John William Lambert was the son of J.P. and Susan Hiller Lambert and lived at 141 West Doxey in Ogden. He attended Ogden City schools and enlisted in the Navy on his 17th birthday, February 20, 1941. He did boot camp in San Diego and then took some training as an aviation machinist. He was assigned to the Hawaiian Islands and in November of 1941 he left for Wake Island on the USS Wright.
Located about 2000 miles west of Hawaii, the tiny island had been identified as an ideal site for a defensive post against the Japanese held Marshall Islands. There were 449 Marines, 5 soldiers and 68 sailors on the island. In addition there were also 1,146 civilians, working as contractors.
Pearl Harbor was not the only Japanese target on December 7, 1941. Attacks were also made on the Philippines, Guam, Malaya, Thailand, Shanghai, Midway and Wake Island.
First attacked on December 8th, (Wake Island was across the International Date Line), those on the island valiantly fought and actually defeated the Japanese, their first defeat in the war. But unable to be reinforced, they were only able to delay the inevitable until December 23rd. Many were killed and/or wounded during those two weeks. The Japanese took 368 Marines, 60 sailors, five soldiers and 1,104 civilians as prisoners including Seaman 1st Class Lambert.
On November 13, 1943, there was a small article in the Standard Examiner.
“Mr. and Mrs. J.P. Lambert reported today that it has been two years since they heard from their son, Seaman 1st Class, John William Lambert, who is believed to held prisoner by Japan. He was serving on Wake Island when the base was captured.”
Their next news for the family came in October of 1944.
“Seaman 1/c John William Lambert, who is missing in action on Wake Island and who may be a prisoner of the Japanese has received the presidential citation, according to word received by his parents Saturday. He was with the first defense battalion that was there. He also received the blue enameled star on ribbon bar, for service on Wake Island, Dec 8th – Dec 22nd.”
After the war, many of the Japanese prisoners from Wake Island came home, but there was no word about Seaman Lambert. He was still listed as ‘missing in action’.
The US discovered after the war that the prisoners were moved from the island aboard the Nitta Maru, a Japanese prison ship, headed for Shanghai.
The Lambert’s traveled all over the country visiting survivors to try and find out what had happened to their son. Many of them remembered John. Their last memories of him were on the Nitta Maru. Japanese captors came to the prison hold and asked for those who were interested in aviation. Five of the American prisoners, including Seaman Lambert, stepped forward. They were never seen again.
During the trial of five Japanese sailors for war crimes the truth came out and in December of 1947, the Associated Press broke the story. It is pretty gruesome. When the five were brought up to the deck, four were immediately beheaded, their bodies mutilated and thrown overboard. The other one was bayoneted. They are considered to be the first of the Japanese atrocities committed during the war.
Mrs. Lambert learned of her son’s fate when a Standard Examiner reporter contacted her and read the Associated Press story.
He is remembered on the World War II Monument to the Missing in the Ogden City Cemetery.