World War II veteran opens up about life during wartime

Prior to an Honor Flight bound for Washington, John Lamb talked about his experiences in World War II

Kara Talayman and Brian Schwartz

In May 1945 the United States and Allied troops celebrated their victory over the Axis Powers. Seventy years later, the celebrations continue.

Even though it was a long time ago, there are WWII veterans who hold vivid memories of life during the war and two of them call Arizona their home.

Corporal John Lamb was merely 18-years-old when he enlisted in the Army and even though he never fought on the front line he saw firsthand what the tragedy of that war did to some of his friends and millions of people. Lamb is 88 years-old today and the Chronicle visited him at his home to speak with him about his military service and his life. Sitting in his favorite armchair, Lamb got teary-eyed as he recalled many of the events of war.

Emotional recollections

The war started in 1939 and at the time no one believed it would lead to the horrors that it did. People living in the United States were often not aware of what was really going on in Europe. In Europe people dreamed of living in the United States, as it seemed to be the country of freedom and peace in the world. In Europe people were being put into cattle cars and transported to an unthinkable fate that was decided by a thumb, left or right. It wasn’t until raw footage surfaced of people being placed behind barbed wire fences that some began to start questioning what was really going on. Nobody knew what was going on because it was hidden too well.

To army veteran Lamb, the comfort of family and friends back home carried him during that horrific time and it carries him today.  Lamb holds a sense of peace and that was made clear when he paused for a moment and looked up to his right and saw the picture of his deceased daughter, Darla. All around him he had pictures of his family, and in particular his wife, Ruth, and all of this seemed to give him comfort while he recalled Hitler and the terrifying war.

It was extremely hard for Lamb when he spoke of the horrors he saw and brought those emotions back from the past. After talking about the war and all the nasty times he would remember a happy time. He recalled one disturbing incident in particular that involved a small dog while stationed in Iceland.

“Someone had thrown her into a cesspool, she was a little puppy and heard her whine,” Lamb said as he recalled his Icelandic dog, Elska. “I washed her and washed her, took shaving lotion on her. She smelled.”

In the corner of the room there was a picture of him dancing with Ruth. This was something that he loved to do every Saturday night. It was a glimmer of happiness in the otherwise dark and dreary climate of this time.

A war ends at a horrific cost

On April 30, 1945, the news that Hitler was dead spread over Europe and the rest of the world. Lamb recalled how happy he was to hear this news. With Hitler out of the way the Allied Troops could seize Germany and liberate those in concentration camps. Lamb told of how skinny the people being liberated were, weighing 50 to 60 pounds. Lamb wished, however, that he would have helped with the liberation of the people in Germany so that he felt like he had done something.

When asked, he said he would go to Germany if he had the chance to go see the places where people went through atrocities.

Lamb and his best friend Bobby Bickle were selected to go on an Honor Flight sponsored by a non-profit organization formed to honor Americas’ veterans for all their sacrifices. The two veterans and friends boarded the flight on Oct. 12 and went to Washington to visit and reflect at the World War II memorial.

Life beyond war for veterans

“I consider myself a very lucky man,” Lamb said after rekindling with old memories of him gambling in Las Vegas casinos and racing cars.

Leo Buscaglia, an American author and motivational speaker, once said “your talent is God’s gift to you, what you do with it is your gift back to God.”  To many Americans, veterans like Lamb are seen as  the bar by which they should not only measure ourselves but how they should act and conduct themselves every day.

Lamb frequented Vegas throughout his life having lived in Arizona but had a short work stint in Kansas, where his father owned and operated a barbershop.

Unfortunately, Lamb’s father became ill and was forced to leave the business and place it in what he believed were trusting and capable hands. But after regaining his health, he soon learned they were anything but.

“The utilities weren’t paid, almost nothing was paid… and he lost a lot of money,” Lamb said.

It was clear that Lamb admired his father’s work ethic and his strength as well as his ability to move on.

“He wasn’t mad or angry,” Lamb said. “He was heartbroken…That barbershop was everything to him.”

Not long after his father sold the business he loved so much, he went from cutting hair and shaving faces to selling apples.

Lamb may not have seen action on the front line during the war but he has most certainly dealt with his fair share of tragedy.  His daughter Darla passed away at the young age of 12 after losing a battle with cancer.

“You wouldn’t believe me if I told you, but that little girl could talk to animals,” Lamb said. “You won’t believe me but she could…there is no doubt that little girl was special.”

Even a slight glance at the painting of his daughter nestled against the living room wall brought tears to Lamb’s eyes.

Family, friends, happy days

The first woman Lamb tried to contact when he returned stateside after the war ended was his future wife Ruth, but when he called on her he found out that she had been in a terrible car accident.

“I ran over to see her as soon as I heard,” Lamb said. “I needed to see her.”

Lamb was so concerned he never left her side.

“She had a horrendous cut that went from her forehead and came all the way down to her eye,” Lamb said. “It was awful.”

Lamb helped Ruth until she recovered and the two were together over six decades before she passed just over eight years ago.

Another person who has remained special to Lamb is his longtime friend Bobby Bickle. Bickle,  a Navy veteran, was a gunner in the service and both men shared memories of the war even though they are somewhat reluctant to speak of it. Bickle and Lamb, as well as their spouses, have enjoyed leisure time over the years – especially dancing.

The veterans and high school friends were chosen for the Honor Flight and they were thrilled and humbled to be considered. They were reunited on the flight as they visited the World War II memorial in Washington D.C.