A salute and a resounding “well done” to Dr. R. Dean Decker, born in 1933 and reared in Indiana, for serving God, country, and community for 62 years.
A US Army Korean War veteran (1953-1955), Decker served over sixteen months in Korea during the Korean conflict. He was trained as a combat engineer, but served as a court martial court recorder because he had typing and stenographic skills.
Decker arrived in Richmond in 1966 from North Carolina State University with his Ph. D. in hand and began twenty-nine years as a professor of biology at the University of Richmond until his retirement in 1995. He also has served, and continues to serve, as a faithful and active member of River Road Church, Baptist for forty-nine years (since 1966).
On Veterans Day in 2014, the Memorial Rifles Honor Guard participated in their last memorial service at the Virginia War Memorial (VWM) in Richmond and conducted a changing of the guard ceremony with their Marine Corps League chapter replacements, thus ending their service of more than eighteen years since the group’s conception and establishment in 1995. The Memorial Rifles Honor Guard was made up of members of American Legion Post 84 and was commanded by Dean Decker.
The Memorial Rifles Honor Guard was created to assist the Armed Forces by providing military rites for veterans’ funerals. Sometimes their role was to supply solely the rifles when the branch was available, and other times the group would carry out the entire service. When the Memorial Rifles Honor Guard provided last honors for deceased veterans, they would fold and present the American flag to the family, provide three volleys of rifle fire at the burial, and then play taps in honor of the deceased veteran. Over thirty military veterans of Post 84 participated in the Memorial Rifles Honor Guard. These veterans represented all services except the Coast Guard and all ranks except flag rank. Over the years the group conducted more than 900 military funerals. Only three of the original members were present (the youngest was 80) when they conducted their last funeral service on December 30, 2013.
In addition to this meaningful, faithful, and worthy service to the veterans’ families in their time of loss, the Memorial Rifles Honor Guard also performed hundreds of the non-funeral military events, including color guard events, as well as the annual Memorial Day and Veterans Day events at the VWM. The Rifles were also involved in the Wreaths Across America program, and when requested, conducted demonstrations to schools, clubs, and civic organizations on the proper way to display and care for the American flag.
Dr. Dean Decker’s service to the Memorial Rifles Honor Guard has been as follows:
- Served as the commander of the Memorial Rifles Honor Guard.
- Participated directly in approximately 800 of the over 900 military funerals.
- Folded and presented over 300 flags to the loved ones of deceased veterans.
- Personally participated in 350-400 non-funeral military events in schools, clubs, and civic groups, which included presentations of flag etiquette, dedication of flag and flag poles, and organizing and conducting four RRCB Veterans Day services.
- Provided color guard support for corporate conventions, retirement of military service men, and support for multiple Memorial Day and Veterans Day celebrations.
- Driven over 20,000 miles and spent at least 15,000 hours involved in activities noted above.
- Along with the other members of the Memorial Rifles Honor Guard (all volunteers), purchased individual rifles, equipment, and uniforms, and provided all of these services without compensation expected or accepted.
The Memorial Rifles Honor Guard veterans participated in this program for the sole purpose of serving and honoring others, thereby setting a wonderful example of patriotism and Christ-like service to others. Dr. Decker stated, “After a career of teaching college students about the biological world in which we live and working with middle and high school teachers along the way, the opportunity to lead and participate in the activities of the Memorial Rifles Honor Guard was the most humbling and rewarding experience of all.”