|Lieutenant Michael Lambert on leave after the fighting in Vietnam.|
October 13, 2010. Atlanta, Georgia. It was after Michael Lambert’s
two-week tourist trip to Vietnam in 1994 that all the
memories came flooding back. Walking over the old battlefields had
resurrected vivid images of the hell he had lived, reminding
him of a chapter in his life that he had
left behind like a distant nightmare.
It was only later,
while in the quiet of the confessional, that he remembered
something else: while walking through the valley of the shadow
of death, Our Lady had been right at his side,
and it had been her gentle touch that kept him
from committing a terrible deed.
From the seminary to the battlefield
are not many men who go from two and a
half years in the quiet, prayerful life of a Catholic
seminary to the chaos and violence of battle. Just three
and a half years after his time in the Marist
Seminary, Lambert was a young lieutenant in the Marines, deployed
on active duty as a platoon commander in Company H,
Second Battalion, Fifth Marines.
The faith and prayer life he had
built up during his years in the seminary served him
“When fatigue began to confuse my mind, the prayers
that I had learned as a child were a source
of refreshment and vigor for my spirit,” he said. “I
credit my Catholic faith for keeping me on an even
keel during the chaos and violence of battle.”
Catholic priest chaplains
did not come around all that often, but when they
did, he seized every opportunity to attend Mass, receive the
Eucharist, and go to confession. And he prayed. Intensely.
hours before dawn, I continually said the Rosary to Our
Blessed Mother, asking for her intercession for me and my
Marines,” he recalled.
From the start, he looked upon his new
duties as a responsibility given to him by God.
|Lieutenant Michael Lambert. This photo was taken in a meeting during Operation Hue City, two days after the incident in Our Lady of Perpetual Help parish.|
my commission as a Marine officer as a sacred trust,
much the same as my time with the Marists,” he
said. “As a combat officer, your priorities are: 1) accomplishing
the mission, 2) taking care of your men, and lastly,
taking care of yourself.”
It was with this sense of
responsibility that he set out with his men to recapture
the sacred city of Hue, which had been seized by
North Vietnamese forces in a surprise offensive during the Tet
holiday truce in February 1968.
The Vietnam War was at
its climax. Lambert and his men were walking into a
city that the North Vietnamese forces had almost completely decimated,
with no mercy shown to civilians. After the war, mass
graves with up to 1,200 civilian bodies were found around
the city. The North Vietnamese had massacred up to 6,000
innocent people, many of them women and children, in the
middle of the night.
The mission of recapturing Hue required the
young Marines to place themselves on the line of fire
again and again.
“There were several occasions during the 29-day
battle of Hue that I was ordered to hold my
position at all costs. An order like that means you
are not given the option to retreat in the face
of overwhelming odds. On two occasions, we were outnumbered five
to one,” he recalled.
This was not a battle in a
field or a forest. It was urban warfare, waged in
narrow city streets, with snipers perched on church steeples and
enemy forces squirreled away in the back rooms of houses.
Lambert and his men fell into the same efficient routine
as they swept through the city: first, the men would
storm a building, following up their assault with heavy automatic
weapons fire. Then a “fire team” of three Marines would
enter the building, throwing fragmentation grenades into the rooms and
sweeping every corner with bullets from their M-16 rifles. Once
the house or building was secure, they would mark it
off on their map and continue to the next one.
by constant violence, exhaustion, and fear, the men were almost
on autopilot, doing what they had to do. Meanwhile, the
number of men in Lambert’s platoon dwindled down from 65
to 20. The battle was taking its toll.
Sweeping the church
the seventh day of continuous combat, Lambert and his men
received the order to clear out a Catholic church near
the Phu Cam canal that was suspected of being a
strategic point for North Vietnamese forces.
While his men cleared
the church yard and checked the interior of the church,
Lambert went around to the bell tower. On the first
day of battle, when the American convoy had entered the
city, enemy fire had come from within this tower.
his way there, he saw a staircase descending from a
low door at the back of the church. Accustomed to
the routine, he tiptoed his way down the stairs, easing
|Our Lady of Perpetual Help|
the pin halfway out of the M-26 hand grenade and
preparing to throw it into the darkness beyond the bottom
of the stairs. He didn’t know what he would find
“I was operating solely on training, experience, and nerves,” he
Just as he was about to pull the pin
the rest of the way out and launch the grenade,
he felt a gentle hand touch his, a woman’s hand.
was no one standing next to him. But he sensed
a familiar presence.
He pushed the pin back into the
As he entered the basement, he was met with the
soft glow of dozens of vigil lights. The basement was
full of parishioners who had spent the past days hiding
and praying to Our Lady for protection.
It was no
coincidence that the name of the church was Our Lady
of Perpetual Help.
Revisiting the moment
Lambert sent the civilians to
a refugee center where they would be safe and continued
his mission. In fact, after weeks more of intense combat,
the incident fell dormant in his memory. He was wounded,
taken out of battle, treated, and then sent back. Layer
upon layer of battles obscured the memory of that day.
And then the years of civilian life after the war
made those memories fall even deeper into the distant past.
It was the trip to Vietnam in 1994 that brought
it all back. Like a soldier suffering from post traumatic
stress disorder, he found himself reliving experiences of hellish combat,
witnessing all the violence and tragedy again in his mind.
When his son Michael told him about a priest in
Slidell, Louisiana who could read souls in confession, he decided
it was time to pay him a visit.
the van with our children and went to Fr Joe
|Michael and Peggy Lambert|
Benson’s church for Saturday confession,” he said. “I was in
the confessional for 45 minutes, according to my kids.
absolution, he asked if anything was troubling me. I said
that I was experiencing memories of Vietnam. He said, ‘About
the church in Hue?’ That’s when he told me that
the hand of Mary had stopped me from tossing the
grenade into the crypt of the church,” he said.
he recalled that there was a kind of interior touch
that accompanied the tangible feeling of her hand on his.
“My defenses were down and the Blessed Mother touched my
spirit before she touched my hand,” he said. “I didn’t
react. I just obeyed her. It seemed entirely natural, as
though your mother had asked a favor of you.”
one touch, she not only saved a room full of
innocent civilians; she also saved him from unwittingly inflicting a
lasting wound on his own soul.
“If I had carried out
the brutal act, I would have been haunted for the
rest of my life,” Lambert acknowledged.
That loving hand
has been blessed. Lambert sees Our Lady’s hand not only
in that one moment during the war, but also in
the day-to-day life of his family. All of his children
are practicing Catholics with a devotion to Mary.
with us constantly,” he said. “I can see the deep
love that my children have for her as well. There
are times when she is so present that I can
actually smell her… like herbs and roses on a warm
summer day. The holy Rosary is a big part of
Lambert himself had been dedicated to Our Lady at
the moment of his birth. Now, as a grandfather, he
sees signs of her predilection in his little grandchildren.
|Lambert's 13-month-old grandson, Thomas Anthony Rueda, kisses his miraculous medal.|
grandson Thomas Anthony has a special devotion to her. When
I pick him up, he reaches for my miraculous medal,
kisses it, and says, ‘May, May!’ with a big smile.”
he found himself walking through the valley of the shadow
of death, his mother walked at his side. That gentle
but powerful hand reached out when he needed it most,
perhaps drawn closer by years of faithfully praying the Rosary.
Living under Mary’s protection is not just for the privileged
few. It is a gift that Mary is willing to
give to anyone who turns to her with trust and
love, both in the hour of need and in the
hour of plenty. There are times when she allows that
hand to be seen, and many other times when she
remains hidden in the background. But for Lambert, and for
his family, there is no doubt that she is always
This article is part of a series about God’s
action in the lives of Regnum Christi members who turned
to him in prayer. If you have a story to
share, please contact us at this link.