AUGUSTA — Alfred Kramer still loves the men he lost too much to speak of them. It is still too difficult, 70 years later, to recall the events of that final bombing run to Germany, and living behind enemy lines for a month until he could return to safety.
But what really terrifies him is that maybe it was all for nothing. As Kramer takes stock of the world around him, he can feel the dream of peace slipping away. Kramer is 93 now and spends his days in quiet at his home in South China, but he’s still fighting; fighting to keep his dream alive, in himself and for anyone who will listen.
“Anything is possible if you put your heart into it,” he said.
U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud, D-2nd District, recognized Kramer for his service Thursday during a ceremony commemorating the 70th anniversary of Kramer’s final bombing run and subsequent escape to freedom. Michaud presented Kramer with a plaque bearing a Congressional Letter of Commendation. The commendation lauds Kramer’s efforts to save the lives of his crew and his leadership.
“I want to thank you for your service to this great nation,” Michaud said. “It’s heartwarming to be here.”
Michaud also presented Kramer with a flag that had previously flown over the U.S. Capitol.
“I accept this, but only for those who didn’t come back,” Kramer said, his voice filled with emotion.
Retired Maine State Police Col. Craig Poulin, who has known Kramer for more than 50 years, said his friend is a humble man who had to be convinced to take part in Thursday’s ceremony. Poulin said people need to remember Kramer’s story, and countless others that emerged from World War II, so they will not take freedom for granted. Poulin has heard some of Kramer’s stories during the twice-weekly coffee meetings the men have.
“He says, ‘What it really was all about was making sure people could get up and enjoy a cup of coffee in the morning without bombs falling on their heads,’” Poulin said.
Kramer was a 23-year-old first lieutenant in the U.S. Army Air Forces on his seventh bombing mission on Sept. 6, 1943, when the B-17 bomber he was piloting, Lone Wolf, was shot down by German fighter planes over France while returning from a bombing run to Stuttgart, Germany.
“It was a mission that never should have been made,” he says now.
Kramer was a squad leader charged with keeping an eye out for 11 other planes.
“We lost every one of them,” he said, taking a moment to contain his emotion.
Kramer parachuted to safety, landing near the town of Troyes, about 150 miles southeast of Paris.
Kramer, recalling events during an Army debriefing in October 1943, said he walked two hours before coming within sight of a small village. He remained hidden on a knoll overlooking the village.
“I had a few burns and cuts, which I tried to cover with the paper from the tablets in my aids box,” Kramer wrote in the report. “At dusk, I walked along the back of the village, and while passing the barn of the last house, I ran into a farmer. I was only a few feet away when I first saw him. Without speaking he took one look and led me by the arm into his house. While being led I explained what the farmer already knew, that I was an American flyer.”
Members of the French Resistance spent the next several weeks guiding Kramer from one safe house to another.
“On the third day one of my helpers brought a note from another member of my plane who was hidden several miles away,” Kramer wrote in his report. “My friends told me that other members of my crew were safe and I would see them eventually.”
He eventually was reunited with co-pilot 2nd Lt. Arthur Swap and waist gunner Staff Sgt. Max Thomas. The men made it to England aboard a fishing vessel on Oct. 24.
The report filed by Kramer and Swap says 15 Americans were buried in Troyes. Kramer has carried the memory of each one of them every day since.
“That’s always been difficult for him to talk about,” Poulin said. “Freedom is costly. I think that’s hard for people to understand.”
Kramer, who grew up in New York City, worked as an attorney in Massachusetts after returning from the war. He got to know Poulin’s father, Arthur Poulin of China, during hunting trips to Maine. The two became friends and Kramer settled down nearby in retirement. Craig Poulin said Kramer is now more family member than friend.
But even Poulin has never heard most of the stories Kramer has held for the past 70 years. Some of them came out last week when Poulin helped arrange a flight on a restored B-17 in New Hampshire.
Kramer, who returned to the cockpit for the first time since his plane was shot down, said in an interview on WMUR television that once he and his crew got in the air, there was no time to be scared. All they could think about was flying.
“Some of the memories are good and some are bad,” Kramer said after the flight. “It’s nice to be reminded that maybe I did some good.”
Craig Crosby — 621-5642