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15816 Cramer, Harry Griffith
May 24, 1926 - October 21, 1957



Published Assembly May '90

Harry Griffith Cramer, Jr.  NO. 15816  CLASS OF 1946 Died 21 October 1957 near NhaTrang, South Vietnam, aged 31 years. Interment: West Point Cemetery, West Point, NY

HARRY GRIFFITH CRAMER, JR. was born 1 May 1926 at Johnstown, Pennsylvania. He came from a long line of "citizen soldiers going all the way back to the French and Indian Wars. His grandfather was a first sergeant of Pennsylvania Volunteers during the Civil War. His father, Harry G. Cramer, Sr. (known as Coach), was a Johnstown math teacher and football coach who enlisted in WWI, earned an Officer Candidate School commission and served as an Infantry company commander in France. Coach Cramer probably had the greatest influence on Harry's ultimate choice of the Army as his life's ambition. By the tender age of eight, young Harry already commanded armies of lead Civil War soldiers which completely filled the Cramer parlor.

Harry graduated from Johnstown High School in 1942, but he was too young to enter West Point. So he attended Carson Long Military Institute near Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, in the interim and entered West Point on I July 1943, the youngest member of the Class of' 1946. Having been a fine high school football player, Harry started out practicing with the Army squad. However, Harry quickly came to the conclusion that he could not stay on the Corps Squad and handle the academic load. He made the decision to drop from Corps Squad not withstanding the associated advantages that would have made plebe year more bearable. It was a tough decision for Harry, not made easier by pressure from the coaches and upperclassmen, but it showed early on his determination to set his priorities correctly.

Harry was blessed with two things that helped make cadet life bearable. One was a real sense of humor that allowed him to take bureaucratic nonsense in stride -- he never let things get him down. The other, which caused him more than a few demerits, was an overriding temptation to test the system right to its limit. This inevitably led to occasionally getting caught just across line. On balance, Harry thought it was worth it, a Saturday or two lost not withstanding.

After graduation, Harry, completed the Infantry Basic and the Airborne School at  Fort Benning, Georgia. During this period, he and a classmate Frank (Taffy) Tucker owned a surplus Taylorcraft airplane and spent their weekends flying to  New Orleans, Savannah and other exotic spots. They sometimes ran into delays on their cross-country flights, barely making it back to Fort Benning in time for class on Monday mornings. This happened so often that Harry earned the nickname "Hairbreadth Harry". It was during this time that one of his West Point roommates, who had gone into the Air Force, flew into Benning in a newly acquired jet to do an air show. He accepted a ride from Harry in his small plane and reported he flew with a real flair. The Air Force roommate was just a little concerned when Harry squinted at a rumpled Shell auto road map to learn exactly where they were.

Following his school stint at Fort Benning, Harry returned to West Point to marry Anne Supple at the Catholic Chapel on 25 June 1947. He then shipped out for a tour with the occupation forces in Japan, serving with the Ist Battalion, 24th Infantry Regiment, 25th Division. Harry returned to the United States just before the outbreak of the Korean War to serve with the 82nd Airborne Division. He immediately volunteered for combat duty and rejoined his old outfit, commanding the same company, B Company, that he had commanded in Japan. Within a month of taking his unit into combat, Harry was severely wounded by heavy machine gun fire in the fighting around the "Iron Triangle." After evacuation to a hospital in Japan, he spent three months recuperating, then rejoined the 24th Infantry. Assigned again as a company commander, he was hit on his second day on the line. The wound was less serious this time and he recovered in a field hospital and came back to the 24th to command Company D. For his bravery in combat with the 24th Regiment, Harry was awarded the Silver Star and the Purple Heart with Oak Leaf Cluster. The 24th Regiment was disbanded in late September 1951, the last of the segregated units in the Army. Harry was reassigned to the 14th Infantry where he again was a company commander. By this time, combat had slackened and Harry's letters to his family indicated that it was a time for holding the line and waiting for the truce talks to start. It was during this period, September 1951, that Harry lost his best friend. Taffy Tucker, with whom he had owned the airplane at Fort Benning, was killed in an assault on a Chinese position just a few hilltops away from Harry.

During this stalemate in the fall of 1951, Harry was able to get detailed to fly as an observer with artillery spotter pilots. The rationale being that as a former rifle and weapons company commander, he could coach his artillery counterparts as to likely "hide" positions for Chinese Infantry.

Harry rotated home in 1952 and was assigned to the G-2 staff, 82nd Airborne Division. After attending the Infantry Advanced Course at Fort Benning, he returned to Fort Bragg, North Carolina, and volunteered for duty with Special Forces. He served as detachment commander with the 77th Special Forces Group at Fort Bragg in 1955-56.

He was then selected to become the S-3 for a new group being activated in the Pacific. As part of the cadre, Harry was transferred to Fort Shafter, Hawaii, in April 1956. As the unit expanded it was formally activated as 1st Special Forces Group and posted to Fort Buckner, Okinawa. As S-3 of the new group, Harry was responsible to plan Mobile Training Team missions to southeast Asian countries to conduct a variety of schools: airborne, ranger and guerrilla/counter guerrilla operations. Due to the A" detachments being understrength and having less experienced people, in two instances Harry formed provisional detachments and actually performed the mission. During 1956-57, Harry planned missions to Korea, Taiwan and the Philippines. During the fall of 1956, he commanded a Mobile Training Team sent to Thailand and conducted airborne, jumpmaster and ranger training for the new Royal Thai Ranger Battalion.

In 1957, Harry was placed in command of a Mobile Training Team with the mission of organizing and training the cadre of the South Vietnamese Special Forces. The thrust of the training was guerrilla warfare, not counterinsurgency. The training ran from June--November 1957 with a graduation exercise in late October to consist of realistic ambushes and raids on an ARVN division in the field about ten miles south of Nha Trang.

At dusk on 21 October 1957, Harry Griffith Cramer, Jr. was killed by an explosion while watching the initiation of the ambush drill. The official Report of Death states, "While engaged in exercise demonstrating principles of vehicle ambush, deceased was in vicinity of man throwing TNT block which exploded while in throwing position." The official Army position is that the TNT block involved was a deteriorated French explosive and caused the premature explosion. However, the uninjured Special Forces medic who attended to Harry and the other team medic, also injured, states unequivocally that several Viet Cong (VC) mortar rounds were fired at the Special Forces advisors coincident with the initiation of the ambush drill. The medic's account is lent credence by the fact that at dawn the next day, 22 October 1957, the VC detonated a bomb outside the bus stop at JUSMAAG billets in Saigon, wounding 14 United States personnel. We will never know for sure exactly how Harry became the first United States military casualty in Vietnam. We do know that his country lost a brave, gallant, dedicated soldier; one whose future held the promise of brilliance. Harry was survived by his wife Anne, son Harry III, and two daughters, Kainan and Anne.

When the Vietnam Memorial was dedicated in November 1982, Harry's family fully expected to see his name first among those inscribed since the names are listed in chronological order of the date of death in Southeast Asia. To their bewilderment, not only was Harry not the first name listed, it was not even inscribed on the monument. Determined to correct this injustice to his father, young Harry III, now a captain in the Army, set out to tackle the bureaucracy. The first thing he learned was that "political considerations" influenced the decision to set the original cutoff date for Vietnam casualties as 1961. After seemingly endless correspondence and haggling, and with the help of several of his father's '46 classmates, young Harry finally achieved the acknowledgement that his father was the first United States casualty (death) in Southeast Asia. Finally in November 1983, Harry Griffith Cramer, Jr's name was added to those on the monument.

Harry was a great proponent of Special Forces. In 1955 he was at Barksdale Air Force Base in Louisiana and had the chance to talk to a classmate about the state of the world. He felt that the Korean War had changed how the Army must conduct its business in future wars, and he felt that guerrilla operations should and would become the key to success. Not only was Harry a great proponent of Special Forces, Special Forces recognized Harry's brilliance in that area of expertise. When Harry was killed in South Vietnam, 1st Special Forces took the unusual step of having all personnel wear black armbands for 30 days. In 1987, 1st Special Forces moved into a new $50 million compound at Fort Lewis, Washington, designed especially for the unit. Each street and building was named in honor of a distinguished Special Forces veteran. Road number 1 in the complex was designated CRAMER AVENUE in honor of Captain Harry Griffith Cramer, Jr.
 Harry died doing what he loved--soldiering with Special Forces. He was one of those unique individuals who perform at their peak in combat situations. The combat part of our business can use every Harry Cramer it can get--unfortunately we have all too few of them. Harry joined the Long Gray Line in 1957, a tried and true warrior son of West Point. We who remain behind, his family, friends and classmates, cherish his memory and know that "Duty, Honor, Country" was the credo by which Harry Griffith Cramer, Jr. lived and died.

 '46 Memorial Article Project and his son, Harry G.Cramer, III, Major, United States Army

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