Joe Lambert is a hero of World War II. His important story is being written and illustrated by Jeremiah Kirby and Tess Horton, both of Rockridge school district in Illinois. He and many other WWII heroes will soon be recognized at a program at the Reynolds Legion in Reynold's Illinois on Sunday, May 15 at 3 p.m. Invite shown below - please mark your calendar.
Most of these dear ones have never told their stories before. I'm so honored (and humbled) that they trusted my young authors and illustrators with their life stories. Joe and the others -- they are the Greatest Generation. Now the Rockridge students who are working on their stories know that too.
Joe Lambert was born on October 28, 1925 in Ava, Missouri. His father was Clark Lambert who was a Free Will Baptist Minister, a dairy farmer, a mechanic, a carpenter and a blacksmith. His mother, Lillie Freedman, was a farm wife and mother of ten children. Joe was a middle child. While he and his brothers and sisters were growing up, it was the Great Depression so times were really hard. The families on farms were so much better off because they could grow their own food. Joe remembers raising crops and growing vegetables and his mother canned and dried fruits for them to eat all winter. They had a root cellar which was an underground space where foods didn't freeze in the winter or spoil in the summer.
His father bought 160 acres of "unimproved land" in the Ozarks. He and his sons hand made their cabin, which became their home for many years. They cut logs and laid them the pioneer way. Also, they made their own rafters and prepared the ground by creating fields and meadows. In February of 1945, Joe was drafted in the Army and went off to basic training in Jefferson, MO. With many other men, he was then sent to Fort Hood, TX. Joe says he felt like if the United States was a mule, Fort Hood would have been the tail end. He missed the hills of the Ozarks. From there, they went to Camp Kilmir in New Jersey, which is where the men departed to go to Europe.
He shipped off to Le Havre, France which was very close to Normandy. One day he and a buddy went over to the beach where the Allies had begun an invasion on June 6, 1944. He said it was an awesome sight. The soldiers traveled in French box cars called 40 and 8 because they held 40 men or 8 horses. They were shipped to Nuremberg and assigned to 1st Division, 29 Infantry as foot soldiers. The war had been won so his orders were to pick up German arms and ammunition and destroy it. So, the troops walked from village to village almost to Berlin. His unit walked past Stuttgart concentration camp but they weren't allowed to go in. They had no idea how severely Jewish people were treated there.
The soldiers were stationed in private homes. Joe remembers one German lady who was very nice. She was a janitor and she did his laundry for him. In return, he bought her items she couldn't get in Germany at the American PX. She wanted American washing powder, cosmetics, and Hershey bars. She gave him money and he felt comforted by her presence. She was like a mother to him.
The occupational forces were assigned to the barracks near Bremen, Germany. These were built by the Germans and taken over by the Allies once they won the war. The United States renamed it Camp Grohn after the part of Bremen it was located in. Joe was promoted to Corporal and selected to be part of the honor guard. He was Corporal of the Guard and part of the dress platoon. He bleached his leg irons and his ammo belt always needed to be bleached nice and white. His boots were polished and his brass shined. He had to be snappy. He was on guard when General Eisenhower came through the area.
Along with four soldiers, Joe took his turn conducting the physical exercise for the soldiers. He weight lifted, boxed, played baseball, basketball and enjoyed many competitions between the various companies. Joe ran the mile in less than six minutes. The biggest impact on Joe was meeting the German people. He liked doing the humanitarian work that needed to be done. He said the German people treated the Americans very respectfully and were kind. However, he saw fellow soldiers who intentionally treated Germans badly. He saw some being degraded for no reason whatsoever. He said those soldiers earned the nickname of Ugly Americans. To this Joe says, "There are bullies in every crowd."
While Joe served in the European theater, his brother Lowell served in the Pacific theater. He was in Guam and the Philippines. When it was time to come home, the Army said he was "officer candidate material" because his records showed he was an ideal soldier. Joe refused their offer because he was ready to go home and fulfill his dream of owning a car repair shop.
Joe got a job in a body shop at Kerr Chevrolet back in Ava. It was on the same street that led to the business district and also, the high school. A pretty young lady named Norma Wright caught his eye and in 1948, and they were married. The economy was bad in this part of the Ozarks but, luckily, Joe heard about work in the Quad Cities where two of his sisters had already moved. The economy in this new area was good and Joe opened his own shop called Lambert's Body & Frame in East Moline, Illinois. Norma worked at a Woolworth's store and also the Nibs Licorice Factory before having their five children. Today, their oldest son and their youngest son run his shop. He's had a good life and is a proud veteran.