Eye-opening, ear-splitting combat on slog to Berlin
By Lou Michel | The Buffalo News, N.Y. | Published: February 18, 2013
BUFFALO — Nine days after Allied forces stormed the shores of Normandy on June 6, 1944, Earl E. Kramer arrived at those blood-soaked beaches as a replacement machine-gunner for the Army’s 2nd Armored Division. And from there, it was a hard push across Europe.
“We went through France, Belgium, Holland and Germany, and we were the first occupation forces in Berlin,” the 88-year-old World War II veteran said in offering the short version of how he and his buddies won the war.
Before he was drafted, Kramer, a graduate of Buffalo Technical High School, was considering enrolling at Ohio State or Michigan State University to pursue a course in engineering studies.
“My father was a graduate engineer,” he recalled.
Then the draft notice arrived in the Kramer family’s mailbox at 1557 Kensington Ave., and that changed everything.
His first day on the job as a combat soldier proved to be an eye-opener.
“I joined my company at about 8 a.m.,” Kramer said, “but earlier that morning, at about 4:30 a.m., the Germans had dropped a 1,000-pound bomb. It looked like a Hollywood war scene. There was hole in the middle of the field. It was so big, you could have put an M4 tank in the hole and not seen it.”
Actually, it was much worse than that.
“Thirty-three men had been killed and wounded,” he said. “I was just a young kid, 18 years old, and I said, ‘What is this?’?”
To make matters worse, a German aircraft returned at midmorning and twice strafed the company’s area.
“We threw ourselves up against a hedgerow to get whatever cover we could,” Kramer said.
After that, for Kramer, there was the breakout Battle of St. L", then the Battle of the Bulge, followed by the Battle of the Siegfried Line and other battles that culminated on the banks of Germany’s Elbe River.
“We were the lead element of the 9th Army, and we expected to get the order to go straight to Berlin,” Kramer said. “We were about 75 miles away on the banks of the Elbe. But we were told to hold. The bigwigs – Roosevelt, Churchill and Stalin – had all agreed the Russians would have the honor of taking Berlin.
“I was serving in a reconnaissance platoon, and I almost got killed when we were running a nighttime reconnaissance mission between our tanks strung out along the Elbe,” Kramer recalled. “When we hit this little rinky-dink German village, someone was in radio communications with the enemy on the other side of the river.
“The Germans proceeded to drop everything but the breechblock of the 88- and 105-millimeter cannons that they were shelling us with.”
He and a staff sergeant abandoned their Jeep and took cover in the doorway of a house. When the shelling subsided, Kramer said, he ran out and unsuccessfully tried to restart the vehicle.
“I no sooner got out there, and the shelling restarted. I ran back to the doorway, and then one of the shells hit the side of house directly over our heads,” he said. “The shelling was so intense that both my eardrums were shattered.”
Eventually, he and the staff sergeant made it back to company headquarters and the next morning returned to recover the abandoned Jeep.
“The seat that I was sitting in as the driver looked like a piece of Swiss cheese. It was riddled with shrapnel,” Kramer said. “It’s a good thing I wasn’t sitting there. The radiator was riddled, and the battery cable was sheared off. That’s obviously why it hadn’t started. We hooked the Jeep up to the one we drove out in and towed it back.”
Kramer has spent a lifetime recalling just how fortunate he was to survive the war.
“I came back with all my parts. I only lost 50 percent of my hearing in both ears,” he said. “But I’ll tell you this: I have the finest hearing aids that the Veterans Administration can give.”
Kramer added that during the war he had a revelation: He did not care for engineering. So when he returned home to Buffalo, he instead earned a bachelor’s degree in communications and a master’s in secondary school administration, both at the University of Buffalo.
Those credentials, he said, helped opened the door for an industrial career at Bell Aerospace in Wheatfield, where he retired as the manager of management development, safety and environmental affairs.
But he wasn’t through with the military, he said, and proudly recalled that he spent 35 years with the Army Reserve and retired as a colonel.