When the members of Troop 1789 held their regular meeting in Falls Church recently, the Boy Scout Oath ("On my honor I will do my best . . .") sounded like this: "Toi xin lay danh du hua co gang het suc . . ."
The 26 boys all speak English but said the oath in Vietnamese because they belong to a special troop designed to keep them in touch with their roots. That doesn't mean these 11-to-17-year-olds don't do regular scout stuff. At the meeting, they struggled to tie a tricky knot called a woggle, devoured pizza and played a game called Steal the Bacon.
"C'mon, c'mon, hurry you guys!" screamed Yen Nguyen, 15, as his teammates raced around behind a scout leader's house and a campfire blazed. There was a plastic soda bottle on the ground and, on the signal, each side tried to grab it and get back to "base" before an opponent could grab a neckerchief dangling from a scout's back pocket.
At the end, the defeated team had to carry the winners off by piggyback, to good-natured chants of "Loser!"
Yen likes it all: the all-American pizza and games and the chance to speak a language he doesn't hear much during the day at school. "It's fun to come and see your friends -- everybody here is Vietnamese," said Yen, who was born in Vietnam and lives in Bethesda. "I don't really know many Vietnamese kids around where I live."
Yen and his friends are among about 300 boys and girls in the Washington area (and more than 3,200 around the world) who belong to Vietnamese scout troops, according to group leader Cong Nguyen of Annandale. (He is not related to Yen. Nguyen is a very common name in Vietnam.)
The Boy Scouts of America and the Girl Scouts of the USA both have troops with a special focus on their members' ethnic heritage, including American Indians, Asians, African Americans and Latinos.
The Falls Church troop, along with Cub Scout Pack 612, studies Vietnamese for an hour after every meeting. Pictures of Vietnamese temples and fishermen hang on the walls along with the yellow and red-striped flag of the former South Vietnam. (The American flag and the Boy Scout flag are there, too.)
Scouting in Vietnam began in the 1930s. In the years that followed, the country was troubled by war and fighting over what kind of government there would be. Many Vietnamese people fled to other parts of the world, including the United States. Today, Vietnamese immigrants use scouting to help their children feel connected to their homeland. So when these Falls Church scouts have a potluck, there are spring rolls and crab soup. When they collected nearly $2,000 for Hurricane Katrina survivors, they sent much of it to Vietnamese families who were affected by the storm.
At the recent meeting, kids quieted down quickly when asked, cheerfully dropped to the ground and did push-ups when their team lost and sang a traditional "welcome" song for a visitor. It's a bit like Vietnam, where teachers "were stricter," said Loc Nguyen, 16.
Loc, who moved to Falls Church two years ago, said the meetings remind him of his old home in Vietnam, which he misses a lot. But these boys also like scouting for the same reasons many boys do.
Andy Huynh, 11, of Falls Church has been a scout for two years. He said he loved camping in the Blue Ridge and catching crabs at Virginia Beach: "I want to stay in scouting for a long time!"
-- Fern Shen