Veteran Lacombe named parade grand marshal

Veteran Lacombe named parade grand marshal

U.S. Army veteran Ernest Lacombe, Lincoln’s former emergency management director, has been named grand marshal of the 2019 Lincoln Memorial Day Parade.

LINCOLN – Ernest Lacombe pulls a stack of black and white photographs from an envelope, pausing to point out a young soldier bundled up in winter clothes. “That’s the DMZ behind me,” he says, referencing the Korean Demilitarized Zone, a strip of land separating North Korea from South Korea along the former front line of the Korean War.

In honor of his service, Lacombe has been named grand marshal of this year’s Lincoln Memorial Day Parade.

Lacombe was born in Lincoln, “not in a hospital … in Albion,” he says, adding that the village was “the best place to grow up.”

He was drafted into the U.S. Army in 1961, just shy of his 22nd birthday.

He was one of many local residents called to duty at the time, including his older brother Paul, who returned from Korea just before Lacombe was sent there himself.

He completed basic training at Fort Dix in New Jersey. From there he was sent to Fort Carson in the mountains of Colorado, where he trained in heavy weapons before traveling to Fort Benning for jump school.

At the completion of his training he asked to be sent overseas, hoping he’d land in Europe. Instead, he was put on a plane to Korea, arriving in May of 1962 with the 1st Battle Group, 8th Cavalry in the 1st Cavalry Division.

As they trucked through the mountainous terrain and through villages, Lacombe quickly realized he was not in Albion anymore.

“I enjoyed Korea, for whatever it was worth,” he said, but at times he admits, “It was rough … it was a culture shock.”

His unit was next to the “Truce Village” of Panmunjom, operating between Libby Bridge and Freedom Bridge, the latter of which was used to exchange prisoners of war. It was the only point of passage into the DMZ until 1998. “There were no civilians allowed. Once across the bridge, everything in front of you was minefield,” he said.

When a superior asked if any of the new arrivals could drive a standard jeep, Lacombe raised his hand. “Step over here, you’ll be a staff driver,” he was told. He would be responsible for transporting the colonel.

The summers were hot, and the winters were brutally cold. To endure the frigid nights, someone once suggested he sleep in the back of the jeep, but Lacombe said that was “like sleeping in a refrigerator,” and that he instead spent the night underneath the trailer.

His job required him to be on call 24/7. “If the colonel called, I had to be ready to go,” he said.

He was up early every day, bringing the jeep down to the river to be washed, saying, “Even in the dead of winter, they wanted ’em clean.”

After that it was off to the crypto shack, where he would receive his call signs and radio frequencies for the day. Then, he would report to headquarters. “From there, anything could happen.”

He quickly developed a reputation. “There was one thing I was known for: if you want to get somewhere, call Lacombe,” he said.

Once, he got a call to a club to pick up a young officer down in the villages before their midnight curfew. “I looked back and the MPs were coming,” he said, but the guards who knew him waved him through, while the MPs had to stop at the bridge.

He left Korea on June 4, 1963 and finished his career at Fort Devens, where he spent less than a month.

Ten years after leaving Korea, Lacombe missed the military life enough to go back to it, signing up for the “Try One (Year)” program.

“I wanted to get back into the camaraderie of being with soldiers,” he said.

He went into field artillery at the 103rd and the 26th Air Cavalry at Quonset and later served on the 76th division reserve unit, training National Guard and other reserve units until the 1980s. When he finally retired, he reached the rank of master sergeant.

From age 16 until he left for the service, Lacombe had worked for Hasbro. It was there that he met his wife Simonne, whom he married in 1963. Together they had four children, Eileen, Neal, and the late Alan and Paula.

Lacombe joined the Saylesville Fire Department as a call man in 1976. In 1987, he was named Lincoln’s Emergency Management Director.

Asked about his decision to become a first responder after the military, he said, “I love to serve.”

Lacombe said he feels truly honored to be this year’s Grand Marshal. Lacombe has unearthed a pair of shiny military dress shoes, like new, to wear with his uniform during the Memorial Day Parade. In the meantime, he’s practicing his wave.

Catch Lacombe in the parade on Monday, May 27, with a start time of 11 a.m., ending with a post-parade celebration featuring food trucks and live music at Chase Farm.

Ernest Lacombe, pictured during his time serving in Korea with the U.S. Army.