29 Apr 04

A Forgotten Hero Named Duke

In court, I watched the sentencing hearing for fifty-four-year-old Duke. Most of the onlookers wept with him as he listed his mitigating factors. Duke had joined the military at age nineteen and was quickly dispatched to Vietnam. He served as a supply clerk in the thick of some of the goriest battles. After three years of being in "hell," and watching “many peoples' faces gettin' blown off,” Duke was shot in the head. Comatose for three months, his eventual survival was deemed a miracle. For serving his country, Duke was awarded the Purple Heart and Silver Star.

Duke discovered drugs in Vietnam. Upon returning home, he was prescribed painkillers, psychiatric drugs and seizure medication. He suffered from various mental problems, including PTSD. He was in and out of the Veterans' Hospital for three decades. During his most recent visit, the surgeon reattached his foot, which had been torn from his leg by a hit-and-run driver. Duke's foot is presently held on by a thirteen-inch metal rod, and he limps.

Duke shed tears as he apologized for his drug problem, which he referred to as his "disease". He apologized to his children and grandchildren for letting them down. Duke's final cry for leniency was, "Please help me get help for my disease."

From Judge Wilkinson, Duke received a four-and-a-half-year prison sentence for possession of .02 grams of cocaine, found on the floor of his car. His attorney said Duke's long history of drug use and the fact he owned a new car had aggravated the sentence. The prosecutor claimed Duke's car could only have been paid for by dealing drugs. A concession granted by the judge was that Duke would be housed in a prison with a good drug-rehabilitation program.

Duke was sullen as he exited the courtroom.

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