Lost military jacket headed back to owner - Albuquerque Journal

Lost military jacket headed back to owner

He lost everything.

James Lawing is a world traveler, moving about the globe both during his military service and afterward. As he tells me his story, he is happily ensconced in Central America.

About 16 years ago, he scooted around the United States in a motor home. Lawing, a gregarious man who can talk endlessly to anybody with ease, was headed to Los Angeles to spend time with a friend when he stopped in El Paso.

He was chatting in a restaurant with a few new buddies when he looked out the window and realized that his motor home was no longer parked outside.

“My entire life was gone,” he said.

That motor home was not just his transportation, but his home, and inside was almost all of his belongings – family photos, childhood mementos, clothing, weapons, tools, items from his aged father, identification documents, military records, his blue Air Force service dress coat replete with bars and medals, and the five-striped sleeve chevron depicting the rank of technical sergeant.

Yes, that Air Force coat.

If you read this column last Wednesday, you know that it was found some eight to 10 years ago in a bedroom closet in the South Valley. Albuquerque resident Debbie Garcia had picked it up at a yard sale at the house and had held onto it all these years, hoping someday to return it to its rightful owner.

Honoring the symbol of someone’s service

That someday is soon.

“I’m just so happy about this,” Garcia said.

So is Lawing, though perhaps he’s also a little more surprised.

“I don’t know how she found it,” he said. “I don’t know how you found me.”

After the theft, which occurred around 2005, Lawing searched for his things. Credit cards left in the motor home were tracked to Albuquerque, where they were used at several Walmart stores and gas stations.

Lawing visited each one, hoping to track down his items. He also went to swap meets in Albuquerque searching for his things. But nothing was ever recovered.

Years later, Garcia stumbled upon the yard sale. She can’t remember the exact location other than it was somewhere off Barcelona SW and that the people holding the yard sale were getting rid of all the items left in the home, apparently by former renters who had left suddenly, to prepare the house for sale.

She didn’t think much about it then, but among the vehicles parked at the home was a motor home.

She got the jacket, which also had numerous identification cards and medals stuffed in the pocket, for free. She had a name and the information listed on all the IDs, but her efforts to find Lawing went nowhere.

Still, she refused to throw the jacket away because she said the uniform honored the symbol of a man’s service and that’s something to honor, not haul away to the dump.

So she asked me to find him. My search led to a condo in Florida, but repeated calls went immediately to voicemail. A message left at the condo complex for him went unanswered.

Enter Purple Hearts Reunited, a nonprofit whose mission is to return lost, stolen and misplaced military medals of valor to veterans or their families. In the past decade, the organization has returned more than 850 military items. A reader sent the column to the organization and operations director Erin Faith Allen offered to help search for Lawing.

Within an hour after we spoke Wednesday, she had contacted a niece, who then contacted her mother, who then contacted her brother, who is James Lawing.

He contacted me Wednesday evening. And, now, he is contacting Garcia.

Arrangements will be made shortly to return his possessions to him. It cannot replace everything he lost in that 2005 theft, but maybe it will give him some comfort, not just in having his jacket returned, but also in knowing how much it mattered to an Albuquerque woman – and to those of you who helped spread the word – to honor the service of a stranger.

UpFront is a front-page news and opinion column. Reach Joline at 730-2793 or jkrueger@abqjournal.com.

Albuquerque Journal and its reporters are committed to telling the stories of our community.

• Do you have a question you want someone to try to answer for you? Do you have a bright spot you want to share?
   We want to hear from you. Please email yourstory@abqjournal.com

Nativo Sponsored Content

Ad Tango

taboola desktop


Regents, city council give approval for south campus TIDD
ABQnews Seeker
The University of New Mexico moved ... The University of New Mexico moved a step closer to launching a massive development project on its south campus, which school officials envision will ...
ABQ stadium bond question is botched
ABQnews Seeker
Ballot correctly describes gross receipts tax ... Ballot correctly describes gross receipts tax issue, then mislabels it as GO bond
Man who fell from Pit suite settles for $144K
ABQnews Seeker
State paid one-third of settlement, while ... State paid one-third of settlement, while contractors on renovation paid the remainder
Suspect held in monthlong string of robberies
ABQnews Seeker
Bandit apologized to victims in over ... Bandit apologized to victims in over a dozen alleged heists
Man charged in mother's slaying on West Side
ABQnews Seeker
She had posted bond for son ... She had posted bond for son on Oct. 5 to clear a warrant
DA to refer Gonzales fraud case to State Police
ABQnews Seeker
Case to be forwarded after mayoral ... Case to be forwarded after mayoral election
Former pediatric surgeon pleads guilty to child porn charges
ABQnews Seeker
Physician worked at Presbyterian Healthcare Services Physician worked at Presbyterian Healthcare Services
BCSO releases footage of crowd shooting guns in Downtown ...
ABQnews Seeker
Detectives have released security footage showing ... Detectives have released security footage showing several people shooting guns atop a parking garage in Downtown Albuquerque earlier this month. The Oct. 11 video ...
Top APS officials expected to testify in Stapleton trial
ABQnews Seeker
AG's Office lists 58 potential witnesses AG's Office lists 58 potential witnesses