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Walter Lamar

Reminiscences of a former FBI agent on deeds, heritage

WASHINGTON - In an interview with Indian Country Today, Walter Lamar spoke with insight for two full hours on a complex spectrum of topics that ranged from the profoundest matters of survival and death to childhood memories and spiritual dominions, and old-boy stories of derring-do that he directly related to the hunters and warriors of old, retelling the deeds of the day in the fire's circle.

The occasional politician or high official in Washington has learned to maintain similar conversations with the lower part of the face, while their eyes disengage to become the deadest things; the impression is always of some fairly awful malady, not to be mentioned. With Lamar, it's more like he's mastered an art form. His eyes could be called friendly, but in an unflinching manner that might even be called vigilant. As one would also expect of a career FBI man, his hands were steady. He has retired from the FBI to preside over Lamar Associates, a security and law enforcement training firm with offices in Washington and Albuquerque, N.M.

Following the Timothy McVeigh bombing of the Alfred Murrah building in Oklahoma City in 1995, Lamar discussed the recovery of the building's surveillance videotapes with fellow retired FBI agent Chuck Choney (now with the National Indian Gaming Commission). Their exchange took place between the initial rescue effort of the FBI response and the immediately pursuant investigative effort. Days later, in news periodicals, Lamar saw a photograph, one of the first taken after the bombing, of the exact place where he had stood in conversation with Choney. In the photograph, corpses and possibly body parts abound. ''And I didn't ever see them. ... Your mind allows you to see what you have to see so you can continue to do what you have to do. ... You can't afford to get debilitated by post-traumatic stress or whatever else, because you've got a job to do.''

Focus like that led Lamar to the little-used (in those days) offline data search that kept McVeigh in police custody only a half-hour before his scheduled release on a misdemeanor traffic charge.

The post-interview walk to the door moved downstairs into a hallway and past a small photograph above some assorted items on a stand. Lamar had already expressed an abiding affection and respect for his Blackfeet and Wichita heritage, for his upbringing and his family, for the Arapaho-Shoshone and Jicarilla influences of his growing-up years, for the mentoring, by Choney and others, that guided his character traits and training and specific gifts of ''Indianness'' to a storied career and back again. ''That's where my Indianness came from ... It was something that was able to transcend the FBI.''

He said as much in several ways, but it was hard to know if it showed. Now though, Lamar seemed at last the happiest of men, like a regular guy passing around snapshots of his first-born as he stood before the little hallway shrine and its single photograph, taken in Wolf Point, Mont., in 1930. His maternal grandfather, Edward Gobert, stood in traditional regalia, alongside many other members of the Blackfeet Band, one of the grand old rural drum-and-trumpet clubs that played at the dedication of a federal bridge. Gobert's cornet and case sat on the stand.

For years, the part-time cornetist was the deputy sheriff in Glacier County, Mont. The handcuffs Gobert used on the job came down through the family to Lamar.

''In the FBI, the entire time I was in the FBI, I carried my grandfather's handcuffs so that the hundreds of people that those handcuffs were on, they were the very same handcuffs that my grandfather used.''

Gobert, Newton and Katherine Lamar and their whole clans clearly thought he might do them proud. They could not have guessed that a nation would express its gratitude for their gift by making Walter Lamar one of only two agents in FBI history twice-decorated with the bureau's Shield of Bravery Award for life-saving deeds. One was a special casting for 13 agents engaged in the Oklahoma City bombing rescue and investigation; the other was the traditional medal for his role in what Lamar terms ''a shooting incident.'' As a closer look at the award itself helps to clarify, this ''shooting incident'' was a running gun battle with an armed bank robber who had vowed not to be arrested. Lamar brought him in, alive and handcuffed.