WEST POINT, N.Y. (Army News Service, Oct. 22, 2007) -- A wreath-laying ceremony to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the death of the first U.S. service member to die in Southeast Asia during the Vietnam Conflict was conducted Sunday at West Point Cemetery.
Capt. Harry G. Cramer Jr. died Oct. 21, 1957 near Nha Trang, South Vietnam, from an explosion.
In 1957, Capt. Cramer was placed in command of a Mobile Training Team with the mission of organizing and training the cadre of the South Vietnamese Special Forces. A graduation exercise in late October was to include realistic ambushes and raids in a field about 10 miles south of Nha Trang.
At dusk on Oct. 21, Capt. Cramer was watching the initiation of the ambush drill. The official report of death states that a "TNT block exploded" while a trainee was "in throwing position." Two Special Forces medics who treated Capt. Cramer, however, said that several Viet Cong mortar rounds were also fired at the Special Forces advisors when the ambush drill began.
Capt. Cramer was a member of the United States Military Academy Class of 1946 and he was buried at the West Point Cemetery.
The wreath-laying ceremony was West Point's opportunity to render, on behalf of the Army, recognition to a distinguished American leader and his family, according to the West Point Operations office. Additionally, because of CPT Cramer's position in history as the Army's first combat-related fatality in Vietnam, the ceremony afforded West Point the privilege to recall the sacrifices of all Vietnam Veterans, living and deceased.
The ceremony began with a procession that included: Harry G. Cramer III, son of Capt. Cramer; and his wife Kit; Kai Bolger, Capt. Cramer's daughter; and the grandchildren, Harry G. Cramer IV and Kelly Frazier.
Prior to laying the wreath, Harry Cramer III provided remarks that he felt best portrayed the life and death of his father: "First, I would like to begin by acknowledging the presence of my family. I would then like to acknowledge the contingent of H-2 cadets, the same company in which my father was a member," he said.
"Now, I would like to tell you a little bit about the man we called Dad," said Mr. Cramer. "My father, who was the son of an Infantry captain, always wanted to be a Soldier. He wanted to be like his father as well as his father's father who was a first sergeant in the Army.
"As a young man, my father took pride in finishing first. He was the youngest graduate of his West Point Class. He was the first USMA graduate to become a member of Special Forces and he was the first casualty of Vietnam. However, I can assure you that if my father were present here today, he would tell you that he was involved in one too many firsts."
Mr. Cramer also said that his father served his country from his heart: "My dad was proud to be a Soldier. He wouldn't have had it any other way. He lived by a creed as a Soldier: Serve your country; be the Best you can be; Love your family and always place yourself last."
Though there are some who s ask if his father's death was in vain, Mr. Cramer said he feels his father died for a great cause:"When I'm asked if my father's death was a waste, I vehemently respond with a resounding No! My father set an example of what a warrior does. A country could conceivably fail its Soldiers, but a Soldier will never, ever fail his country, said Mr. Cramer.
Once Mr. Cramer had completed his remarks, the family, along with the Dean of Academic Board Brig. Gen. Patrick Finnegan concluded the ceremony by placing a wreath at the gravesite of Capt. Cramer.