Cramer Pike officially named for Johnstown-area soldier killed early in Vietnam War

Apr. 13—JOHNSTOWN, Pa. — The road known locally as Cramer Pike for generations now bears the official state-designated name "Captain Harry G. Cramer Memorial Highway," in honor of the first Army soldier killed during military-related activities in the Vietnam War.

The newly named section of state Route 403 runs from the intersection with Route 3041 (Cooper Avenue) in West Taylor Township to the intersection with Route 8010 in East Wheatfield Township, Indiana County.

Cramer's family built the road in the late 19th century, according to Lt. Col. (Ret.) Harry "Hank" Griffith Cramer III, Cramer's only child.

"It's always been the Cramer Pike for us," Cramer III said Friday after the dedication ceremony inside Johnstown American Legion Post 294, "but a number of the leaders here in the Johnstown area saw fit to formally dedicate the pike to my father, who was a Johnstown native.

"He was a Green Beret (U.S. Army Special Forces), and he was the first U.S. Army soldier killed in Vietnam in 1957. His story was largely forgotten back at the time, but this is making sure that he won't be forgotten any more, and we appreciate that."

Cramer's name was not originally recorded on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, which lists the war dead in chronological order, when it was completed in 1982. Through his son's effort, Cramer was eventually added.

Cramer III also acknowledges that Air Force TSgt. Richard Fitzgibbon Jr. died in Vietnam in 1956 when he was murdered by a fellow member of the U.S. military.

Cramer, a graduate of Westmont-Upper Yoder High School and the U.S. Military Academy in West Point, New York, died on Oct. 21, 1957.

"It was supposed to be a training patrol, a training ambush, but something went very south," said Cramer III, a fellow Green Beret. "Explosives went off when they shouldn't have, killed my father and the Vietnamese commander, and there's been speculation ever since. No surviving American eyewitnesses who actually saw it happen; questions whether it was sabotage or a real ambush while they were doing a training ambush; so it's murky."

Almost 100 people gathered for the dedication ceremony that took place at the American Legion where Cramer's father served as the first commander.

"The history of this family with this post is such an honorable thing, it's beyond my belief," current Post 294 Commander Chuck Arnone said.

The guests included Vietnam War veteran and Richland High School graduate Ed Mihalacki, who read a story about Cramer and approached his son about getting some type of memorial in place. State Sen. Wayne Langerholc Jr., R-Richland Township, and Senate Majority Leader Joe Pittman, R- Indiana, spoke about Cramer and their efforts to help get the road named in his honor.

Several representatives from the Vietnam Veterans of America and the Special Forces attended.

"He was at the beginning of a long list of over 58,000 brothers and sisters that were lost in that war," Vietnam Veterans of America President Jack McManus said. "It was just a distinct honor to be able to be here to see that he's honored for a lifetime, and multi-generations will be able to reflect back and think about the sacrifices of the Vietnam veterans that didn't come home and the Vietnam veterans that did come home made for this country."

Maj. Jonathan McPherson, a chaplain with the 1st Special Forces Group, offered a prayer of thanks and reflection.

"Father, thank you for graciously taking a man like Capt. Harry Cramer, with proven, tested character, in molding him into a warrior, a champion of freedom," McPherson said.

"We give you thanks for instilling in Harry Cramer the courage to fight not just on behalf of his country, but also on behalf of the men he served with in combat. May his legacy stand as a testimony that laying down one's life is the greatest act of love.

"And, Father, use this road, and more importantly this man, to serve as a reminder to us to take risks in being the first to attempt great things, to be a person of honor well before ever leading a bayonet charge, and to remain steadfast in our mission to free the oppressed."

Cramer III said that a lesson from his father would be to "be the kind of American worth dying for, because that's what it comes down to."