The telegram pictured was received by my sister-in-law in October of 1943. My father also received one at that time. Dad had feared the coming of this telegram for many years. Earlier he had two young sons that left home in 1917 to serve in World War I. The oldest, Joe was sent to France and fought in the war there. The other son, Jack was assigned to the Coastal Artillery. Dad spent this war worrying that any day, a telegram would arrive with the worse kind of news. Thankfully, Dad
escaped that fate and both Joe and Jack returned back home.
Then in the ‘30’s, three more of his sons left the farm and joined the military, first Philip, then George and last Clifford. They all joined the Navy. George finished his naval tour, then headed off to the U.S. Naval Academy. After graduation, he did another tour before landing back at the Naval Academy as a football coach. My dad was pleased, times were good, there were no conflicts in the world and his boys were all doing well with their military career. However, Clifford left the Navy in 1940. He would later serve in the upcoming war as a civilian instructor in Panama.
On December 7th 1941, it all changed. The surprise attack of Pearl Harbor shocked the entire nation. Dad knew his son Philip was serving on the battleship U.S.S. Maryland and the ship was presently anchored at Pearl Harbor. As the first reports came in, it was clear that thousands of sailors were killed. Once again dad feared that he had lost a son. Getting information on casualties were almost impossible during this turbulent time. Dad would take daily trips to the Robeline depot and check to see if a telegram had arrived from Philip, or from the Department of the Navy. It was after two long agonizing weeks before he did indeed heard from son Philip. He had survived the attack, but his battleship had been damaged and they had casualties. But to the relief of dad, Philip was fine. Although relieved about Philip, now the country was in conflict and he had three sons in a war.
Philip was assigned to the U.S.S. Maryland for the duration of the war. After damaged received at Pearl Harbor, the ship was quickly repaired and engaged the enemy at Saipan, at Leyte Gulf, at the Battle of Midway, at the Battle of Tarawa, later in the Battle of Kwajalein and then Okinawa. The ship took quite a beating from Japanese bombs and kamikaze attacks. The Maryland was mistakenly reported as being sunk two different times by both Germany and Italy forces.
Dad’s great concern now was Philip being in the heart of combat in the Pacific Ocean and George doing the same in the Atlantic Ocean. While Phillip was serving on a battleship, George was an Executive Officer on the destroyer U.S.S. Buck. Again news was scarce and dad just waited and read every newspaper article on the war that he could get his hands on.
Then on the late evening of the 14th of October 1943, Robeline’s depot
operator drove up to the house and sadly handed my father a telegram. It was from the Department of the Navy. My dad’s long time fears had finally arrived at our doorsteps. The telegraph read, “The Navy Department deeply regrets to inform you that your son, Lieutenant Commander, George Solon Lambert is missing following action in the performance of his duty and in the service of his country. The Department appreciates your great anxiety.”
George’s ship was struck by an torpedo fired from a German U-boat that it was chasing down just after midnight off the coast of Sicily. The Buck took a direct hit killing everyone on the bridge. It sank within minutes. Of the 330 crew, ninety-seven survived.
Dad just would not believe George was killed. He was sure another boat had picked up George and he would show up. Besides the paperwork coming out of the chaos of war was often lacking in accuracy. Hope remained strong on the farm that George would eventually be found alive and well.
Dad would make the daily trips to the little Robeline depot once again. Day after day, it became a ritual. But after a couple of months, realization began to set in. Fewer and fewer trips were made. Soon none….A year after the sinking, dad received a letter from the Department of Navy. They had declared George dead…..it was over, it was official, George was gone, lost at sea. My sister said this was the only time in her life that she ever saw my dad cry.
Later Philip and Clifford would return from the war, that brought relief, but dad never got over the loss of George. Looking back, dad never really had any closure, he had no body or no grave to mourn over…..only the loss….
This is an example of the true meaning of Memorial Day. This day is for those that did not return, and for their families who were left with just memories and the what if’s…..
Dean Lambert, Around The Town Monthly Contributor
Categories: Special Feature