Monday, August 8, 2005

The Lamberts

WASP -- White Anglo-Saxon Protestant. If I had to pick any one catch-phrase to best describe my hometown, this one would do. Take a look at the high school yearbook, and the names you'll see will be Smith, Kelly, Whitman, Parker, Young, Fields, Coleman, Bradley, Hess, and Lambert. I don't remember anyone talking about "the old country," and I don't remember thinking of myself as anything but American. Okay, I knew that on my Mom's side, everyone was German and they all came in the great wave of immigrants in the late 1800s. But Mom was orphaned when she was 11 years old, so I never got to know her parents, nor hear stories of the prior generations. One point of interest is that Mom's father and others of his family headed to Panama to work on the Panama Canal when the US took over from the French. Mom and her siblings were all born in the Panama Canal Zone, as was one of my sisters and several cousins.

We have some decent documentation on the families of my two grandmothers. Grandmother Lambert was a Van Hoose, and we have a large book listing hundreds of members of that family, all the way back to the immigrant who came over from Holland in the 1600s. Grandmother Hirsh was a King, and we have a pretty good list which was put together by Judith King several years ago. But there are no such books on the Lambert or Hirsh families. My Dad has been working on Lambert geneology for years, so here's a little of the story:

My grandmother Lambert was a Van Hoose by birth. Her family lived in eastern Kentucky, where her father was a pastor. Granddad Lambert was a electrician for the C&O Railroad, the company that brought his father from the family homestead in southeastern Ohio to live in Huntington WV, a town that came into existence to serve the needs of the railroad. My grandparents met at some church function in Huntington WV or Russell KY, or some little town in that area. One of granddad's responsibilities was to replace all the oil fired lamps on steam locomotives with electric lamps. He installed the steam-powered dynamo on the engine, ran all the necessary wiring, and installed the lighting system. For a while he was posted at the engine shop in Thurman WV, well known today to the many people who enjoy whitewater rafting on the New River (also also the town in which the movie
Matewan was filmed). Soon after my dad was born, in Huntington, granddad moved the family to Charleston WV to take a job with duPont, who had opened a major facility in the Kanawha Valley.

As much as Mom talked about the German roots of her side of the family, I never grew up with any sense of where my Lambert side came from. After Dad retired, he and his brother Bill became very interested in Lambert geneology. What they found is that the Lamberts and the Van Hooses came to the New World a long time ago, with the very early settlers.

The Van Hoose ancestors arrived in New Amderstam (New York City) in the mid 1600s. They soon moved further inland, buying farmland from the Mohawk indians. They were stonemasons and farmers by trade. As happens when families grow, the eldest sibling gets the farm and the rest have to strike out on their own. That why my Van Hoose ancenstors eventually headed west on the Ohio River and made a place for themselves in Kentucky. The complete history of the Van Hoose family is well documented in a thick book that my Dad keeps by his chair.

The Lambert history is less well documented than the Van Hoose family, in part because the courthouses that archived public records like birth/marriage/death certificates all burned down at one point or another. We don't know who the immigrant was, but we do know my direct ancestor (a great ... great grandfather) was named Josiah, and that he was born in 1744 in New Jersey. We don't know for sure where the Lamberts came from, but one researcher Dad contacted said that Josiah spoke 'German.' I don't think of Lambert as being a German name, and never ran into a Lambert in Germany. However, once when I was in Luxembourg, one of my hosts said my ancestors must be Luxembourgish because there are tons of Lamberts there. I think the truth may be that the Lamberts were from the region of Europe called the Alsace-Lorraine, where the French-speaking and German-speaking cultures are mishmashed together.

Josiah served as an ensign in the American Navy during the Revolutionary War, and was taken prisoner at one point by the British. As was the case with most Revolutionary War veterans, he was granted land 'out west' instead of being paid cash for his service. The land Josiah was given was in Pennsylvania, but he decided at some point to upgrade his land holdings by selling his land in PA and buying a larger tract of land in southeastern Ohio, in what is called Lawrence County today. Josiah is buried in Woodlawn Cemetery, near Ironton OH.

During the Civil War, my great-great... grandfather Thorton Lambert served as an enlisted man in the 10th Ohio Cavalry. I'm not sure which battles he fought in, but he was injured at Petersburg when his horse fell on him. At point point he was accused of desertion (a huge problem in the Civil War), but actually he had merely gone back to his home to heal up and recover from a repiratory problem. Eventually he and the Army got things squared away. He is buried in the Lambert/Russell cemetery near Aid OH.

I don't really remember my Great-grandfather Lambert, and have only tiny memories of my great-grandmother. But I knew my Grandfather Lambert (Pappaw) and Grandmother (Mammaw) very well. From ages about 4 to 10, we lived in a home on my grandparents' property, about 100 yards away from their home. It was very cool living in this extended family setting, having breakfast before school with my granddad and father in Mammaw's huge country kitchen (2 stoves, three ovens, giant sink). They then took off together to their jobs at the duPont plant, and I caught the bus to school.

It really sucked when Pappaw retired and they moved to Florida in 1964. After that, we saw them about once per year, usually in the summer when Dad took two or three week's vacation and we drove down to Florida. Those were fun times as the grandparents had a big house on the water with a swimming pool and a boat dock. But it wasn't like having them next door.

Pappaw rose from being an electrician at duPont to being the Electrical Superintendent for the huge duPont complex in
Charleston. Along the way, he was posted in other duPont operations, notably their ammonia production facility in Birmingham AL. It was there that he developed two of his patents, including the variable speed motor control. During WWII, duPont was tasked by the War Department to build and operate one of the most secret and important facilities that has even been built -- the plutonium production facility in Hanford WA -- a key component of the Manhattan Project.

Even though he had never been to college, Pappaw had taught himself everything there was to know about electrical engineering, and was assigned to the Manhattan Project as the manager in charge of all electrical power generation and distribution. I've read much about duPont's success at Hanford, and wish I Pappaw could be around still to teach me about. Interestingly, when he was still alive, he considered much of what he did to be classified, and would only talk in generalities.

My dad, who will celebrate his 83rd birthday this year, grew up in the shadow of the duPont plant in Charleston, and in fact graduated from duPont High School. He started college at Marshall University, but this was in the middle of WWII, and the call to duty eventually got to him. He joined the pilot cadet program, but with the ending of the war in Europe, the cadet program was cancelled and he was reassigned to radar technician's school. In 1945, he was assigned to the B-29 squadrons in Tinian. During the summer of 1945, he flew on several bombing missions over Japan. In July, the top-secret 509th Composite Bomb Group arrived on Tinian. They were kept segregated on another part of the island, and no one knew that on August 6th, the 509th would drop the first atomic bomb on Hiroshima. Dad's plane flew the post-drop photo assessment mission over Nagasaki. On the day of the surrender signing, Dad's plane was one of many that overflew Tokyo Harbor and the USS Missouri (see picture below).

After the war, Pappaw and Dad came back the duPont plant in Charleston, both retiring after 40 years service -- Pappaw in the 1960s and Dad in the 1980s.

Dad still lives on Pappaw's former property. He's been alone since Mom passed away, but is being checked on weekly by his step-granddaughter-in-law, Rita Shaffer. More of his story at another time.

Glad he was my Dad, and proud to be a Lambert

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