- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 16, 2003

Lying in an Army hospital, his left arm shattered by a North Vietnamese bullet, Dean Harold Meyers tried desperately to make sense of a world he no longer understood.

“I’m lost, searching for a purpose in my life,” the 23-year-old rifleman scribbled on March 21, 1971, in the margins of a hospital menu. “I have a peaceful heart in a world full of violence and hatred.”

Mr. Meyers eventually found his purpose. A childless bachelor, he sponsored children in Africa. A highly paid engineer, he used his free time to build homes for the poor. An avid outdoorsman, he gave money to protect the environment.

But he still lived in a “world full of violence and hatred.” And on a rainy night last October, the man who had survived sniper fire in the jungles of Southeast Asia was felled a few blocks from his office by a bullet from a civilian version of the rifle he had carried in Vietnam.

John Allen Muhammad, 42, went on trial in Virginia Beach on Tuesday in Mr. Meyers’ slaying. It is the first of what could be many trials for Mr. Muhammad and 18-year-old Lee Boyd Malvo in the sniper attacks that terrorized the Washington area a year ago.

Larry Meyers Jr. will be there — not to seek vengeance, but to ensure that people know what a void his uncle’s death left.

“This is what the world lost,” he said. “That’s what we’re trying to use our 15 minutes of whatever you want to call it. To kind of just bring Dean to the world.”

On Oct. 9 last year, the 53-year-old civil engineer had put in another late night at the Manassas office of Dewberry & Davis, where he designed storm-drainage systems for residential developments. It was a 40-mile drive back to his town house in Gaithersburg, so he stopped at the Battlefield Sunoco station near Interstate 66 to fill up his tank.

As Mr. Meyers stood by his car, a .223-caliber bullet hit him just behind his left ear. He died instantly.

Prosecutors say Mr. Muhammad, himself an Army veteran, and Mr. Malvo prowled the streets and highways of Maryland and Virginia in a beat-up blue Chevrolet Caprice with a gun port cut in the trunk lid, turning the Washington area into a suburban hunting ground.

Mr. Meyers was the seventh of 10 persons slain during the three-week reign of terror that forced school closures, sent people scurrying in mall parking lots and forced people to pump gas squatted down behind their cars.

The second-youngest of four boys in a deeply religious family, Mr. Meyers grew up in the dairy country of eastern Pennsylvania. Bright, athletic and gifted at the piano, Mr. Meyers had good prospects for college. But he chose to leave himself open to the draft, and in May 1969 was off to Vietnam with a Bible tucked in his footlocker.

Mr. Meyers did not drink or smoke, and he wrote home that one fellow grunt jokingly called him “a disgrace to the U.S. Army.” He had decorated his helmet cover with an “X” for each month he was in country and the title of the hymn, “Just a Closer Walk With Thee.” Buddies remember a guy who was always volunteering for dangerous missions and never failed to share his candy rations with children.

On March 8, 1970, Mr. Meyers was manning an M-60 machine gun in the jungle north of Saigon when his unit was attacked. As he fled the exposed position, a bullet sliced through his upper arm, shearing the bone in half.

Mike Lewis of St. Louis tackled the panicking sergeant and plugged the bleeding wound with his thumbs. “If I hadn’t seen him, we’d have probably found him too late,” Mr. Lewis said recently. “He’d probably have bled to death.”

Recuperating in a hospital near Yokohama, Japan, Mr. Meyers remembered the words of 23rd Psalm, which his father had read to him so often. He knew that he had walked “through the valley of the shadow of death” and had come out the other side.

Mr. Meyers left the Army in 1971 and enrolled in the civil engineering program at Penn State University. He had come back from Vietnam convinced that God had safely delivered him, and he was determined to pay that back somehow.

“He surely has extended his mercy upon me,” he wrote to his family, “and I’m going to do His work when I return.”

Within the family, Mr. Meyers’ generosity was legend. He remembered every birthday and anniversary with presents and cards. He was always taking his friends’ children on canoe trips on the Rappahannock.

“We’ve got so many gifts and pictures and things around our house that he gave us,” said co-worker Geoff Cowan, whose three children called Mr. Meyers Uncle Dean. “It’s really hard to go through a day without seeing something that reminds my wife and I of him.”

Mr. Meyers cared for his aged cousin and her widowed roommate, running their errands, taking them out for dinner and “listening to their stories of the old days,” said the cousin’s attorney, Marcia Mills. When the cousin’s friend died and left him $500,000, Mr. Meyers refused to take any of it for himself.

“One of the last e-mails I received from Dean he stated that he had nearly completed his list of people and charities that he planned to give all of the money away to,” Miss Mills said. “He was one of the finest people I ever met. He was very unassuming, but he touched everyone he met in a lasting way.”

Larry Meyers Jr. said he had no idea of the extent of his uncle’s goodness until he started going through his belongings.

There were photographs and letters from children Mr. Meyers had been sponsoring in Kenya and Ethiopia for 23 years. There were certificates of appreciation from Habitat for Humanity and the Veterans of Foreign Wars. Check stubs revealed that he gave money to the Columbia Lighthouse for the Blind, and the conservation group American Rivers.

“In a two-week period, he contributed to 25 charities,” his nephew said of one checkbook. “I mean, it went on and on.”

Bob Meyers, the deceased’s brother, said the Washington snipers were not just good shots, but they also “tended to have an innate capability in some way to find really fine people.”

Six seats have been set aside in the courtroom for the victim’s relatives. At least eight family members plan to take turns attending the trial.

“It’s important for us to know that if they’re convicted, that they realize that this is something that involves many other people,” Bob Myers said. “And they can see the flesh and blood that have been affected by this.”

Copyright © 2019 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide