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Stirring up memories



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Good times in the Badlands
March 14, 2007

Pee Wee Lambert owns so many photo albums she can barely see over the stack. I've long suspected that military families own more albums than the rest of us—they live so many places, have so many adventures.

The Lamberts prove it. Those albums are filled with a moving lifetime of memories. After Bainbridge lad Wayne Lambert graduated from West Point in 1959, he launched his Air Force career as a second lieutenant. Only a few months later, he and young (very young) Pee Wee Harvey launched a marriage. Both the career and the marriage were grand successes, and they spanned the world.

In the 30 years before Pee Wee and Brigadier General Wayne retired back to Decatur County from Belgium, they called 21 places home. They lived in Columbus twice—once in Mississippi, once in Ohio. Texas became home several times—Abilene has special memories. There's Wichita, Kan., and Germany...but ask Pee Wee her favorite, the family's favorite and the answer is quick and easy.

South Dakota.

"Why?" I asked.

"Wayne's job—and mine, and the people. All the things we did."

What was Wayne's job? He commanded the 28th Bomb Wing at Ellsworth Air Force Base at Rapid City from 1979 to 1981. I'll let him tell you about it. "For the most part, my off-base activities were limited because of command responsibilities," Lambert said.

"The Bomb Wing was the largest bomber base in the Strategic Air Command at the time, and it had a significant nuclear alert commitment, which restricted the commander to the base most of the time.

"Ellsworth also was home of the 44th Strategic Missile Wing and had about 100 MM (Minute Men) missiles on alert. Ellsworth was the only military installation in the state and played a major and quite substantial role in both the state and local economies," Lambert concluded.

Remembering the weather

One thing Pee Wee definitely recalls is the weather. She has a slightly different take on it.

"Everyone talks about the bad winters, but the weather never kept us from doing anything." "In fact", she goes on, "it's almost in a 'banana belt,' not bad at all."

Which doesn't mean she can't laugh about the cold weather. One problem was cars freezing up during the cold, colder, coldest nights. The Lambert boys had the job of stringing electrical cords out to the ungaraged cars and putting heaters under the hoods to run all night. Things were different on the base, Wayne told me. Since quick response was essential, every parking spot for a base car had a plug for the built-in heater. No frozen up cars at Ellsworth—ever!

Keeping the cars running wasn't the only job for young Wayne and Shane, they earned extra funds by bagging at the Commissary. Tough work when it's below zero outside, but it was the fellows' favorite time of year. That's when they raked in the biggest tips!

The Lamberts didn't work all the time. They enjoyed the beauties of the surroundings, as well as some of the challenges. The Badlands are well-named for the rough terrain. Pee Wee recalls that one of the boys came back from an "out and back" run following the same route out and back. But this time was tough—"It was uphill in both directions!"

Wayne and Pee Wee both recall the rodeos and the cattle roundups when the local cowboys and Sioux Indians drove cattle down from the Badlands.

Wayne remembers the chuck wagons (and the steak and potatoes), and penning and branding the cattle.

Pee Wee remembers that it was great fun for the guys, but the gals generally ended up with less savory jobs like cleaning up the by-products when bull calves became steers. Yuk. Before you knew it, Pee Wee found herself a cow pony and joined the guys.

Pee Wee became known for asserting her independence. Take that favorite South Dakota and Lambert family activity—pheasant hunting.

(A South Dakota note: The State Bird of South Dakota, the ring-necked pheasant, is not native to North America but to Asia. It was introduced into this country as a hunting species. It first arrived in South Dakota in 1908 and became the State Bird in 1943. It's estimated that there are more than 5 million birds in the state, more than any other state and a whole lot more than there are people in South Dakota. It's important to the economy because folks come from all over to hunt them. And they are delicious. I know, because Pee Wee gave me a couple.)

Pee Wee figured out quickly that once again the women weren't having much fun. Along with the children they walked through the cover flushing out the prey for the following hunters. Boring. Pee Wee got a gun and, again, she joined the guys.

One fellow didn't like it. He began to make comments, loud comments, about that woman with a gun. She shouldn't have it. If she did see a bird, she wouldn't have the nerve to shoot it, and no one without the nerve to shoot a gun should have one. Especially a woman.

About that time a pheasant flew right over Pee Wee's head. Bang. Plop. The bird dropped at her feet. No more comments from her fellow hunter.

Wayne's always been a pheasant hunter—or at least since 1960. That's when he bagged his first pheasants and Pee Wee telephoned her mom, Elsie Harvey, to find out how to fix them. Elsie gave her two recipes that are still family favorites. And they are easy.

Deluxe pheasant

Wash and cut up birds. Dry. Dredge in flour, salt, pepper. Brown in butter. Place in baking dish. Add two tablespoons onion juice and ¼cup parsley to 2 cups sour cream. Mix well and pour over browned birds. Cover and bake at 325 degrees for 1½ to 2 hours.

This is how I prepared mine. It is deluxe indeed, and delicious.

Smothered pheasant

Cut birds into serving pieces. Season with salt and pepper. Make a batter of 1-1/3 cup flour, salt, 2 teaspoons baking powder. Sift together. Moisten bird pieces with 1 egg and 2/3 cup milk (mixed up). Dip pieces into the batter. Fry in hot oil. When brown put in casserole (or in a frying pan after removing grease).

Cover and bake (or simmer on stove) 1 hour or until tender.

While they lived in the state, Wayne was on lots of hunts, but maybe his favorite was a very special one.

"Each October the season opens and while I was commander at Ellsworth, I was invited to the annual governor's pheasant hunt hosted in the capital city of Pierre by the governor himself—Bill Janklow."

The Lamberts left South Dakota for Nebraska but that didn't stop Wayne's pheasant hunting experiences in the state. Looks like nothing will. Whenever he's been able he's gone back at least once a year for a hunt. Most recently, he was there this past October. That's when he bagged my birds.

Thanks to the Lamberts for sharing the pheasants and the pleasant memories.


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