A son of Chippewa Falls was mourned after the attack. Later, he was all but forgotten. A local teacher and students are making sure that doesn’t happen again.
Harry Kramer was a familiar presence around Chippewa Falls—until he wasn’t. One day this Chi-Hi graduate left town to join the US Navy. Sometime after the attack on Pearl Harbor, the town was rocked by the news that he was among the Americans killed in that December 7 tragedy.
A memorial service was held. A plaque was put up. Eventually, almost everyone who lived when Harry lived died or moved away. The plaque came down. Harry’s daily presence in Chippewa Falls was all but forgotten.
But a Chippewa Falls teacher and his students are reminding all of us that Harry and every other American son or daughter lost in service to our country deserves to have their stories told far beyond the generation in which they lived.
John Kinville, a Chippewa Falls High School teacher of American history, spoke with UpNorthNews Radio earlier this year about his book, “Chippewa Falls World War II Hero Harry W. Kramer.” It started with an effort to better memorialize all 41 Chi-Hi students who died in the armed forces, from the Civil War through the War on Terror—which led to a fortunate discovery.
Kramer’s death, at 22, shattered his family, to the point where they rarely talked about him. His belongings were boxed up and handed down, eventually tucked away by a niece. When Kinville and his group reached out for any information on Kramer, she provided them with a box that included 33 letters back and forth that, 82 years later, paint a detailed picture of a Chippewa Falls childhood, life in the Great Depression, the decision to pursue a Navy career, and scenes from Hawaii leading up to that fateful morning.
Through those letters, we can move away from the abstract idea that 2,403 servicemen and women died, and we can see them as individuals with their own stories, memories, dreams, and daily routines. They were targeted by an enemy seeking to attack America. And America would do well to see these heroes as they were—our neighbors, relatives, and protectors.
John Kinville spoke with UpNorthNews Radio earlier this year. These excerpts on how he came to write the book, “Chippewa Falls World War II Hero Harry W. Kramer,” tell us how assembling the short life of one young man can help a fractured country come together.
“I teach American government to high school students. And as I’ve gone through my career, I’ve wanted to look for something that would bring people together, bring students together, bring communities together. Oftentimes, as you know, our government, our society can be very divided.”
“[Pearl Harbor] galvanized a country in a way that very few things have. And of course, we have that with 9/11 in my generation. So for me, with the students, a lot of it has to do with just letting them know that not everything has to be divisive—that not everything has to be an argument, that there are larger beliefs and values that unite us as Americans.”
“I’ve always believed that those who have died for this country can serve as a grounding point for all of us just to remember those basic values that bring us together as countrymen. And hopefully in the process, in this day and age, a renewed reverence for democracy and no longer taking that for granted.”
“We’ve been saying all our lives that these men and women gave their lives for freedom, for democracy. And yet we see others in this day and age treat it in such a cavalier manner. Hopefully they’ll understand the sacrifices that these people made. Harry Kramer was one of them.”
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