited John Wayne’s law at his Eagle Court of Honor. Still gives me goose bumps. I wonder who those lucky young men were between Jerry Ford and The Duke?

  5. Having previously read/heard John Wayne’s comments likely 40 times over the past 25 years, it still feels good to read them again.
    Thank you for sharing.

  6. Nelson Block // August 13, 2015 at 9:09 am // Reply

    After John Wayne’s death, I saw an interview of one of his sons, who said that, when his father was asked what organizations he was active in, would reply, “I’m not much of a joiner. I’m a member of the Screen Actor’s Guild for my work, I’m a Republican to vote, and I’m a Boy Scout.”

  7. jeff traviss // August 13, 2015 at 10:00 am // Reply

    I can only hope that our BSA executives would read through these especially the definition of Trustworthy.

    • It seems to me that lately many Scouters need a reminder of Friendly, Courteous, Kind, and Brave are about. Thank you for this.

      • Jeff Traviss // August 14, 2015 at 4:27 pm // Reply

        If you join an organization only to become a lemming that might work for you. Not me. Lately many scouters are more concerned about squirt guns and pc adherence than having an organization that stanfs up to bullies and the current trend to bending on knee to every whim of the left5.

  8. Does anyone know of a recording of this speech?

  9. Great article!!

    Now if only our National Board would follow the Scout Law in ALL their dealings, especially with the BSA membership, instead of playing politics.

    John Wayne would have been a great BSA President!
    It’s too bad he is not alive today to do so!

  10. We will be printing this and posting it in our classroom next to the path and law!

  11. Robert Whelan // August 13, 2015 at 6:33 pm // Reply

    I did an Eagle dinner with Jimmy Stewart many years ago at Castle AFB. A couple of years later, I was at March AFB and doing an Eagle dinner there. All I had to do was make the call to get him again. Great supporter.

  12. Brian Arehart // August 13, 2015 at 10:28 pm // Reply

    John Wayne and Gerald Ford, great Scouts and great Freemasons!

  13. It’s just too bad the Boy Scouts have surrendered to the liberals in this country.

  14. B-P’s original Scout Law wasn’t just individual words, it contained context, and one fewer point.

  15. Loved this by Jihn Wayne, my used it at his Eagle COH!

  16. Brent Grantham // August 14, 2015 at 7:25 am // Reply

    Our Troop first read this in The Eagle Court of Honor book by Mark Ray. We have used this as part of all Eagle Courts of Honor since. A life size cardboard cutout of the The Duke, with the addition of a scout shirt and troop neckerchief, stands at the entrance to the room each time as well.

  17. Paul c Harvey // August 14, 2015 at 8:33 am // Reply

    Scouting – an experience of a lifetime a lifetime of experiences.
    Never has such an experience influenced all of my life (now over 70 Years)
    The Scouting program IS good (and WAS good). It is the men serving as LEADERS that made it great! As a kid I learned the words to the law and as an adult it started to make sense. Now it is simply …. a way of life.

    Yesterday and Today Eagles fly with great expectations..
    Teacher – retired
    Fire chief – retired
    Police chief – retired
    EMS – retired
    Emg. Management – retired
    Father – Husband – going strong
    Eagle, Wood badge, Silver Beaver
    Camper – camp staff

    Yep – been there — done that – AND the scout program and scouting leaders helped to guide the way.

  18. Colin McWhirter // August 14, 2015 at 6:16 pm // Reply

    John Wayne was a great man, but I believe he would have
    diassociated himself from the scouts when they bowed to the homosexuals.

    • Phil Hubbard // August 5, 2016 at 7:56 pm // Reply

      You need to read again then. Trustworthy, Loyal, Helpful, Friendly, Courteous, KIND, Obedient, Cheerful, Thrifty, Brave, Clean, and Reverent. They are just a list of words without any common thread. When they are explained as my Den Leader, Scout Master, and Patrol Leader did I believed them. When I read John Wayne’s take on these 12 words it had more weight than any other rendition I had heard to date.
      Hatred has no place in Scouting.

  19. Francis Gutierrez // August 18, 2015 at 8:29 pm // Reply

    I don’t think scouting is for me. Sounds like another exclusive clique to make young boys feel superior than non scouts. Especially challenged boys!

  20. “Well, listen here pilgrims”. These here words are words to live by. My family grew up with John Wayne films. He was a Great American.

    • Phil Hubbard // August 5, 2016 at 7:59 pm // Reply

      I agree on all accounts here Frank. He’s missed all these years.

  21. We have used this in some of our Eagle ceremonies. There is also a picture of John Wayne in our troops trailer.

  22. Richard Perry Walters // September 13, 2016 at 8:47 am // Reply

    Let us remember that Scouting is for all sorts of people, all over the world. it is an inclusive organisation. BSA President Robert Gates found that restrictions of membership in the military was untenable and he brought that message to Scouting. Do you not admit gay youths? Do you keep them until 18 and than say you are no longer wanted? Please have faith that our guide posts, the motto, oath and laws, apply to adults as well.
    And bravo to the Duke for his wisdom.

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