Ray Lambert joined the U.S. Army in 1940 because he needed a steady job. Four years later, on June 6, 1944, Lambert was one of more than 150,000 men from 12 Allied nations — who swarmed the beaches of Normandy. France. Half of them were Americans. They came under heavy fire from German troops located high above the beaches, able to shoot down on the Allied troops.
More than 4,000 of the Allied soldiers — including some 2,500 Americans — died that day. Ray Lambert almost was one of them. It wasn’t his first brush with death. In the fighting in North Africa, he was wounded by shrapnel, and injured by a bayonet-wielding German. He was wounded again in Sicily.
On D-Day, Lambert was in charge of a unit of medics. As soon as the ramp on his landing craft hit the water, Lambert was wounded by a bullet that went through his right arm, breaking the bone. Despite the injury, he continued ashore, help other wounded soldiers as best he could.
Then, he was wounded again, this time by a bullet that shredded his leg. He stopped long enough to inject himself with a shot of morphine and apply a tourniquet before getting back to work, helping other soldiers. As he rushed into the water to drag wounded men to shore, a landing craft accidently dropped its ramp on him, crushing a portion of Lambert’s lower spine. The craft then backed up and the badly injured Lambert dragged another soldier onto the beach.
By then, Lambert’s day was over and he was moved to a landing craft to take him for medical treatment. In a horrible twist of fate, the ship Lambert was taken to was also the ship his older brother Bill was taken with injuries so severe the doctors talked about amputating his leg. Fortunately, the leg was saved and Bill lived until 2010.
Over the years, Ray Lambert returned to the beaches of Normandy several times. Now, at age 98, he was there again last week, attending what may be his last commemoration ceremony with hundred of other D-Day survivors, all well into their 90s. Seventy-five years after they went ashore on June 6, 1944, the men of D-Day shrug off their magnificent effort that brought an end to the war in Europe less than a year later.
For decades, these brave men remained silence about their experiences during the war. As they grew older, they began to share their memories.
For his part, Ray Lambert told Jay Price, a reporter for WUNC public radio in North Carolina, where he now lives, “The way I’d like to be remembered was a guy that was willing to die for my family and for my country, and a good soldier and a good person.
“I realized that if I didn’t tell these stories about my men, that they couldn’t do it. I felt it my responsibility and obligation to them to talk to people and tell people about the war and what they did.”
Earlier this year, a town above Omaha Beach asked Lambert if it could name the piece of concrete that sheltered Lambert and his men as they did their work. He agreed, as long as the plaque didn’t call him a hero. Instead, at Lambert’s request, the plaque simply lists the medics who took are of the wounded with him that terrible day 75 years ago.
Long after Ray Lambert and the remaining veterans of the D-Day invasion are gone, we should remember — not just the names of Eisenhower and Bradley and Rudder, but the names of Lambert and all the men who gave so much that day and the days to follow to save the world.
Today, we remember, and we thank God that these men lived — and so many died — so that we could be free.