Seventy-five years after returning from World War II, veteran Theodore Lambert, traveling last month with his wife and daughter, remembered D-Day with a visit to the 3rd Infantry Division Museum at Fort Stewart near Savannah.
While there, Lambert, a member of what Tom Brokaw deemed The Greatest Generation, shared memories with members of the latest generation from Cherokee County.
Coincidental to the Lambert’s visit, more than 40 boys and girls ranging from eight to 18 years old were visiting the museum as part of the Sky Patriot summer camp. The camp is offered by the Fort Blitz After School Cadet Leadership Academy located in Canton off of Sixes Road.
The camp’s senior instructor, Santiago Santana, said the group was on a field trip to learn about leadership, discipline and service to the nation. When the campers learned from the museum curator, John Potter, the Lamberts would be arriving at the museum their experience went from a purely visual one to an interactive one.
After a warm reception from the campers and other museum visitors, Lambert, a 97 year old Riceboro native and his wife, 94-year old Midway native, Ronnie Lambert and their daughter Alvera Phillips, were introduced to the attendees. Lambert was introduced to the group by Potter, who with Phillips, explained a little of their history.
Theodore grew up in the area around Fort Stewart, and helped build the installation when the land was purchased in 1940, by clearing trees and removing tree-stumps, sometimes with dynamite. When war was declared, he trained at Fort Benning and in Alabama. His then-girlfriend, Ronnie, was still in school when World War II was declared. She took a job in Brunswick shipping aircraft parts doing her part to help the war effort.
Both opened themselves up for questions from the children and spoke about their experiences around the time of World War II.
Lambert was a corporal in the 162nd Chemical Smoke Company during World War II, serving in Africa, Italy and later supported the invasion of Normandy, France.
“We burned a mixture of oil and water to create smoke screen, to cover the soldiers who were trying to build a bridge and cross the river,” Lambert answered when asked what his unit did in Germany. “But the wind kept shifting, and the Germans kept trying to shell the bridge.”
In the final operations report, published in part at tothosewhoserved.org, noted the 162nd Chemical Smoke Generator Company near St. Goar, in France, in March 25-28, 1945, supported the VIII Corps as it crossed the Rhine River, between Bingen and Koblnz. The 162nd Smoke Generator Company helped 87th and 89th Division in their efforts to invade Normandy. Part of their plan was to provide smoke screens for the 1102nd Engineer Combat Group to build a pontoon bridge, and for the 345th Infantry to assault across the river at Boppard, in the 87th Division sector. Although they took on heavy mortar and small arms fire, the effort was successful.
The campers learned the soldiers relied on smoke and cover for protection during the day.
“We would try and build our trenches at night – as they were often our only protection from the Germans, who were trying to shoot us,” Lambert said.
When asked of his happiest moment during World War II, he smiled and said, “When we heard the war was over in Europe. We were just about to load up for Japan, but were told we could go home early.”
Marshal Bramlet asked him what he did when he got home. Lambert thought carefully and after a long pause said, “Well, for six weeks, I didn’t do anything. Then I started work at my old job at the gas station, got married and after nine months, moved to Newark, New Jersey.”
When his wife, Ronnie, was asked by a young lady in the audience how it felt to work in what would later be termed a Rosie the Riveter job, she smiled and replied.
“I was young and working – I was excited,” Ronnie Lambert said.
When asked for advice for the youngest generations, both Lamberts agreed education was the key.
“Get an education and stay in school,” Ronnie Lambert said as Theodore nodded agreement.