Lambert's Memorial Day tribute a simple concept but a complex task



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A family visiting the Lakes Region for Memorial Day stopped to read the names of local soldiers who died in service to their country. The display was created on the windows of Pauli's Restaurant by local artist Jim Lambert. Donna Rhodes. (click for larger version)
May 27, 2009
TILTON — With Memorial Day approaching, artist Jim Lambert of Northfield, renowned for his window paintings at Pauli's Restaurant in Tilton, thought it would be nice to bring meaning to the holiday. He and owner Cheryl Paige agreed that a patriotic scene depicting the names of local residents killed while serving their country would be a fitting tribute.

Lambert didn't think he would have any trouble finding out who these soldiers were.

He went to see Librarian Mary Ahlgren at Hall Library in hopes that a list was recorded there at the library. Unfortunately, there was no such list on file. She and Lambert teamed up to search the Internet but couldn't find the information there either.

Ahlgren contacted Donna Gilbreth, the N.H. State Library Head of Reference. Gilbreth was able to produce a statewide register of people killed in war but only for World War II. Lambert had to go through the entire list but he did eventually find people from Tilton, Northfield, Sanbornton and Franklin. It was a start, but he still needed to find the soldiers from World War I, the Korean War, Viet Nam, the Gulf War, Bosnian War and the War in Iraq and Afghanistan.

"I thought this would be an easy thing to do," Lambert said, " but when I called the Dept. of Veteran's Affairs next, all they told me was 'Good Luck.'"

More determined than ever to honor local heroes, Lambert kept digging for the information.

"I called Congressman (Paul) Hodes' office," Lambert recalled, "and they told me to contact the Library of Congress. It would take a couple of weeks for them to get back to me though and I didn't have that much time."

Instead, Lambert emailed Hodes directly. The congressman replied with a suggestion to try contacting the Governor's Office or the N.H. Adjutant General of the Reserves. Choosing the latter, Lambert was then referred to a list posted by the Washington Post. "Faces of the Fallen," however, only listed soldiers of recent conflicts. There were more names to be found and the hunt continued.

The National Cemetery Web site, N.H. Veteran's Home, Town Offices - no one had a complete list of those local residents who died in combat.

"A simple idea I had became a huge challenge," he said. "There was veteran information about those who served but nothing that only pertained to those people who died in a war."

Lambert then began visiting monuments in Tilton and Northfield, writing down any names he had not already found. Millie Shaw, a Sanbornton historian, was able to add a few others from her town. Finally Lambert compiled a list of 36 soldiers and began work on his tribute.

While speaking with a friend's neighbor in Franklin one night, he told him what he was doing. The neighbor mentioned someone he knew killed in combat, a name Lambert had not heard. The man then referred him to the Franklin Library where there was a wall full of photos of Franklin residents killed in combat. For Lambert it was like winning the lottery. It was too late to add them alphabetically but he did add them across the bottom of the window. This same Franklin resident also contributed names of two others killed in the Viet Nam War and Lambert's memorial is now up to 49 local soldiers killed in wars.

With the assistance of Tilton Selectman Pat Consentino he added flags to the tribute in a stand she constructed. People began to stop along the street and leave small religious figurines at the site.

"A woman approached me as I was painting the window," said Lambert, "and told me 'I know people die in combat but seeing the names together like this, it really makes an impact.' It was little things like that that made this so worthwhile."

He was also visited by many people who had stories to share about family and loved ones who died. Notes were left at the site, and the Veterans who passed by as he worked thanked him with a simple but dignified nod.

"I'm just amazed at the process I had to go through though," he said. "I cannot believe that not one place, not one town, was able to give me a list of people who had died in combat. You'd think something like that would be recorded, but even the Veteran's Affairs office didn't have one. There's no one source to get the complete list of a town's residents who were killed in a conflict."

Lambert sent another email to Congressman Hodes, telling him, "I know you're busy but you would be doing a service to our country to establish a resource bank of these names."

In the meantime, Lambert will be giving his list to the Hall Library for safe-keeping. In all he found eight soldiers from WWI, 32 from WWII, two men who had died in the Korean War, six from Viet Nam and one soldier, Franklin's Scott Dimond, from the War in Iraq.

"This idea just took on a life of its own," he said. "It's been very touching. The hardest part will really be scraping it off for the next painting."

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