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