05/27/2014 04:37 pm ET Updated Jul 26, 2014


It's Memorial Day, 2014.

Time to remember the vets.

Here's one I remember:

It was the summer of 1979. I had just finished my first year of law school and had a summer internship working for the U.S. Attorney's office in Newark, New Jersey. There were about 20 interns, and we were each assigned to an Assistant U.S. Attorney (AUSA), one of the hundred or so line prosecutors in the office.

I was assigned to AUSA Ted Lackland.

Columbia Law grad. Ex-associate at a Wall Street law firm with a Masters in Philosophy from Howard University. Grew up in Chicago, where he went to college and married his girlfriend.

And...ex-captain in the U.S. Army, graduate of Ranger school and Vietnam combat veteran.

I learned a lot that summer: how to try a case, do an investigation, cross-examine a witness, joust with a judge and persuade a jury.

But mostly, that summer, I learned a lot about the Vietnam War and about one guy who served there, came home, made a life and career for himself and... was never bitter.

Even though he had a right to be.

The Vietnam War Ted Lackland described was not the one I had read about in the newspapers. He had left for Southeast Asia from Oakland on June 6, 1968, the day Bobby Kennedy died. He told me he thought he might be going to a safer place given the turmoil and riots which by then had become that era's domestic imprint. He must have been quickly disabused of that notion once he arrived in South Vietnam, however, because he also told me he thought he was going to die there -- from the first day he arrived 'til the last day he left.

Which, for me, was lesson one in the life of a combat vet.

You live in constant fear. It's a mental tension that never goes away. We all now know about post traumatic stress disorder. This is pre-traumatic stress disorder.

When he got to Vietnam, Capt. Ted Lackland was supposed to command a mechanized battalion, for which he had been trained. But there either weren't any there then, or weren't enough of them. So the higher-ups made him run an infantry battalion. They said he was a Ranger and that Rangers could do anything. The fact that they said this tells you a lot about how bureaucracies cover their butts.

The fact that Ted did it tells you a lot about him.

As the summer continued, so did my education. The first thing Ted did when he got his battalion was blow up the liquor bunker. In Vietnam, even if every day seemed to be your last, drunkenness did not increase the chance that you might be wrong and live to worry tomorrow.

The next thing he did was enforce order. No back talk. In fact, no conversation. This was war, not a debating society, and survival, not feelings, was what counted. He fined anyone who was not wearing their flak jacket properly. The troops complained. In Vietnam it was 120 F and humid on the best of days. "It's too hot to wear," one GI bitched about the flak jacket order. "It's supposed to be," remarked the captain, "It stops bullets."

Others were fined for walking on the dykes in the rice paddies. The dykes were booby-trapped. The chest deep water in the paddies was rat infested and snake riven. But it wouldn't kill you.

Then there was the racism.

Some guys were constantly drawing perimeter patrol duty, which materially increased the chances of coming home in a box. Lackland regularized that duty so that everyone had to take his turn. One black private came up to him, their black captain, and said, "I know I'm gonna get fined for this, but I just wanted to tell you that the black guys in this outfit hate you. Which is OK. 'Cause the white guys in this outfit hate you just as much." Lackland looked at him and said, "You're right. Fifty dollars."

When he collected the money, he sent it to the private's account.

Which is what he did with all the fines.

In June 1968, Gen. Creighton Abrams replaced Gen. Westmoreland as the head of the Military Assistance Command, Vietnam (MACV). Within the year, Abrams noticed this captain from Chicago and asked him to make a career of the Army. Ted, however, had other plans. They included law school and... Dorothy.

Who he married soon after he returned.

After graduating from Columbia, Ted was an associate for three years at Dewey Ballantine Bushby Palmer and Wood. (That's the old Dewey Ballantine of Gov. Dewey and, before him, Elihu Root, not the ad hoc version that greed recently ran into the ground.) He then served as an Assistant U.S. Attorney for three years before moving to Atlanta, where he still practices law.

There are lots of guys alive today because of Ted Lackland.

And at least one law student who learned about a lot more than law in the summer of '79.

Thanks, Ted.