Friday, June 01, 2007

No Friend Left Behind (Backstory)

A small story from a small paper in wide-open West Texas celebrates the life and career of a hard-edged local DA's office investigator on the occasion of his retirement.

He's a cowboy, in the part of the world where that is a high compliment. He's an expert in cracking cold cases, and putting crooks with nicknames like "Snake" behind bars for a long time. He will tell you straight up what he thinks of you. And yet, "J.D. (for Jerrold Dwayne) is the kindest person I have ever known," said [Mario] Tinajero .... "He treats everybody equally and is not prejudiced at all.

"He looks at both sides of the coin and is one of the toughest people I have ever seen, physically and mentally. He can work 24 hours a day. He is unbelievable. He doesn't have to do the things he does and I don't see how he has endured so much."

Along the way, we learn part of what moves him:

Of all his experiences in a rich and sometimes difficult life, J. D. Luckie's despair at abandoning villagers to their fate in Vietnam has motivated him more powerfully than any.

The 58-year-old native Houstonian joined the Marine Corps after graduating from high school at Travis Air Force Base near San Francisco and served 19 months in Vietnam with the Corps' Civil Action Program.

Just having retired as a district attorney's investigator, he supervised a combat-buffeted 600-man international police force in Kosovo from 1999-2000 and pursued a series of cold cases as a result of his Vietnam-related regret.

"We worked with two villages, one friendly and the other non-friendly, near Dong Ha and the mouth of the Cua Viet River in the northern provinces," Luckie recalled. "We were like the Marines' Green Berets.

"I felt guilty when the Ninth Regiment of the Third Marines pulled out in November 1969 because a lot of people I knew in that village probably never made it out of there. I volunteered for Kosovo to try to set right the wrong done to those people. We walked off and left them and that's troublesome."

Hobbled by back surgeries for three ruptured discs and a mysteriously fractured vertebrae and blocked leg arteries, he would accept the invitation of his Kosovo employer, Dyn Corp, to serve in Iraq if he could regain his health. "I would do it for the children," he said.

"The ones who always get hurt are the elderly and children."

[Read the whole thing, if you have the time. You'll encounter lines like, " 'The U.N. said that was politically incorrect and I used some words about part of my anatomy.' "]

Vietnam and the passive betrayal of its people still was with him when he served in Kosovo:

Luckie had met and been befriended by the five-member Dragojlo family in Mitrovica after a rocket propelled grenade blew him over a car. He worked through the U.S. State Department to move them to Amarillo upon returning for them in September 2001.

"I had a concussion and broken ribs and we didn't have a lot of corpsmen," he said. "The Dragojlos bandaged and fed me and then they got a death message from the Serbs on their door. I wasn't going to let the same thing happen to them that happened to those 60-70 people in that village in Vietnam."

Note to Rest of World: Despite what your media may show you (and it won't show you J.D. Luckie), this is cowboy ethics at work. This is an America.

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