Mexico Public High School will honor a local veteran with his high school diploma at the 2013 Graduation Commencement being held on May 20th at Hawthorne Heights field.
Mexico native Frank Kramer, 86, dropped out of high school in 1945 and joined the military. He wasn't drafted, he was just a young boy, with a yearning to explore the world beyond Mexico.
Looking back, Kramer said he never thought he would see the day when he received his high school diploma. When he heard that he would be able to participate in the Mexico High School graduation and finally receive his diploma, he cried.
"I cried like a little baby," Kramer said in a recent interview. "It was something that I missed out on, and to be truthful, I didn't really think I would ever get the chance to achieve. But now that I know I am going to finally graduate and receive my diploma, it feels good."
During the time of wars, thousands of American men and women across the country left high school and the comforts of home and hearth to serve gallantly in the armed forces. After the wars ended, many veterans were not able to finish high school for various reasons, but went on to lead productive lives and build communities throughout their lifetime.
In recognition of the contributions these soldiers made, the Washington State Legislature passed three bills to issue high school diplomas to veterans of WWII, Korea and Vietnam. "Operation Recognition" is being instituted through individual school districts to award full high school diplomas to qualifying veterans.
Kramer is one of the Audrain County veterans to receive the recognition, and "it's a wonderful thing," he said.
Kramer served in the United States Navy in 1945-46, near the end of World War II, and served aboard two ships – the U.S.S. Midway CV31 and the U.S.S. Kearsarge CV33. He served two years as a seaman first class and celebrated his 18th birthday at sea.
And, he is very proud to say he was not drafted. Kramer said he joined the Navy because he "just wanted to get away from home," and because "it was the thing to do back then."
Kramer said his deployments allowed him the opportunity to sail both the Atlantic and Mediterranean Sea, and visit such exotic places as Alaska, Italy, Sicily, North Africa and Tangiers – while many of his hometown buddies had chosen to farm or worked in the local refractories.
There was nothing wrong with that lifestyle, Kramer said, it just wasn't what he wanted. He said his father signed the papers for him to join the Navy. His mother's consent was not necessary because the husband was considered the legal guardian, Kramer said.
"I was young and I wanted to leave home and be my own man. I was getting in trouble, not really attending school regularly and thought the military would be a good place to go and serve my country. And, I thought the Navy was the right way to go to see the things I wanted to see," Kramer said. "And I did. I saw a lot of things."
Page 2 of 3 - Kramer said he didn't write home much, but he did miss his family.
"I had been out at sea at least a month or so, and I still cried myself to sleep. I hadn't seen that much water any place," he said. Because he joined the Navy near the end of WWII, Kramer said he was never in any major combat, harm or danger because he "was on an aircraft carrier and we were pretty well protected."
When Kramer received his honorable discharge and returned to Mexico, he went to work at the AP Green Refractory for a short while and found out that wasn't what he wanted either. Then he went to work for the International Shoe Company, and from there, Kramer said "it was marriage, three wonderful children, a wonderful wife and here I am."
The honorary diploma he will receive on May 20th, Kramer said, was worth everything he has done in his lifetime.
"I'm grateful to be here and honored to receive this recognition. I made it, and I don't regret a bit of what it took to earn this. Maybe what I did back then (quit school and join the Navy) was the right thing to do," Kramer said. He has no idea what to expect on May 20th, but he said, whatever happens will be wonderful.
"I don't want any glory or anything like that. I'm just a man that went in the Navy and was there when the war ended," Kramer said modestly. "At first, I hesitated to do this, but then I thought, why not. It's something that will make my family feel good and something that I think I deserve."
Frank and Jean Kramer have three sons – the youngest lives in the state of California, the middle son lives in Florida and the oldest lives in Martinsburg. Like their father, two of the Kramer boys joined the military (one Air Force and the other Army), and one grandson is a Marine.
For the past six months, Kramer has lived at the Missouri Veterans' Home in Mexico, where he enjoys playing Bingo, visiting with friends, walking and writing about his life. He keeps his journal with him at all times. On the wall near his bed and window, he has photographs of his family and the two ships on which he served.
"I keep them near me all the time," Kramer said as he gently touched each of the photos. Life is good, he's happy and Kramer credit's the MVH staff for his personal accomplishments. The graduation opportunity is only a part of his amazing story.
"I spent some time in a nursing home and was pronounced a paraplegic. And now, I'm up walking, thanks to the people they have here. They got me walking again and started thinking about living again. For that, I say thank you."
Page 3 of 3 - His advice to his soon-to-be fellow graduates: "Don't ever give up on your dreams. Though I quit school, I got to see a lot of things and while I was out there, did a lot of good things for mankind. I wasn't the big, bad wolf.
"It will be a real great honor to graduate with these Mexico High School kids," Kramer said.