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West Virginia Veterans Memorial

West Virginia Veterans Memorial


William Orbry Lambert

"They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning,
We will remember them."

Laurence Binyon

William Orbry Lambert was born at Circleville in Pendleton County, West Virginia, on March 16, 1896. He went by his middle name Orbry, which is pronounced "Ah-bry."

Orbry's family information was difficult to find. His birth registration and those of his brothers have never been found. He listed his father John H. Lambert as his next of kin on the ship manifest when he sailed to France. Using his father's name, Orbry's family was found in the 1900 Federal Census. Unfortunately, the census taker took notes over the entry. Orbry's mother's name cannot be clearly read and Orbry's name is listed as "Wm. A." Perhaps the "A" came from the census taker hearing his name pronounced "Ah-bry." If not for Orbry's brother's unique name, Lorenza Dow, which was found on John H. Lambert's Virginia death certificate, it would not have been possible to correlate the census entry to Orbry.

John H. Lambert married Callie Johnson on May 11, 1893, in Randolph County, West Virginia. Callie died in 1909, and John was unable to take care of his children, so they were raised by various families. The children living in different households during the 1910 census made finding them difficult. Lorenza's family provided Orbry's siblings names. They included Lorenza Dow (September 17, 1898 - July 30, 1993), who married Edith Myrtle Judy. They lived in Bridgewater, Virginia, and are buried there. Carman Cecil (March 3, 1900 - August 29, 1965) married Veronica Vera. He is buried in Wilmington, Illinois. Iva (November 30, 1903 - 1904) is buried near her parents in Pendleton County. Delmar Robert, who was born August 13, 1906, volunteered for the U.S. Army in World War II and died on June 14, 1942, in Karachi, India. (Reports of Deaths of American Citizens Abroad, 1835-1974.) He was brought home and is buried next to his brother Lorenza Dow in Bridgewater, Virginia.

In an era when records were kept by hand and few young men had photographs taken before the war, World War I draft registration cards offer some insight into their families, their livelihood, and their appearance. Orbry's draft registration card indicates that he worked in woods for North Fork Lumber Yard in Boyers when he registered in Pocahontas County on June 5, 1917.

There is very little known about Orbry compared to Pendleton County's other World War I fallen heroes. The reason may be that Harrison Mayberry (H. M.) Calhoun did not have a ledger entry for him because Orbry registered in Pocahontas County. H. M. Calhoun was a Pendleton attorney and historian. He took a special interest in Pendleton County World War I history and kept a ledger with diary-like entries for most Pendleton boys who served. H. M. Calhoun also created a form called "Record of Services of Officers and Men in the World War of 1917 from Pendleton County, West Virginia." He asked the soldiers to fill out this form after returning from war. For most of the Pendleton boys who died, H. M. Calhoun either filled out the form or had a family member do so. This document was not filled out for Orbry. H. M. Calhoun tracked the boys throughout their time in service by writing thousands of letters to the boys and recording their military movements, which he obtained from the letters the boys wrote back to him, in his ledger. Orbry did not correspond with Mr. Calhoun.

Orbry left for Camp Lee, Petersburg, Virginia, on June 28, 1918. (Pocahontas Times, July 4, 1918.) He was eventually assigned to the 61st Provisional Company, which sailed to France as part of the August Auto Replacement Draft aboard the Princess Matoika on August 22, 1918. (U.S. Army, Army Transport Service, Passenger Lists, 1910-1939.) The army had set up an "auto replacement draft" so the U.S. Army camps would know exactly how many soldiers of each type to send to France each month. Orbry was sent as an infantry replacement soldier. Some of the other types of soldiers were artillery, engineer, and signal corps. These "replacement soldiers" were put into divisions that needed to replace soldiers lost due to wounds, illness, and casualties. A sad note regarding these replacement soldiers is that many of them received very little training. Orbry did not even receive two complete months of training prior to being shipped overseas. Many of the boys were not taught how to shoot their guns even though they were being sent into the infantry. When Orbry arrived in France, he became a replacement in Company E, 165th Infantry Regiment, 42nd Division.

It is ironic that so little is known about his life in West Virginia, but so much is known about where and why he died in France. This is because Orbry was assigned to one of the more famous World War I American divisions, and he died in what has become known as the "race to Sedan." (E. G. Lengel, A Companion to the Meuse-Argonne Campaign [Chichester, UK: Wiley-Blackwell, 2014].)

The 42nd Division started out as a New York National Guard unit known as the "Fighting 69th," which gained fame in the Civil War. This National Guard unit was changed to a national unit, and men from all over the country were drafted into the new 42nd Division. Most U.S. divisions in World War I were formed by men from the same region. As an example, a large percentage of West Virginia boys served in the 80th Division, which was known as the "Blue Ridge Division" because the soldiers were from the Blue Ridge Mountains of West Virginia, Virginia, and Pennsylvania. The 42nd Division's nickname became the "Rainbow Division" because Colonel Douglas MacArthur said, "In the make up and promise of the future of this division it resembles a rainbow." (S. L. Harris, Duffy's War: Fr. Francis Patrick Duffy, Wild Bill Donovan, and the Irish Fighting 69th in World War I [Washington, DC: Potomac Books, 2006].)

The "Fighting 69th" became an infantry regiment within the 42nd Division and that unit, the 165th Infantry, was where Orbry was assigned after arriving in France. This regiment became even more famous because of the people who were assigned to it. Major William "Wild Bill" Donovan, who would be head of the Office of Strategic Services in World War II (predecessor of the CIA), was Orbry's commanding officer. Joyce Kilmer, a famous poet best known for his poem "Trees," was also in the unit, but was killed in action at the Second Battle of the Marne. The most famous man from the regiment was Father Francis P. Duffy, Orbry's chaplain. Father Duffy is memorialized by a monument in Duffy Square in the northern triangle of Times Square in New York City. Both Joyce Kilmer and Father Duffy are portrayed in the 1940 James Cagney movie, The Fighting 69th. It is because of Joyce Kilmer and Father Duffy that we know what happened to Orbry.

After the war, Father Duffy wrote Father Duffy's Story. Joyce Kilmer had planned to write a book about the regiment's war experiences, but when he was killed, Father Duffy took up the effort. From his book, we know what happened to Orbry, as he is mentioned by name. In the passage where Father Duffy mentions Orbry's death, the writer talks about an extraordinary order their unit was given and the 1st Division appearing on their flank. Previous to this passage, Father Duffy had written:

At 10:30 on the evening of the 6th [November-the night before Orbry died], there came a most extraordinary order from Corps Division that it was imperative that Sedan should be captured before the end of the next day; that if troops were resting they should be immediately aroused and sent on their way; and that the city should be taken if the last officer and mans should drop in his tracks.

It is extraordinary such an order was given, and it was given to more than one division. Before continuing, it should be noted the Intelligence Service had informed the highest-ranking American officers on November 1 they had intercepted information and knew Germany was ready to sign an armistice no matter the conditions. (B. Crowell and R. F. Wilson, The Road to France, Vol. I [New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1921].) While you cannot walk away from the battlefield before the war concludes, was it necessary that "the city should be taken if the last officer and man should drop in his tracks" when they knew Germany was on the verge of surrendering? Orbry was killed in action, on his regiment's last day of fighting in World War I, during this race to Sedan.

Sedan had special meaning to the French because Emperor Napoleon III and his army of 75,000 Frenchmen suffered a humiliating surrender in the Franco-Prussian War at Sedan in 1870. During the Meuse-Argonne battle, the French had changed the sector boundaries to ensure they would be the ones to take the city. (E. G. Lengel, To Conquer Hell: The Battle of Meuse-Argonne [New York: Henry Holt, 2009].) This meant the Americans had to beat the French to the city to justify taking it.

The 1st Division received a similar order as that of the 42nd. It is well documented by officers of the other AEF divisions that the 1st was given preferential treatment throughout the war. (An interesting example can be found in Tales of the Thirty-Second. The 128th Infantry, 32nd Division, was, in their commanding officer's words, sent out on a wild goose chase because of the "prestige" of the 1st Division. The wild goose chase caused the 32nd to lose several men because they had to go out twice looking for missing 1st Division men who were not there-instead the 128th found a nest of Germans, twice.) Taking Sedan would be very prestigious and General Pershing wanted the 1st Division to have this honor.

Meuse-Argonne Sector Map

Brenna Mitchell's note: "On the right is the Meuse-Argonne Sector Map. On the left is a section of the map enlarged to show the approximate location (shown by a cross)
of where Orbry fell on 07 Nov 1918. Each colored section signifies the area a U.S. Division held. The number in the red circle shows the division.
Note the pockets of the 1st Division inside the 42nd Division sector. The red lines with a date near it show the divisions' positions at the end of the day."
Maps courtesy American Battle Monuments Commission, American Armies and Battlefields in Europe: A History, Guide and Reference Book, 1936.

The problem with this was the two American Divisions between the 1st Division and Sedan: Orbry's 42nd Division and the 77th. When the 1st Division, in the middle of the night, crossed over the 42nd and 77th lines, none of the troops had been told to expect American troop movement. (Lengel, To Conquer Hell.) The soldiers started fighting each other. It is not known if friendly casualties resulted. They were so entangled that [Brigadier] General MacArthur, a 42nd Division officer, was taken prisoner at gunpoint by a 1st Division lieutenant. The mistake was quickly realized, and he was released shortly thereafter. (Harris, Duffy's War.) Sometime on this day, November 7, 1918, Orbry was killed in action near Hill 252 or Hill 356. Was he killed by friendly fire or Germans? On the following morning, the 165th regiment was ordered to withdraw, and the war was over for them. (Harris, Duffy's War.) Orbry was killed in action on the last day his regiment fought in World War I. None of the American units took Sedan. (Lengel, A Companion to the Meuse-Argonne Campaign.) Orbry is buried in the Meuse-Argonne American Cemetery, Plot A, Row 26, Grave 16, in Romagne-sous-Montfaucon, France.
Grave marker for William Orbry Lambert in Meuse-Argonne American Cemetery. Courtesy Brenna Mitchell

Grave marker for William Orbry Lambert in Meuse-Argonne American Cemetery. Courtesy Brenna Mitchell

On May 9, 1919, the Pendleton Times noted the following: "The funeral of Orbry Lambert will be preached at Circleville church on the 1st Sunday in June. He was the son of John Lambert, and a soldier boy who died in France." On June 6, 1919, the Pendleton Times noted: "A large crowd attended the funeral last Sunday at this place [Circleville]." Orbry is the only Pendleton boy whose body remains in France.

Article prepared by Brenna Mitchell
June 2020


William Orbry Lambert

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