The Official Voice of Vietnam Veterans of America, Inc. ®
An organization chartered by the U.S. Congress

July 2004
FEATURE
 

 

Duty & Honor: David Mullins, The Veterans' Boy Scout
 

BY JIM BELSHAW

Only days after September 11, 2001, Marilyn Mullins took five of her home-schooled Boy Scouts, including her 13-year-old son, David, to Memphis, one hundred miles away from their small hometown in Tennessee. A traveling Wall was scheduled to be in the area. The Boy Scouts, along with 400 other people, had volunteered to help those who came to the Wall find their way. Marilyn's Scouts intended to stay one day. They stayed four.

"You never know where something will lead you," she said. "When one life touches another, you never know how many people will be helped."

She told her Boy Scouts she didn't care what form their help took as long as they worked. She loved her kids, but she knew them, too. Put together a group of boys and inevitably some kind of dust-up will grow from it. She was shocked when it didn't happen. The Scouts seemed to instinctively know that this would not be a time for boys to be boys.

"They immediately sensed what was going on and they all worked really hard," she said. "I think my boys felt the vets' pain. They sensed it. In the whole four days we were at the Wall, I never once had to get on the boys about doing something."

They washed the Wall numerous times; they picked up trash; they worked on computers. Her son, David, having been shown how to find names on the Wall, helped veterans and families find the loved ones they came to touch.

Busy herself with volunteer duties, Marilyn overheard a conversation with Mark Lawrence, a Vietnam veteran and former tunnel rat. The co-founder of VVA Chapter 875 in Memphis, Lawrence said the visit of the Wall was one of the first projects the chapter tackled. He was in charge of four hundred volunteers. Lawrence was speaking to someone about one Boy Scout in particular and how impressive his work had been with visitors to the Wall.

"He was talking to someone about a Boy Scout hugging a woman at the Wall," Marilyn said. "I thought, I want to meet this kid. He sounds like a really good boy. Mark pointed to him. It was my son. I was shocked."

She said David wasn't a hugger, and for that matter, he didn't come from a family of huggers, either.

"My family members are not huggers," she said. "My son is not a hugger. He's not one to display affection or emotion like that. My boys are just country boys. But that Wall made an impression on all of them. There were no strangers there. When you're out in the everyday world, strangers don't hug. But there were no strangers. Everybody was brothers. It didn't matter that you were hugging someone you'd never met before in your life and that you'd never see again. You could feel what was going on. You didn't have to see it. You could feel it."

David just knew something good was coming of it.

"When I worked on the Wall, I enjoyed helping people," he said. "I enjoyed seeing how grateful and excited they were when they found the names they were looking for."

On the final day of the Wall's stay in Memphis, David Mullins would deliver one more hug that would lead to a new friendship, an abiding interest in the Vietnam War and its veterans, volunteer work in a VA hospital, and recognition by Chapter 875 as Boy Scout of the Year.

Vietnam had been painful for Mark Lawrence. He had married there and had a son. His wife died in a rocket attack; his son died of leukemia at 11. In the ensuing years after the Wall came to Memphis, he would be diagnosed with PTSD.

He had seen The Wall in Washington but never went close enough to read names. Not until Memphis would he do that. On the final day, as he carried a single rose to the Wall at the closing ceremony, the weight of the years closed in on him and as he came down the ramp toward the silent crowd, he wept. David Mullins awaited him, his arms opened wide.

"I was pretty much in pieces," Lawrence said. "When I came down and got to the last ramp, I saw that same Boy Scout who had been hugging people, but I couldn't remember his name. He just opened up his arms, and to be honest, I felt the hand of God coming through him and into me. It was such an amazing moment. It felt like I was coming home. This was before the Mullins family knew anything about me. So much of Vietnam was private to me and I couldn't talk to anybody about it."

Mark and Marilyn exchanged e-mails in the next few weeks. The Boy Scouts, invited to a Memorial Day picnic, went to the national cemetery and helped place 45,000 flags.

David's interest in Vietnam veterans grew. Mark gave him a book on tunnel rats. David began a history project and worked for 13 months completing his Eagle Scout project in the VA hospital in Memphis. Mark said he worked "countless hours" in the hospital helping patients. He worked with veterans to familiarize them with laptop computers donated to the hospital; he helped to provide 270 "goody bags" for the patients and two other vet centers.

"I made a lot of great friends at the hospital," David said. "I didn't really know much about the war before this."

He built a large diorama, "A Veteran's Year in Vietnam," that he uses to teach adults and children about the Vietnam experience of so many veterans. (If veterans would like to correspond with David, his e-mail address is ihelpvets@yahoo.com)

"Hospital work, interest in Vietnam and the veterans--you never know where something will lead you," his mother said.

David continues his work with veterans. The Boy Scouts continue to volunteer. Mark Lawrence has become like a member of the Mullins family.

"David has a POW patch sewn on a jacket," Marilyn said. "It says: 'I wasn't there, but I still care.' "

   

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