PLUMMER, Id. – Though he may not have seen his brother Dale in the flesh in 50 years, Glen Lambert hasn’t ruled out the possibility.
Now 70, he was told his brother, who was three years his senior, was missing in action in April of 1968 during the Vietnam War. That September, the status was accelerated to killed in action, and dog tags and a body were sent back to the Colville Reservation they grew up on.
Family members to this day have been trying to convince Lambert, but he still struggles with the subject. Circumstances around Dale’s supposed death haven’t quite added up for Glen.
It’s likely they never will, he says.
“My wife tries to help me along in that area but it’s hard to do,” he said. “Especially when you don’t really want it all to be true. I would like to think that he was having fun wandering around, wherever he would be.”
His brother’s service medals and photos still decorate his walls of his home on the Coeur d’Alene Reservation after all these years.
“I’ve always wanted to think he was still there somewhere,” Lambert said. “But I’ve never been able to let him go, I guess.”
Part of Lambert’s belief is due to a set of dog tags he received that were supposed to be his brother’s. He said they were clearly a copy. Bodies from a helicopter crash over the Thua Thien province were recovered in September of that year, roughly five months after his disappearance.
A body was sent to Oakland and Lambert was asked to escort it home. Though he never looked at the body he says, he never once believed it was his brother Dale.
“In my mind, he was wandering around over there,” Lambert said. “The type of guy he was — he was really tough. I didn’t want to see him go. I went around with the story so mom and dad could have some rest and peace. I never have really gotten over that.”
Lambert has partaken in many sweat lodge ceremonies over the years, and once had a vision of his brother waving at him, alive. “He was walking down this really funny; it was like a brick, like a pathway, and he was walking down. He turned around and waved at me. It was real to me.”
Every day, Lambert says, he thinks of his brother. Whether it be their beginnings at their family ranch on 160 acres near Buffalo Lake in Nespelem, or the end where they drank together as adults.
“Growing up, it was just him and I really,” he said. “Our closest neighbor was maybe a mile away. We had a basketball hoop.”
Their father Frank had two pairs of boxing gloves that he would put on his boys when they would get in verbal disputes as a way of resolving issues. Glen recalls — in a laughing manner that suggests the story’s been told dozens of times — getting whipped by Dale repeatedly.
“We’d be bouncing around,” he said. “He was really fast and I couldn’t hit him. I finally figured out a way to get him — I’d step on his foot so that he couldn’t get away and that usually ended things.”
Though their family had a large allotment, Lambert says they didn’t grow up with a silver spoon. The brothers enlisted for greater opportunity.
“We didn’t have a lot of money,” he said. “Mom and dad didn’t have much to send me to school or college so (entering the military) was almost automatically. The reason I went into the military was my brother was already in.”
In Vietnam, they were fighting in different areas. Dale had risen to the rank of SP5 in the 101st Airborne, 502nd Infantry Division. But they had plans of returning to the Colville Reservation together.
“He extended his time over there so he and I could go home at the same time,” Lambert said. “I think he only had a month to go and that’s when it happened.”
The family was told Dale was on a helicopter when it was shot down and he was missing. They later declared him dead.
It’s been more than 18,000 days since he learned of his brother’s supposed fate.
“50 years,” he said. “It does seem like it was yesterday.”
He just cannot accept it to be fully true.
“I think of it a lot of the time,” Lambert said. “I would like to believe that I guess.”
A friend from Nespelem contacted Lambert around 2008 when a new memoir was released titled, “Pathfinder : First in, last out.” In it, the person said his brother was referenced.
He rushed to a Hastings store in Spokane with a description of how the book looked and found it and read the part.
“I arrived at fire camp to Ron feeling really low. He had become friends with a guy named Dale Lambert. Lambert, who had been in Vietnam for quite some time, received word he was scheduled to leave for home in a few days. Since Lambert had to get back to the rear in a hurry to process out, Ron got him a ride on the next available aircraft heading toward Camp Eagle. Waving good-bye, Lambert brandished a big smile as his chopper lifted from the pad. Unfortunately, it was the last memory Ron would have of Dale Lambert: the enemy hit his chopper with an RPG, knocking it right out of the sky. To make matters worse, the bird was hauling about 75 pounds of C-4 explosive. It plunged to the jungle floor in a huge ball of fire. Lambert and all four crew members were killed. Ron felt guilty about Lambert’s death.”
When confronted with that possible evidence, Lambert said it didn’t change his belief.
"I feel the same, I guess,” he said. “That's kind of a completely different story than the one I remember. It conflicts with the story I had heard.”