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Mobile ‘Wall’ hits the road to help heal Vietnam War’s wounds

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Richard Lyons and his wife Debbie Frederick have a new job they’re proud to perform −− bringing honor and respect to the troops who never returned from the Vietnam War.

After years of driving commercial trucks hauling mainly Humvees and other military equipment, the couple soon will hit the road driving a 14−wheel tractor trailer carrying the “The Wall That Heals” to cities and towns across the nation.

The exhibition features a half−scale replica of the Vietnam Memorial, located here, which bears the names of 58,260 names of the fallen, missing and prisoners of war. Since it was inaugurated in 1996, millions of people have seen the exhibit in nearly 300 cities and towns throughout the United States.

The trailer hauling the wall has been refurbished and the eight large display windows have been redesigned to feature photos of fallen Vietnam vets and mementos left by visitors to the Vietnam Memorial. The display replicates what will appear in The Education Center at the Wall: America’s Legacy of Service, a facility being built on the National Mall.

“When I left Vietnam I left a lot of good brothers behind,” Lyons said today following an unveiling ceremony here. “When I went to the Vietnam Wall, I felt compassion and I said my prayers. When I turned around to walk away, I felt like I was leaving them again.”

Wounded in 1968, Lyons left the military and spent the next 30 years as a commercial truck driver. He met Debbie while having his truck serviced in Spartanburg, S.C. She’d spent five years as an Army wife living at Fort Benning, Ga., where she’d become active in troops−support activities before leaving for truck driving school.

Lyons sees his new job as a way for him to “give back” to his fallen and missing brothers.

“This way I get to take them home to the communities, to the families, the lands where they grew up, the skies, the streams, the mountains they’d seen,” he said. “This is my giving back to them.”

At the age of 17, Lyons left his home in Miami to follow in his father’s footsteps by joining the military. He enlisted in the Navy, attended jungle training in Panama, dive school in Key West, Fla., weapons training at Marine Corps Base Quantico, Va., and jump school at Fort Benning. He volunteered for Vietnam where he served four tours with the Marine Corps 1st Reconniassance Battalion and the Navy Seals.

With a slight grin and a twinkle in his eye, Lyons, now 62, explained why he stayed so long.

“They were just serving good chow at the mess hall,” he said. “I didn’t want to leave. Then I found out where the beer stash was so I just stayed.”

He proudly noted that his application for the new job was the only one that was handwritten and sent through the U.S. Post Office. “Where I’m from in Alabama, where we live now, we use signal fires, semaphore, and the only phone we had was two cans and a string, and somebody broke the string.”

He still wears his Marine “cover,” a green camouflage ballcap, when he drives.

As he headed off to pose for a photo with four young Marines, Lyons paused to send a personal message to the troops now serving in harm’s way.

“Thank you to all veterans,” he said, “and thank you to my boys who are over there doing it now. You’re very brave.”

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