The Education Center at The Wall
Go inside the Education Center at The Wall and see what it will be with your help.
Posted on May 17, 2012 By Virgil Deckard
On May 13, the names of ten heroes were added to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial – “The Wall” – in Washington, D.C. One of the names that was added was that of my older brother, David L. Deckard.
We called him Larry, and he died only recently, on January 6, 2006, of injuries he sustained 37 years earlier, in Kontum Province, Vietnam. The intervening years were a living Hell for him, but – like all the agonies endured by so many in Vietnam – his suffering is rendered voiceless against the cold, black granite of the Memorial.
The Wall can’t record how, at 9:30 in the morning on March 24, 1969, as Larry drove an armored personnel carrier on a minesweeping mission, an enemy soldier emerged from the bamboo with a B-40 rocket-propelled grenade.
The Wall is a moving and deeply inspirational memorial, but there’s no way a passerby can learn how the shrapnel tore through Larry’s shoulder, literally shearing it from his frame and paralyzing his abdomen and legs from the chest down.
When you visit the Wall, you’ll see the name “David L. Deckard” engraved into the granite, but not the fact that he was a strapping young lineman for the L&N Railroad before he was drafted. Nor can you see him pulling himself up in a wheelchair with his one good arm, nor having to learn – over the course of six months of physical therapy – how to draw breath unassisted or to control his bowel movements.
Had Larry sustained his wounds during World War II, or probably even during Korea, he would never have survived, but over the remaining 37 years of his life, he went on to make the best things. Thanks to the training my brother John, our friends and I got in auto mechanics, we outfitted a series of cars with hand controls for him, and, on at least one occasion, he even managed to ride along on a friend’s motorcycle. That’s the kind of man he was. But The Wall, of course, can’t show that, either.
As a Vietnam veteran myself, I wish The Wall could somehow reflect how I felt upon returning Stateside in 1970 to the old Oakland Army Base. I was proud of my service, and especially of my new Sergeant’s stripes, but I was told to change out of my uniform before heading to San Francisco Airport and the flight home. “Better you not call attention to yourselves,” we were warned.
There’s something else not shown by The Wall – nor by any other of Washington’s memorials to battles fought and lives lost.
On September 16, 2005, my son, Matthew Deckard, then on his second tour of Iraq, was driving an Abrams tank on patrol in Baghdad when it struck an improvised explosive device, killing him almost instantly. Matthew left a young wife and three little children, but his sacrifice (and theirs) goes unremembered. There is no memorial to those who served in the Persian Gulf, nor Bosnia, Somalia, nor countless other places across the globe.
Fortunately, the full measure of both my brother’s and my son’s lives and heroics may soon finally be remembered, together with the sacrifices of all Americans who served in uniform, from Bunker Hill to Baghdad.
Organizers, who 30 years ago conceived and raised funds for The Wall, are now engaged in an effort to build an Education Center at The Wall immediately adjacent to it.
As memories of the Vietnam experience grow dim and gradually fade away, the Education Center will remind future generations of the profound sacrifices our involvement represented, and of the lessons it should have taught.
Using photographs, movies and audio, a multi-media “Wall of Heroes” will breathe life into the names on The Wall, reminding visitors that the 58,282 names they see in granite were once living, breathing individuals, with hopes and dreams of their own. Perhaps only then can future generations appreciate the full measure of their sacrifice.
The Education Center, however, won’t be restricted to Vietnam in its focus. Rather, it aims to honor the service of all who served our nation in uniform, at any time in our history. In particular, it aims to remind the world of the courage and sacrifice of those who served in the Gulf and who, like my son, gave their lives there.