In 1914, much of Europe, long an uneasy armed camp, erupted in open conflict, pitting Germany, Turkey and Austria-Hungary against France, Great Britain, Russia, Belgium and later, Italy. The United States was confident that it could remain aloof from the rapidly escalating war and Woodrow Wilson was reelected President in 1918 with the slogan, "He kept us out of the war."
Not for long, though. Germany began unrestricted submarine warfare and sank several U.S. merchant ships; on April 6, 1917, the United States declared war on Germany.
The declaration was the signal for a burst of patriotic fervor that swept over America into cities and small towns alike., and through the Boy Scout movement. A day after the United States declared war on Germany, the BSA Executive Board committed Scouts to the war effort. Scoutmasters were warned: "Your town or city may face an emergency at any moment. Perfect [your] Mobilization Plans! Practice! Practice! Practice! Make sure your Scouts can keep cool, think quickly, act as a unit. Offer the troop NOW (if you have not) to help the Red Cross in your town."
The BSA's most significant service was in the sale of Liberty Loan bonds issued by the Treasury to finance the war effort. Five Liberty Loan drives were held, and in each case the Boy Scouts were called upon to follow the regular canvas by adult volunteer salesmen. Despite the handicap of being gleaners after the reapers, Scouts sold a total of 2,238,308 bonds worth $335 million.
Patriotic rallies connected with the Red Cross were held throughout Unadilla, and as a member of the United War Work Committee, Yale Lyon saw to it that his Scouts played a major part in pushing the quota over the top in its drive for funds. The rallies brought together business men and farmers to discuss home defense; older boys in the troop joined the new Government Rifle Club that practiced military style drills with wooden rifles, physical conditioning, and the proper use of arms--skills that would come in handy if the German Kaiser decided to attack Unadilla.
Unadilla's Red Cross in 1917 boasted over 200 members. Its Surgical Dressings Committee made bandages and dressings by the hundreds--659 in one week--for use in Allied hospitals. When attention was called by the Red Cross to the plight of French and Belgian children facing freezing winter conditions and starvation, Unadilla scouts immediately helped raise $236.17 to buy food and blankets. Red Cross Military First Aid courses taught by troop committeeman Dr. B. W. Stearns stressed the best use of a Scout neckerchief as a bandage, arm sling or tourniquet.
Yale Lyon's boys assisted in the sale of War Savings Stamps, collected money for the Red Cross, clothing for the French and Belgians, participated in Unadilla's patriotic meetings and parades, but at selling Liberty Loan bonds, they ran into a snag. On his 1918 annual Report and Application for Re-registration, Yale Lyon apologized, "At the request of the Liberty Loan Committee, they did not sell bonds, but many did, not as Scouts however. I am sorry, but the local conditions prevented." The next year, Yale Lyon reported that his troop again "...responded to every call of Government except the sale of Liberty and Victory Bonds, which was vetoed by the Town Council."
The earliest of BSA's war efforts--gardening--was the least successful, perhaps because the activity was limited to the summer growing season, and it took so much time to cultivate, harvest and preserve the resulting crops. The 1918 issue of Scouting catalog, a special gardening and equipment issue, proclaimed: "A food shortage in war means a nation in peril, and every Scout who has a bit of ground should grow vegetables in dead earnest!" The catalog thoughtfully included a page of BSA-approved cultivators, rakes and hoes to do the job, even "farm clothing to save Scout uniforms," as the overalls, khaki neckerchiefs and farmer's straw hats were billed! The catalog was also full of articles on how boys could apply for W.S.S. Awards, on the history of the potato and its value in times of extreme necessity, and wartime backyard chicken raising. The Chief Grub Scout Hal B. Fullerton opined: "Crowing roosters are a nuisance in the city and should be culled from the flock. More eggs will be produced without the rooster and the eggs so produced will keep longer than those produced in the usual way."
Rev. Yale Lyon's Scouts helped distribute "Wasteless Meals" Food Conservation pledge cards which encouraged meatless or wheatless meals on certain days of the week but from the pulpit and in the newspaper he reminded the community to remember the welfare of the local market and grocery stores "The ruin of local tradesmen is poor patriotism," he said.
My Tuesdays are meatless,
My Wednesdays are wheatless,
I am getting more eatless every day;
My coffee is sweetless,
My stockings are feetless,
Each day I get poorer and wiser;
Good Lord, how I hate the Kaiser!"
---Timely Verse, the Every Evening Magazine, 1918
All five of the troop's original charter members put their Scouting experience to the test in the U.S. Army. Thomas McKay, Cecil Sterns and Howard Morse served--and survived--the "war to end all wars." They returned to Unadilla to participate with the troop in a spectacular 1919 Fourth of July memorial parade down Main Street to the Unadilla House, where a large service flag (forty-eight stars, one gold star) was dedicated to "Out brave boys who fought for those at home that liberty may continue to be ours." Corporal Charles Hildreth, a graduate of Colgate University, later died in Montana in 1932 of heart trouble. Neil Stearns, brother of Cecil, died in a fatal car crash on the Sidney-Unadilla Road on February 13, 1934.
Yale Lyon Scrapbooks, Vol. 3 (Sept. 1916 to March 1919), pg. 145, 'Service Flag Dedicated July Forth,' Rev. Yale Lyon Deliversed Eloquent Address, Unadilla Times, 1919.