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Interview with Bernard Joe Kramer [7/31/2004]

Lawrence L. Molczyk:

Bernard Joe Kramer was born in Baileyville, Kansas on August 22nd, 1925. He served in the Army Infantry, the 102nd Company Z, 406 Battalion. His highest rank was a Master Sergeant. He entered the service on February 14th, 1944 and the service ended in June of 1946. He served during World War II in Europe. He first came to Europe in Achen, Germany. He was a recipient of the Purple Heart. He received two eye injuries during his service. He was nominated for the Medal of Honor. Bernard now lives in Aurora, Nebraska. He's manager of a bowling alley in Aurora, Nebraska. My name is Lawrence Molczyk. I'm the Veterans History interviewer who also lives in Aurora. Bernie, can you tell us about your growing-up years? Tell me a little bit about your family.

Bernard Joe Kramer:

Okay.

Lawrence L. Molczyk:

Where you grew up.

Bernard Joe Kramer:

Well, I grew up in Baileyville, Kansas, and my folks were Bernard and Clara Kramer, and I had four brothers and four sisters. And I farmed with my father on the farm there up 'til 1949, and then that was after I got back from the service. And we raised turkeys and corn-fed cattle and various things like that, whatever on the farm. And then when I came back I got married in 1949 and went to farming and farmed up 'til 1961, and this was dry land farming and it was really hard to make a living. So I quit and got in the bowling business and been there ever since. And as a matter of fact, the bowling alley in town, next April we'll be in the bowling alley here for 40 years. And we want to go back to when I went into the service. I was drafted in the service and went to Fort Leavenworth for -- in the introduction into service, and then went to the fort in Arkansas, Little Rock, and took my training down there. And we survived a tornado one day when we was out on a training mission. Nobody knew it was a tornado until after it was over with. And it was a nice place to take our training. It was really warm, you know? You got to get used to that.

Lawrence L. Molczyk:

Can you tell me what it was like being away from your family and going into training? What was it like for you when you first went away?

Bernard Joe Kramer:

When I was young it was pretty hard to go away. You thought of home a lot of times. You laid awake at night thinking about your brothers and sisters and what's going to become of me? I had one older brother that was in the service, and he was in Japan, and I know it was a lot worse down there than where I was going. So about, oh, the second week in August of 1944 I went home on furlough and I knew I was going overseas because I had all my training and everything set to go. And we left, oh, the port of entry in -- well, I got on the train at Kansas City and we rode -- I rode the train for two days to get to Camp Kimmerling in New Jersey. And we spent probably a week there and then boarded the ship and went to Europe, went past the Statute of Liberty, and we landed in Norway and went across Norway and went across England, across the English channel and into France, and from France we went to Holland and then went to Belgium and into Germany and went into --

Lawrence L. Molczyk:

Where was the first point along the way that you experienced combat?

Bernard Joe Kramer:

That was just when we went down to Achen, and that was October -- I'd say about October the 20th.

Lawrence L. Molczyk:

So you were -- at that point you were able to go through France, Belgium, Norway and so forth? Those areas were conflict free at that time?

Bernard Joe Kramer:

Yeah, they were all conflict free, um-hum, before we got to Germany. And we went -- well, we went into combat. We -- a troop ahead of us had taken the town of Achen the day before, and they had a counterattack. And that was the first thing that we witnessed was a counterattack. And we seen 'em coming and they weren't too far from us, but we weren't allowed to shoot. They didn't want us to shoot because our tanks had pulled up behind it and they were shooting point blank at the Germans. And the ground -- we was in a trench. That ground was just shaking from the shells going by. And you could look up and see them shells. They didn't look like they was over six foot above you, and that was the first entry into combat. And then we moved through the town and we dug in and we stayed there overnight. The next day they moved us to our left on a hill, and that's where we dug in for a long time there. We did make a couple moves, but most of our moves was gone on a mission to try to find out where machine guns was at and artillery shells would come in, you know, hitting us, and that was really dangerous at night doing that. And we did run into one thing, and that was a railroad tank gun, big gun on the railroad car, and that thing was about a half mile from us. And I read in the paper just a couple weeks ago about that railroad car there. Somebody had a write-up in there about it. And, oh, we went on a mission one night and a shell lit right beside me and I had powder burns in my eyes. So I spent a couple weeks in Belgium in a hospital. But I come back out of it. They got my eyes all straightened out and they just weren't that good.

Lawrence L. Molczyk:

How did you feel about going back to combat after having been wounded? You hate to think about it?

Bernard Joe Kramer:

Yeah, you just hated to go back. You wished you could find a job in the back behind there. We was on the front line from, let's see. October the 20th to December the 25th. We never washed, we never shaved, never had a haircut or anything like that. We never even had nothing to wash our face with, and I tell you it was really rank. And then on Christmas Eve we got our paychecks and got our gifts, mail and everything like that. And only thing we had to sleep in was just an open house with no windows. It had straw on the floor that we was supposed to be sleeping on, and had a can of gas there for light. Somebody kicked that can of gas over and we had a fire and lost everything that we had except for the clothes that we had on our back at that time.

Lawrence L. Molczyk:

Do you remember what you had received in the mail as a gift? Did you hear from your family that Christmas? What did they send you?

Bernard Joe Kramer:

They sent me a cake. And there was a lot of 'em that had things like that, you know? And we never even got a taste of it. Everything went right quick, and we had to get out of town 'cause with that fire we were sure the Germans were going to bomb it, and they did. We had to stand out there, and it was zero weather, without a coat on. I can remember that real plainly. And then we went back into town, and all we could find were just a barn that we could stay in. Never had no showers or anything like that. It was rough.

Lawrence L. Molczyk:

How many people were in the group with you at Christmas time that year?

Bernard Joe Kramer:

That time there was probably 50 of 'em, maybe 75; somewhere right in there. And then we got to go to midnight mass that night. After we just came back in town it started, so we went to church and had a little -- and then on Christmas day we moved up to that Harrigan Forest where they had all that fighting there, really rough fighting going on, and we had to dig foxholes all day. And they give us some TNT, and if you could make a marker the size of a foxhole and bury that underneath it, you could clean the hole out pretty fast. Half a pound of TNT would take all of that. All you'd have to do is shovel a little loose ground there. But that same morning there was a lot of German planes and American planes fighting, shooting each other down. And I seen 27 planes shot down that morning, and that was something to see.

Lawrence L. Molczyk:

Can you tell me about a time when you felt like you were under particular personal threat? A time when you were most afraid?

Bernard Joe Kramer:

Right where we was at there was a stretch of ground right in front of us, and there was supposed to have been about 50 pillboxes in there. And I was supposed to carry a tank on my back, a flame thrower. And it had, oh, sulphur in it and different things that, you know, you could choke a person. And I had to take one and I had three pillboxes that I had to cover to see if there was any Germans left in 'em, and man that scared me. You walk down a buncha steps and then you wonder if they're standing right there with a gun at you or what. And there was no way you could see in there or anything like that, no windows in it, and this was all concrete. And I never will forget that. That was the scariest thing there is.

Lawrence L. Molczyk:

I take it there weren't any?

Bernard Joe Kramer:

No, there wasn't any Germans. They heard about us coming and they left the night before.

Lawrence L. Molczyk:

Can you tell me about a time when you lost a good friend?

Bernard Joe Kramer:

Oh, that was during that -- well, there's a little town -- this happened in April. A little town that no one ever found out what the name of it was. Never had a water tower or anything like that. And the rest of the battalion was going across this wheat field, and the Germans was picking 'em off right and left, just like ducks on the water. And I never did hear how many they lost. Well, we was chosen or taken to be in reserve, so we had to go across, went up the railroad bridge and then across a wooded area and get in a ravine there. And when they got up there I followed my buddy in and he got shot right the first thing. And we lost about five, maybe six other soldiers right in there. And so the platoon leader says, We're gonna have to give up as prisoners. He called the company commander and the company commander okayed it. And I said, I'm not giving up as a prisoner. And he says, Why not? I says, You know, them kids out there, they gonna line us up and shoot us right quick as they could get ahold of us. And he says, Well, what do you expect to do out here? Well, we got a bazooka right here behind me. I says, Let's load that thing and I'll have you two guys -- they was both from Iowa -- I said, Now, you push me up on top of the bank and I'll fire it. And we hit a scout down on the opposite end that he was supposed to watch when I shot it. And he hollered back and he says, Say, you got four of 'em that time. They all crippled. And so I told 'em to load it up again, put a white flag grenade in it this time, and I took a little more time and had a perfect shot. And no more did that thing hit in there, they had the white flags. Everyone come out with a white flag. There was probably 30 of 'em. And I was so numb, I was sitting on the bank there and the platoon leader and a sergeant there and, oh, different ones, they just come over and says, You just stay right there. We'll take care of everything from now on. He says, We'll have to give you credit for capturing about 30 prisoners by yourself. And then that afternoon here comes the batallion regimental leader, Colonel Herlitz from Fairbury. He came down to there and he wanted to talk to me. I told him who I was and got up and started saluting and he said, Don't salute me. He says, I'm going to salute you. And he says, That deal what you did this morning, he says, Was the most heroic thing that ever happened to us in the division. And he says, There was a bunch of -- they took a bunch of prisoners out of there that was crippled out of that pillbox, and then a bunch of 'em that was killed. They said it was just really outstanding. And he says, I'm gonna see to it that you get put in for a Congressional Medal of Honor. And then he had the whole company stand up, and I stood on the side of him, and he told people just what I did. And he says, That as far as we're concerned, he says, That was one of the biggest heroic deals that our division has ever done. And he told the people that was with me, he said, Every one of you, he says, Should stop and congratulate him and thank him for what he did. You people don't realize those were Hitler Youth in there, and he says, They would have killed you within an hour after you got there. They'd have lined you up and shot you.

Lawrence L. Molczyk:

So you went from an almost surrendering --

Bernard Joe Kramer:

Um-hum.

Lawrence L. Molczyk:

-- situation?

Bernard Joe Kramer:

Um-hum.

Lawrence L. Molczyk:

The fact that your friend had been killed right prior to that when you went into the ravine, do you think that gave you any added energy to respond in the way that you did?

Bernard Joe Kramer:

I really do. Because I wrote his mother a letter, and he had two sisters that, oh, one was supposed to have been about two years older and the other one was younger. And I wrote them a letter. I told 'em, you know, about how that all happened, 'cause she wanted to know. And, oh, I got a letter back and she just thanked me and thanked me. The girls all did, too. They all wrote a thank you letter to me. And so she said at the end, she said, When you come back home from overseas or get back home to your folks, I will pay all expenses for you to fly out here to Denver -- Detroit to visit me 'cause I'd like to get acquainted with you.

Lawrence L. Molczyk:

Going back to when you talked about how your friend was killed, sometimes I wonder in the midst of a combat situation what kind of medical assistance is really available. If somebody's down, how much assistance can they expect from medics?

Bernard Joe Kramer:

There's a medic with every unit. Just like a company, there's three medics in that company. Each division, you know, 406, Hell Company, there's five teams there, you know? Yeah, five divisions in there and each one of them got a medic. And they're all trained. They don't carry a gun and they got a big sign on their back and one on their front, and low and behold, that very same day that I did that our medic got shot. He wasn't over 10 foot from me, and he got shot in the groin and he was dead before he hit the ground.

Lawrence L. Molczyk:

Because the medics were unarmed and because they wore signs they were actual targets?

Bernard Joe Kramer:

Yeah, I think so. 'Cause there was a lot of 'em got killed that way.

Lawrence L. Molczyk:

And the other question I wanted to ask is you talked about digging foxholes. What it's like in a foxhole.

Bernard Joe Kramer:

Oh --

Lawrence L. Molczyk:

Basically getting up to go to the bathroom, getting sleep, eating, so forth. How did you accomplish those things?

Bernard Joe Kramer:

Okay. First thing in a foxhole is you dig that hole out, and there's not a thing there that you can cover it with. If it rains, you lay there in the mud. If it snows, you lay there in the snow. And a good many mornings I woke up in five, six inches of snow. And all you had was one blanket to cover with. Same when it rained. That thing would get wet, and if it was cloudy the next day it'd be wet that night when you went to bed. And our food, we always had K-rations. And that box had wax on it. And what you did, you had -- there was a couple matches in there and you lit that thing. And if you wanted to make coffee you just get the water out of the foxhole in a shell crater, and you put a couple pills in it, purify it, and then you go ahead and put your coffee in there and that's what you drank. No clear water at all; never.

Lawrence L. Molczyk:

Was it usually just one person to a foxhole?

Bernard Joe Kramer:

Two. Yeah, two. You know, body heat keeps you warmer, two of 'em.

Lawrence L. Molczyk:

After you were given a commendation by Colonel Herlitz, was it?

Bernard Joe Kramer:

Yeah, Colonel Herlitz.

Lawrence L. Molczyk:

Do you recall what happened to the paperwork of his citation?

Bernard Joe Kramer:

Yeah. He sent one in to headquarters, and then one went to Washington, D.C. and they had one with my service record. And the service record I seen and read the thing, because when we came home from overseas I was in charge of Fort Leonardwood and Fort Leavenworth both, the GIs. I was ranking non-com and I was put in charge of 'em and I had to take care of all their service records for both of 'em. And I just looked mine up in there, see if I had anything bad in there written about me, and found this letter in there and I read it. So it stayed right with my service record.

Lawrence L. Molczyk:

Why do you think it was never acted on or why you didn't actually receive a medal? Was there some determination?

Bernard Joe Kramer:

Not that I knew of, except that they are awful slow with giving them out. See, I think I read here not too long ago that there was only about 400 of 'em that was given out in World War II, and look at how long we was fighting World War II. There was very few of 'em given out. But they got plenty of evidence. They can give 'em out. That's the thing that I really would like to get.

Lawrence L. Molczyk:

Colonel Herlitz, is he still alive, or are there any people who were at that --

Bernard Joe Kramer:

Colonel Herlitz died shortly after I got back from overseas, and I have tried at least four or five different ones. See, I've got a history of the 102nd Division, and it had all the people that was in there at one time or other, and I tried different ones that I knew and I can't even get ahold of 'em. There's two of 'em right over there in Iowa and neither one I can't get an answer. But there's one, he's a lawyer in Los Angeles and -- but he -- I don't know. I guess he's got his phoned taped because you can't get through to the guy.

Lawrence L. Molczyk:

In this day and age have you made any attempts over the Internet to get ahold of any of these people?

Bernard Joe Kramer:

No, because to get ahold it would be dang hard to do, because the only thing they got in there is just like my name, my wife's name and where I was from and my address and phone number. It's all up in there.

Lawrence L. Molczyk:

When did you first come to think the war was really winding down and that you might be coming home?

Bernard Joe Kramer:

Well, when we got up to the Elbe River we were 25 miles from Berlin and we got to stop there. We couldn't go any further. They didn't want us to cross because the Russians were on the other side. And it just sounded like then that it was getting awful close to it, because the Germans -- that was German troops -- they would swim across that Elbe River just to give up to us. And there was a day that we would take in five, 600 prisoners, German prisoners. Take 'em to the back end and go into a stockade.

Lawrence L. Molczyk:

And at what point did you then cross the Elbe? Did you go on into Berlin yourself?

Bernard Joe Kramer:

No, no, we couldn't go into Berlin. We was there and then the war was over with and they moved us back. We went to Beirut, Germany. And that was what we was supposed to be doing is just salvage work, protection, things like that. And the only thing that we could do is play softball. Softball every day.

Lawrence L. Molczyk:

---+

Bernard Joe Kramer:

Morning, afternoon and night. And our company had played a softball game with battalion -- Third Battalion one day, and I had the great news of playing with Rube Rowe, who was a catcher for the Chicago Cubs at the time, and Cy Blanton, who pitched for the Pittsburgh Pirates, and I played first base. I was 19 years old and, boy, I thought that was the greatest thing that ever happened. And one day we were playing, and Rube Rowe, he got up to bat in the seventh inning and he hit a single, and I got up to bat and I hit a triple, and the game was over. And I never will forget that. That was a highlight. Everybody just gives you a hug. They think you're just like brothers then.

Lawrence L. Molczyk:

What kind of duties did you have? You stayed there as part of the occupying force?

Bernard Joe Kramer:

Guard duty.

Lawrence L. Molczyk:

Guard duty?

Bernard Joe Kramer:

Yeah, guard duty. See, you never knew what a German -- or if a German was, you know, faithful to the United States you didn't worry about him. But if he was just like the boy I told you about that killed that medic, well, everybody wondered where that shell come from, and they was all looking on the ground. I was looking up in the tree. And I told ----+, I said, I see the guy. I said, See that tree down there? See that man sitting on that limb? Yeah, that was it.

Lawrence L. Molczyk:

He was a sniper?

Bernard Joe Kramer:

Yeah, he was a farmer. He just lived right down the road there; just a little ways from where he got killed. And his wife never said a thing. She invited us to come in the house and she fed us supper that night and breakfast the next morning. And she didn't know where her husband was at. She said he just hadn't come home.

Lawrence L. Molczyk:

The wife of the sniper who killed the medic --

Bernard Joe Kramer:

Yeah.

Lawrence L. Molczyk:

-- invited you to breakfast?

Bernard Joe Kramer:

Breakfast and stay in the barn or in the house. We laid anyplace you could get to lay down. And she just said she didn't know where he was at. I knew he was a staunch Nazi, though.

Lawrence L. Molczyk:

Sure. She apparently didn't share his feelings?

Bernard Joe Kramer:

No, she didn't, 'cause I can always remember that breakfast that morning. We had fresh coffee and had cream with it; real cream. She milked eight cows. And then we had fried eggs, scrambled eggs, bacon, ham; anything you wanted for breakfast that we wanted to eat.

Lawrence L. Molczyk:

Now, this happened during combat?

Bernard Joe Kramer:

Yeah, just during the war, um-hum.

Lawrence L. Molczyk:

Do you remember where that was at? Where in Germany that was at?

Bernard Joe Kramer:

I have no idea. See, we never did have a map over there. And it's just like, you know, trying to write back home. If it rained, all your writing paper got wet, so what do you do? And I know my folks one time, too, that they never heard from me for at least six weeks and they wondered if something happened. And I knew I wrote to 'em all the time. But I did write to a friend of mine in school and -- when I was going to school there in high school -- and he got a letter. So he brought it up to the folks and let them read it.

Lawrence L. Molczyk:

Why do you suppose your other letters didn't get through?

Bernard Joe Kramer:

Well, you never know. See, they could get lost so easily over there. People were, you know, just say like you put 'em in a bag like that and that bag of mail might have went someplace else, because a lot of the boys had that trouble. They hadn't been getting mail at home, either. And well, maybe they was pitching 'em on the boat when they was doing it and it missed. That would get tough.

Lawrence L. Molczyk:

What kind of things could you write about to your family? What kind of things would they say to you? What kind of things did you tell them?

Bernard Joe Kramer:

About the only thing you could really tell 'em was that you was feeling good and there's some nice country here and things like that. And I did put in there one time that all you watch your paper and see anything about the 102nd Infantry Division, that's where I'm at. And it went through, 'cause they started watching the paper for that every day, and they did see times, you know, things came in about it.

Lawrence L. Molczyk:

So you were on guard duty as a part of the occupying forces?

Bernard Joe Kramer:

Yeah, um-hum.

Lawrence L. Molczyk:

Did you have any other duties?

Bernard Joe Kramer:

Nothing. Go for a walk or something like that, you know, out in the country. That was all you had to do.

Lawrence L. Molczyk:

Was there any incidents of sabotage or terrorist activity?

Bernard Joe Kramer:

No.

Lawrence L. Molczyk:

People just plain wouldn't give up after --

Bernard Joe Kramer:

Well, yeah. I run into one of them. I run into a major and he was a German, and he was not gonna give up. Nope, he wouldn't. No way. And guy like you, ----+ if you was an officer I'd did it. So I just went down the steps, hollered ----+ here our company commander was walking by. Get in here. I need you. He came in, says, What's the matter? I says, I got a stubborn one. I says, I'm thinking about shooting him, having it over with. Oh, no, don't do that. We want to talk to him. And so he went up there and he says, My buddy here says that you won't give up. He says, You'd better give up pretty quick like. He says, He's getting mad. Okay. Picked up his coat and out we went. But normally most of them people think that we did what we did. And --

Lawrence L. Molczyk:

Were you aware of what was going on with the Jews in Europe?

Bernard Joe Kramer:

No, we never got anything like that. See, we never got no paper. The only paper we got was the Stars and Stripes. And the Stars and Stripes, when we came into Hanover, Germany I was the second American troop in Hanover, Germany. I had my picture in Stars and Stripes over there. And on the outside of town Henry Ford had a great big plant there. He was making trucks and pickups for the Germans. Never will forget that. Everybody talked about it.

Lawrence L. Molczyk:

During the war?

Bernard Joe Kramer:

Yep, during the war, um-hum.

Lawrence L. Molczyk:

So did you ever have any experiences with trucks ----+?

Bernard Joe Kramer:

Yeah. That was quite the deal. See after it was in August service company was short men up there, and they wanted to know if anybody wanted to transfer to it. And I thought, well, that's a good thing. Something to do all day long. Time goes by faster. So I asked for the transfer and they said, Well, pack up your clothes. You'll be transferred to service company. And that service company is where the trucks were all wet and where they hauled all the rations, anything that had to be with gas or anything else that needed trucks all had to do that. And so everything went good, and I drove the wrecker for a couple months. Then they put me on the 40-ton wrecker to remove tanks and artillery guns out of the fields of farmers. And I had a nice job there. All I had to do is drive it. Had two guys that got to take care of the cable, hook it up. I didn't like that part of it. And, oh, then one day the guy that was hauling the tank there, he was using a 42-foot flatbed trailer to haul tanks and bulldozers on, he had to have a surgery done. So he showed me how to drive and where to go down in Nueremberg to unload it. And I drove it there for a week while he had surgery. And so then I went back through their headquarters and went in as a taking -- mail clerk and supply sergeant, and then I run a nightclub over there, just for GIs and Germans. If they wanted to come in they could, too. It just worked out really good. And so the boy that was the regimental supply sergeant, he went home. He had enough points to go home. And Colonel Herlitz come down and asked me if I would be the supply sergeant. I said, Yeah, I'll take the job on one condition. What's that? I get to be a master sergeant. So that's what I got. But I never did get any stripes, but I got that in writing. And so it went on till May. Started in April, had to get everything ready to turn in, and we happened to be short one truck: Two-and-a-half ton truck. And Colonel Herlitz, he begged me and bugged me and bugged me to find some way that we could cover that truck up. He says, It'll cost me $4,650. I can remember that just as plain as can be.

Lawrence L. Molczyk:

Personally cost him?

Bernard Joe Kramer:

Yeah, 'cause he signed for it. And if he had an accident report the day it was wrecked or if it was lost in combat or something like that, yeah. See, that would be a wreck. But he never had nothing on it.

Lawrence L. Molczyk:

You had no idea what happened to that truck?

Bernard Joe Kramer:

I have a pretty good idea. Well, anyway, I asked our Chief Warrent Officer if I could use the Jeep one afternoon. And he said, What are you going to do with it? I'm just going out in the country, you know, on the Autobahn. See what things are like. So I went a couple miles east and then I went north, and I come along this hedgerow and I seen this truck; this two-and-a-half ton truck sitting along there. And I stopped to look at it. I seen the guy had throwed a rod out of it, and so seen it belonged to the Air Force. So that night I asked him if I could use the wrecker. What the heck are you doing with all that stuff? I said, I'll tell you tomorrow morning. The answer will be right here. So we -- I went out there and picked the thing up, brought it in, I put it inside the motor pool. And who was the first guy come through that office that morning? Colonel Herlitz. And I can see him when he come in there. And he says, Well, what are we going to do about that truck? I said, I solved the problem. How'd you do that? Follow me. I went out there and showed him that truck that I had in there. I said, See who that truck belongs to? The Air Force. I says, Chief Warrant Officer McDonnell, I say, I want two guys to get that thing painted this morning and put the numbers on it that's supposed to be on that thing. I said, That'll be our truck. And I just figured that the Air Force wrecked that, you know, knocked that motor out, and all he did was run over to our motor pool and he jumped in one of our trucks.

Lawrence L. Molczyk:

You think that's maybe what happened to your truck originally?

Bernard Joe Kramer:

Yeah, um-hum. That's what happened to it originally. Somebody knocked it out and that was it. But I got my name on a brick in Lincoln and put it on there. And that same summer I got a call one night from this Chief Warrant Officer McDonnell. He says, I'll bet you can't guess ----+. I said, No, not in the slightest. He says, I'll tell you. I know you're the truck thief. He says, Within 50 miles around here every guy ----+ I told him what you did. He says, Everybody says, Get him out of here. I want a new truck, too. But that went quite a ways, and then I talked to a boy from back home that -- when I got home. He told me he heard about it, too.

Lawrence L. Molczyk:

So you became a celebrity as a result of the truck?

Bernard Joe Kramer:

Yeah, stealing trucks.

Lawrence L. Molczyk:

Tell me about coming home. When did you first find out that you were going to be sent home?

Bernard Joe Kramer:

Well, see, we had to turn everything in that we had. And I had to turn all reports in, you know? The guns that got lost, shoes that got worn out and people that died, you know, and the shoes was on 'em and things like that. Everything had to be turned in for the division, and it was my duty to send all that in. And then they kept a couple trucks back, and they took us to a train with all of our belongings, and took awhile to unload everything. And I had all the service company records, even for Fort Leonardwood and Fort Leavenworth, and we went over and it took us a couple days to get that train loaded. And then we went to Oldenberg, Germany. That's where my dad was born at. And I told him when I got home, I says, I seen everything plain as could be. And he just could not believe it. And I said, Yes, I did. I went through it. And then we got on the boat, the USS Baltimore, and everything worked real smooth on that boat. It was a nice one. It always had a fire drill right after dinner. And one Saturday afternoon right before we're getting pretty close to New York we got hit in the straight -- hit a bad storm. And that boat just looked like it was going to go over. And we had a fire drill at the same time up above, and I happened to be one of the first ones up there, so I had something to hold onto. But when that thing went at an angle, anybody that didn't have anything to hold on, they just rolled out to the other end of that boat. Piled up on top of each other. But then when the boat tilted the other way, they all rolled back. All afternoon it was like that. You just didn't know what ----+. And Saturday night, you know, that was the night for Merchant Marines to steal anything they could. And if you didn't sleep with your billfold nailed to your body, that sucker'd be gone the next morning. So --

Lawrence L. Molczyk:

The Merchant Marines were the ones that piloted that boat?

Bernard Joe Kramer:

Yeah.

Lawrence L. Molczyk:

And why would they ----+

Bernard Joe Kramer:

Well, most of them people that was on that boat, all they'd do is they'd have their billfold in the back end of their trousers ----+. They'd never stop and think about it. And one old boy told us about ----+ tomorrow morning everybody said, Where'd my billfold go? Who got it? Well, I know I slept on mine.

Lawrence L. Molczyk:

Wasn't there any security there?

Bernard Joe Kramer:

No, that boat never had no MPs or anything on there. And, you know, like that Queen Mary when I went over on it, there was no security on it.

Lawrence L. Molczyk:

How did you pass your time while you were in transfer?

Bernard Joe Kramer:

Play cards. You know, ----+. Pinochle was one of the big things they liked to play. And when I was in the hospital, you know, people coming and going, and I met a lot of people there and, Would you like to play pinochle? Yeah, sure. And afternoon, that's what we would do all afternoon and the evenings they do that same thing. And just something to do. But you got so good at it -- after so much practice you got so good at it, if you made one mistake you gonna lose that game, and we could tell that just that quick. It was, oh, it was something to do.

Lawrence L. Molczyk:

How long did the journey back take?

Bernard Joe Kramer:

The what?

Lawrence L. Molczyk:

The journey back home.

Bernard Joe Kramer:

It took about two weeks, and when we went over on the Queen Mary, that took just a week.

Lawrence L. Molczyk:

Slow boat coming back?

Bernard Joe Kramer:

Yeah, slow boat coming back.

Lawrence L. Molczyk:

And what port did you land in?

Bernard Joe Kramer:

New York.

Lawrence L. Molczyk:

What kind of greeting did you have when you returned?

Bernard Joe Kramer:

We got back on a Sunday afternoon. We didn't have no greetings at all. No greeting at all. Just get off and here's the barracks, put your stuff in there, then you can go wherever you want to. And everybody wanted to go to New York. We was at Fort Dix, New Jersey, and everybody wanted to go down there. And I told them that be sure and be here at 7:00 Tuesday morning 'cause we're gonna board the train at 8. If you're not here, you'll have to find your own way home. But everybody was there.

Lawrence L. Molczyk:

What did you do with your time in New York?

Bernard Joe Kramer:

Went to Washington, D.C., went through the White House, went through the library and just different buildings there that you could see. And then they always had somebody there to advise us where to go to see this and see that, and it was interesting. I'd kind of like to go back there again, but I'll bet it's all together different now than it was then.

Lawrence L. Molczyk:

So you got back on the train the next day to go to Washington?

Bernard Joe Kramer:

Um-hum.

Lawrence L. Molczyk:

And where did you head at that point?

Bernard Joe Kramer:

Fort Leonardwood, Missouri. Come across the country, and I come there and they unloaded them soldiers first and I unloaded their service records for all those people. There was about 50 of 'em and unload them. There was about 70 that went to Leavenworth, too. So I had 140 service records that I was responsible for. But I could go out there and start talking to somebody and find out somebody was, you know, trust 'em with. I'd just let 'em help out, you know? 'Cause, you know, if you had something on your service record you didn't want 'em to know, all you had to do is dig it out of the pile and throw it away. Nothing you could do about it.

Lawrence L. Molczyk:

What kinds of things might be in a service record?

Bernard Joe Kramer:

Okay. Let's just say you went AWOL maybe once, twice, three times. Every time you go it's on your service record. And if you got into a fight and you hurt somebody, that would go on there, and just things like that. And if you took some government property and they said you destroyed it or just got reckless with it, that would go on there. And, oh, if you went downtown and got intoxicated that would go on there if somebody had to bring you home.

Lawrence L. Molczyk:

In all these years have you ever experienced a time when what was on your service record was important to getting employment or vouching for your integrity or that sort of thing? Did anyone ever look back at your service records?

Bernard Joe Kramer:

No, 'cause your service record was all kept at Fort Leavenworth. All of us. The only thing we got was our discharge. You get a sheet of paper there that's got your discharge on it. The only thing that you got, plus the $300 mustering out pay. Glad to get rid of you.

Lawrence L. Molczyk:

You had talked about becoming a Master Sergeant. What kind of pay did a Master Sergeant get?

Bernard Joe Kramer:

I was getting $480 a month for just that short time that I was. But they really wanted me to enlist again, and if I would have enlisted I would have been over here and I'd have got $600 a month. This was back in 1946. Really good wages.

Lawrence L. Molczyk:

When you first were drafted, were just a Private, what kind of money did you get at that point?

Bernard Joe Kramer:

$17 a month.

Lawrence L. Molczyk:

And all that time that you were in combat and traveled around Europe there, did you actually get paid on a regular basis or did they just put it in a bank account for you?

Bernard Joe Kramer:

No. We just didn't paid on a regular basis. They always kept track how much they owed you, and when we got back ----+ where they could pay us. But what do you do with it when you're in combat? You got that all in your pocket. That didn't work either. And when I got to be in the mail clerk there in the service company, I could send mine home, and it worked out real good.

Lawrence L. Molczyk:

You had a nest egg when you came home?

Bernard Joe Kramer:

Yeah. And I did find out there was a German -- you could buy a wristwatch from them, American wristwatch, you could buy it from 'em, and I could take that same watch and pay $50 for it and get 300 for it from the Russians. Just like that. The Russians all had new money, new marks. And I did a lot of that. I didn't smoke, so I held onto my cigarettes and sold them to Germans. They can buy 'em. They liked it. Candy bars was another one. For candy bars -- people, they just went crazy for American candy bars over there.

Lawrence L. Molczyk:

So you really didn't have anyplace to spend your money when you were there?

Bernard Joe Kramer:

No, huh-uh. I did this one place but they wouldn't take money. There was a, oh, a place where'd we say kind of a pottery place, and they made dishes, mold, everything like that. A complete set, set for eight. And they would pack them up and then ship 'em back my folks if I just give 'em a carton of cigarettes or something like that.

Lawrence L. Molczyk:

What year was that?

Bernard Joe Kramer:

That was 1946 and just --

Lawrence L. Molczyk:

Did you take advantage of that? Did you have them send things back, too?

Bernard Joe Kramer:

Oh, yeah. Um-hum. Sure. Set of dishes. Every one of my brothers and all of my sisters, every one got one. And then I had another place there that made glassware. And I had one of these glass paperweights. The top of it was just as old and smooth as could be, and the bottom was level. And in between they had this old Christmas candy, you know? It had rings around it inside. Hard candy. It had that in there. And then it had what looked like when you held it up to the light silver and gold, and that stuff would run around with that Christmas candy in there. And you'd just tilt it a little bit and ----+ around you can run it all the way around there. And low and behold, ----+ he seen that thing one day and he said, I'm going to take that thing down to Kansas City and get that appraised for you if that's okay. And I said, Yeah, that's fine. And he came back and he had it on there and he says, They appraised that thing down there for $15,000. At that time the United States never had a paperweight like that at all. And he says, I'll give you 10,000 for it right now, but I held onto it 'cause it's a keepsake. Then I had --

Lawrence L. Molczyk:

You still have that?

Bernard Joe Kramer:

Yes, I do.

Lawrence L. Molczyk:

You have any other --

Bernard Joe Kramer:

Yeah. I have two vases that are matched that got all little flowers in gold. They're white. All little flowers in gold all over that thing. And it's got a cap on it. Then I got another one about like a burgundy, and everything on that thing is trimmed in gold. And I'd like to try and get an appraisal on it; see what that stuff's worth. I got three of them, and I have three children, and each one of them's going to get one, and I know the boy, he's going to get that burgundy one. Well, when I first got home that day -- that night, my dad says to me, he says, Those three vases, Bernie, if you want to do anything you can just give me one of them, he says. That'll be the best thing I ever had. And he said, When I die you get it back. And my mother says, I'll take the other two vases if that's okay with you. I said, Yes, that's okay with me. And we did. And when they died I got 'em back, so I still have 'em. And I did get some old cameras. I got two of these old fold-together cameras and I got one Leica 35-millimeter German. Man, that thing would take pictures. Jiminy Cricket. You can set that thing for any distance that you want and ----+. See, those pictures that you had there, they was all taken with that.

Lawrence L. Molczyk:

You have any other souvenirs that you brought back?

Bernard Joe Kramer:

Oh, a few things. I'd say, oh, I brought, oh, I sent a German Lugar back that was a .44 caliber, and you could use that .45 millimeter ----+ in the United States you can get it at. And I sold that to my brother. He wanted something from Germany. And then I sent a double barrel shotgun back from over there that was still packed in Cosmoline. Brand new. And that come right on through. But then I sent a Italian Baretta home, and that was a .31 caliber, and the barrel on that thing was 41 inches long. Best deer rifle you'd ever find. And it got taken out of the box in Kansas City, and all the excuse I got about three months later is I wasn't supposed to be shipping that home. Post office -- some employee in the post office took it home is all he did.

Lawrence L. Molczyk:

At one point you had mentioned something about a bombardier sight ----+

Bernard Joe Kramer:

Yeah. On that one picture that I had there, you know, there was bomb sights in there, you know? And I pulled that thing out, took it home with me, and we take that thing in the house where we were staying upstairs on the second floor, and we could see people walking in a little town on the streets. And I got it home and I kept it a while, and then our company commander -- I guess from Ohio -- and I contacted him or he contacted me back and forth every once in a while, You ready to sell that thing? And one day I did. I sold it to him. And I talked to him in Denver when we did the reunion that day. Still had it. And he said they put that thing in their courthouse and they charge admission for people to go in and look through that thing. If you stop and figure that plane's traveling -- let's just say 400 miles an hour -- see how far ahead you'd have to look to let that bomb loose, 'cause the plane's moving and that bomb's going to go, too. So they have to really know what they're doing. Everything's calculated out; they figure it out when they let that bomb go. And the Germans actually was more accurate on their bombs than what the United States was.

Lawrence L. Molczyk:

Will you tell me a little bit about your homecoming? When you first were greeted by your family, what was that like?

Bernard Joe Kramer:

That was really nice, I'll tell you that. And, you know, you just feel like, well, I'm back home with my folks. It can't be any nicer than that. And you just -- I don't know. It's hard. Just like, you know, when I was telling you about Iraq. You're getting up there and shooting that field box. You know, I knew my mind was just blank. And when we got ready to leave, two of the guys got me by my hand, one guy carried my gun, they says, We'll take you down. You know, you think, you know, I could have got killed up there. I could have got shot, too, just that quick. But it's a funny feeling.

Lawrence L. Molczyk:

Is there anything else that we didn't cover about your wartime experience that you'd like to comment on?

Bernard Joe Kramer:

Oh, let's see. Well, this'll be the first time out for it. December the 26th of 1945 I happened to be digging a foxhole close to a road, and a German plane came and -- so I just got in the ditch, and I seen this plane coming. He was coming just right close to the road. And I can remember when we took our training that an airplane, you got to at least lead it seven to 10 feet, and I was just aiming at the head, pulled the trigger, that plane crashed just that soon. I always figured I got that pilot.

Lawrence L. Molczyk:

What did you shoot the plane with?

Bernard Joe Kramer:

With a .30 caliber gun, M-1 rifle. Just got, oh, the pilot, you see? That's that we figured. 'Cause I was ---- it for him. There's no need to try and shooting it down, the plane. You got to get that pilot. And there wasn't anybody else around that was shooting at all. I know there wasn't.

Lawrence L. Molczyk:

So you think you downed a plane by merely shooting the pilot?

Bernard Joe Kramer:

Yeah, the pilot, 'cause what it did, that plane just dove right straight down, nose down right that quick. And see, all he did was stretched out, and he pulled everything and went down.

Lawrence L. Molczyk:

Well, Bernie, thanks again for sharing with us today some of your experiences for purposes of the Project.

 
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  October 26, 2011
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