‘Their deaths were not in vain’
John D. Lambert III wears a bracelet emblazoned with the words ‘Defending Freedom’ and outside his Blackhawk Station house hangs a yellow ribbon adorned with the stars and strips.
On Memorial Day, Lambert, a reservist commander in the Navy who returned from Kuwait and Iraq in early May, will remember fallen soldiers he knew in the Iraqi war. And the ones he did not.
"It’s going to mean I have the deepest appreciation for the ultimate sacrifice they’ve given our country and their deaths were not in vain," Lambert says about his feelings about Memorial Day this year.
Lambert, who is 46 years old, will not be in Park City on Monday but will spend time with his family on Memorial Day reflecting on the meaning of being a veteran.
Lambert most of the time between last August and May was at a U.S. base in Kuwait but made trips into Iraq, spending about three weeks in the occupied country during his tour of duty. Lambert, a reservist since 1987, does not expect to be called up for duty in Iraq or Kuwait again.
On his trip back to Utah, during a stop at an airport in Bangor, Maine, he toasted America and he and the troops he was with sang ‘God Bless America,’ he recounts.
"It was like, ‘Wow, we’re home,’" Lambert says, praising the way the military is organized and the soldiers with whom he worked. "It was the first sense of reality we made it home. Everybody was proud to be Americans."
Lambert commanded 1,200 people in a unit that worked for the Army loading and unloading equipment like helicopters, describing his tour as "a great experience, one I would never change."
Lambert, who owns Wasatch Bagel Cafe, expects to return to work at the restaurant within two weeks. He admits, however, that adjusting to being home has been more difficult than he anticipated.
He says he has less patience, for instance, because, during his tour, people accomplished their tasks quickly compared to what he has seen since returning to civilian life. The military, he says, works at " a different tempo."
But he also acknowledges that his absence was tougher on his wife, Jeanne, than it was on himself. She tended to their 8-year-old son Collin and their 11-year-old son Christian.
"She, by far, had the hardest job, much more difficult than mine," Lambert says.
Lambert reports that he sees progress in Iraq by the Americans and the Iraqis. He was in the region when Iraqis held elections and says that everyday Iraqis are happy with the American presence.
"It’s certainly no walk in the park. It’s a difficult process but they’re trying to build it the right way," Lambert says about the fledgling democracy in Iraq. "They understand there’s a price to pay for it."
Lambert says he is unsure when U.S. troops, each of whom he calls "a true American hero," will leave Iraq but says that Iraqis are becoming more responsible for their country.
He says that Americans do not hear about the successes in Iraq, like the troops working with village elders and tribal leaders, teaching them how to best manage their villages. The troops give kids candy and rebuild schools, he says.
"My personal experience and opinion is, is what everybody over here sees in the press is not close to being accurate," Lambert says.
The morale of the soldiers, he says, is good and they are working well together.
"Everybody’s supportive of everybody else. There’s an appreciation that’s realized," Lambert says.
Before he left for the Middle East, Lambert had said in an interview that he saw the Iraqi conflict as part of America’s war on terrorism. He now holds the same opinion.
"It’s more than just a war in Iraq," he says. "It’s a global war on terrorism."
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