Bob Lambert wrote in a diary during his year-long service in Vietnam.
That year, from October 1967 to October 1968, in which he served as a US Army helicopter pilot during the Vietnam War, was the only time in his life that he kept a diary.
The diary is stored in Lambert’s old helmet bag on a shelf in his Saint-Pierre house. He rarely watches it, although he did while writing a book about his life after his retirement as director of parks and recreation at Eden Prairie in 2007.
“It was helpful for me to write this story,” said Lambert, who turned 77 on Nov. 12. “I could just go back to the pages and the whole day would come alive after reading a few sentences.”
He admits that the newspaper can be difficult to leaf through. The sentences are peppered with crude language that reminds him of how young and immature he was at the time.
“I was only 21 and there were a lot of things I took for granted,” he said. “I was a really, really insensitive person at that time in my life. What I thought was important and funny is no longer important or funny to me. I spent more time writing about how successful I was. on the softball team that we had to save someone’s life.
His experience in Vietnam does not haunt him like so many others who fought there. He remembers a lot of good and bad.
“I think most people do,” he said.
Remember those who fought
When asked what Veterans Day, which was November 11 this year, means to Lambert, he takes a second to think about the question.
“I’m not going to say that it means more to Vietnamese veterans than to others, but maybe we appreciate it more than others just because of the way most Vietnamese veterans were treated in the years 60s and early 70s,” he said. “They were pretty much looked down on, even though we were basically fighting for what our country was asking us to do.”
But, Lambert points out, Veterans Day is about remembering all of America’s veterans who served.
He played his part in helping bring two monuments to veterans into existence.
The first was in 2008, when the Eden Prairie Veterans Memorial in Purgatory Creek Park was dedicated. The second in 2018 when the Saint Peter Area Veterans Memorial was built.
Lambert has close ties to both communities.
In addition to serving as director of parks and recreation for Eden Prairie from 1978 to 2007, he lived there from 1978 to 1999. The pavilion at Purgatory Creek Park, steps from the city’s Veterans Memorial, bears his name “for his 29 years of dedication and visionary leadership.”
Originally from Saint-Pierre, Lambert and his wife Sally reside on a farm outside the city, owned by his great-grandfather.
St. Peter’s Memorial
Lambert led an effort by a citizens’ committee to have a veterans’ memorial built in St. Pierre. It was not an easy sell, it took about six years to finally convince the city council to approve the possibility of building such a memorial on city land.
“I couldn’t believe the resistance,” Lambert said.
He met with each board member individually to ask them why they were reluctant.
“They kept calling it a war memorial,” he recalls. “I said, ‘We’re not talking about a war memorial here, we’re just talking about a veterans memorial to honor people who are ready to serve their country.’ And it’s not just Vietnam veterans. We wanted to honor veterans of the Civil War and Indian uprising that occurred in 1862 through to the young men and women serving their country today.
He assured them that the memorial was “definitely” not meant to honor the war.
“If there is anyone who hates war, it is someone who has fought in a war,” he told them.
People, he added, tend to blame the soldiers who fought in these wars rather than the politicians who sent them there.
After about six years of uncertainty, he and the rest of the citizens’ committee asked that the memorial be put on the city council’s agenda for a closed-door vote.
Lambert said more than 200 veterans showed up, including a Korean War veteran with “a bit of a temper.” The veteran faced off against the board as the veterans cheered, Lambert recalled.
The council voted that night to allow the memorial to be built on city land.
Lambert was later told that the only reason the board approved it was because they didn’t think “Lambert and his committee” could raise the money to pay its estimated cost of $610,000.
“The memorial ended up costing $720,000,” he said last week. “We were still able to give the city $35,000 in cash for ongoing maintenance costs.”
He added that 4,000 people showed up for the grand opening.
“I think it’s a really impressive memorial,” he said. “Once we got approval for the design and the process, I was surprised at how committed the citizens of this community were to this memorial and how quickly they supported it. We’ve had nothing but positive comments from people since he came in.
Eden Prairie Memorial
Lambert was director of parks when a group of veterans asked him to build a memorial at Round Lake Park, specifically at the corner of Valley View and Eden Prairie Roads.
He liked the idea of the memorial, but not around here. He suggested four sites to the group where he would support the construction of such a memorial.
“We ended up at the site that I hoped they would choose, which was Purgatory Creek Park,” he said. “We went to the city council and they approved this site on the first request.”
The committee raised all the money to build it, although the city gave the group $10,000 to help pay for the initial costs, which it reimbursed.
Lambert assisted the committee and the architect in the design of the memorial. The group was in the midst of fundraising to pay for its construction when Lambert retired.
He recently visited the Eden Prairie Veterans Memorial with his favorite Catholic elementary school teacher.
Lambert and Sister Patricia Frost reconnected a few years ago when she moved to Mankato, about 10 miles from Saint Peter. He would take her to dinner for her birthday.
“She proved to me that a good teacher can have an incredible impact on a child’s life,” he said of Frost. “But a bad teacher can have the opposite.”
Lambert visited Frost in Shakopee, where she recently moved. He showed her around Shakopee, eventually crossing the Minnesota River to Eden Prairie to see the park system he helped build.
They met at the memorial overlooking Purgatory Creek.
“She was really impressed,” he said.
Lambert — one of the soldiers honored on the memorial’s veteran wall — is, too.
“I still think it’s a very impressive site,” he said. “And a nice addition to that park around the corner.”
Editor’s note: Lambert was interviewed in 2018 as part of a Vietnamese-era oral history project by the Minnesota Historical Society. This entire interview can be viewed in the Historical Society’s online collections.
In videos for TPT’s Minnesota Remembers Vietnam, he was one of two Vietnam War veterans in St. Pierre to share their views on service during the war.
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