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50 years ago, a U.S. combat death in Vietnam

Post by News Tribune Staff on Oct. 19, 2007 at 10:16 pm with No Comments »
October 19, 2007 10:16 pm

The Cramer family pictured at home in Okinawa on the day — Oct. 21, 1957 — that Capt. Harry G. Cramer would become the first the first U.S. service man killed in Vietnam. Young Hank, age 4, clutches a hat between his sisters, Kainan, left, and Anne, right, mom Anne, and their nanny, Imiko.

Sunday marks the 50th anniversary of the death of U.S. Army Capt. Harry G. Cramer, who depending how you look at it, can be seen as the first U.S. combat death of the war in Vietnam. Cramer was leading a team of advisers from the 1st Special Forces Group — the Green Beret unit his son, Hank, would later serve with during his active-duty and reserve Army career. He retired in 2004 as a reserve lieutenant colonel.

Hank Cramer and his wife, Kit, who are from Winthrop, and other family members will lay a wreath Saturday at the Vietnam Memorial in Washington, D.C. Then on Sunday, they’ll attend a formal memorial ceremony at Capt. Cramer’s burial place at West Point.

Cramer, a wounded combat veteran of Korea, was killed Oct. 21, 1957 near Nha Trang in what was either a training accident or a Viet Cong mortar attack.

Cramer’s name was at first left off the wall when it opened in 1982. Maybe it’s because the Special Forces missions

Capt. Harry G. Cramer

in Vietnam were secret then, or maybe it was just bureaucratic bungling. But Harry Cramer had to fight with the government to get his dad’s name on the wall. He succeeded, and it was added for Veterans Day 1983.

“This really helps to heal that scar, as far as most of the family is concerned,” Cramer said. “To think that at one point he was almost completely forgotten.”

But no longer. Cramer’s name is also listed on the 1st Special Forces Group memorial at Fort Lewis. The Seattle Times took note in 2002, observing the parallels with his story and that of Sgt. 1st Class Nathan Chapman, the 1st Group operator who was the first U.S. hostile fire casualty in Aghanistan.

Cramer was three when his father left home for the last time, to take his A Team into Thailand and later Vietnam. Still, he has a few memories of him. One is of the rough-housing, of riding around on his back and singing cowboy songs. (This may have something to do with Cramer’s retirement past-time as a folk singer).

Another was the time, just before leaving, that his dad sat him down.

The Cramers in 2003 at the 1st Special Forces Group monument at Fort Lewis: Kai, Mrs. Cramer, Hank and Anne.

“Right before he left he got real serious,” Cramer said. “He sat me on his knee and said, ‘Until I get home, you’re the man of the house.’ It was a big thing to put on a 3-year-old but I really took it to heart. It really stayed with me.”

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