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‘It’s been a good life’

St. Cloud veteran, 99, recalls his military days

By Amy Schaefer of St. Cloud

Ivan Kraemer of St. Cloud, who turns 100 this month, has carved out quite an interesting and full life. That life has included serving the country during WWII, working in the airplane and retail industries, and carving pieces of art.

Ivan Kraemer of St. Cloud sits next to some of his carvings. He is turning 100 this month. Photo by Amy Schaefer

Kraemer, who was born in Mandan, N.D., on Apri1 13, 1922, and after high school, enrolled at North Dakota State University (NDSU). “The government had other plans,” said Ivan, who enrolled in the United States Army Air Corps in 1942, and reported to Jefferson Barracks in St. Louis the following year with the intention to become a P-51 fighter pilot.

Ivan and seven other men were housed in a pyramid tent (called a hutment) with a small stove in the center for comfort. From there, he was sent to the University of Missouri for training in aircraft recognition, engineering and inspection. He also learned about the workings of the B-29 Super Fortress, which, at the time, was the world’s largest bomber.

“In December 1944, we were issued new rifles, blankets and were restricted to our base,” he said. “We knew that a change was coming. On the 11th of December, we were shipped out on Troop Ship MS Noordam, for parts unknown to us.”

After a stopover in Hawaii, he again boarded the Noordam, but now with 50 Pearl Harbor nurses aboard, to their wartime destination.

“Tensions were high on board because of the fear of submarines,” he remembered.

On Jan. 16, 1945, the Noordam arrived somewhere in the Marianas Islands.

“We were still not allowed to give out our destination,” he said. “Our job was to build headquarters, mess hall, showers, and barracks. When that was done, we were moved deeper into the jungle, and we started all over again doing more building.”

They were living in 12-man tents.

“At this time, we knew we were in Guam,” he said. “The weather was getting warmer and there was a lack of rain, so everything was covered with the red soil of the island.

Hiroshima was bombed on Aug. 6 and Nagasaki on Aug. 9.

“On Aug. 11 we loaded our aircraft for a flight over Japan to declare a ‘Display of Power’ Mission,” Ivan remembered. “Our flight took us over both cities. We flew at 5,000 feet and then dropped to less than 100 feet so we could clearly see the devastation of the atomic bombs. We later learned that the loss of life was more than anticipated. Our appearance over this main thoroughfare must have brought great consternation to those on the streets, sidewalks, and shops below. I’m sure they didn’t expect one of the largest bombers in the world coming out of the blue sky and sweeping only 100 feet above them. I could clearly see people looking up in fright.”

Ivan remembers one woman in particular.

“She came out of her shop and her hair was in a bee-hive. She had on a dark embroidered Kimono, which was typical Geisha appearance. She had white socks, and her shoes were like two blocks of wood -- one on the ball of her foot and the other on the heel. The sight is printed on my mind as if it were only hours ago.”

The crew took a second pass over the cities and headed back for their seven-hour trip back to Guam.

“There wasn’t much conversation,” he said, “we were all deep in thought about what we had seen,” he said.

On Sept. 5, the Japanese officially surrendered and signed the treaty.

“We were all anxious to go home, however, with 7.6 million troops it took four months for all of us to get home,” he said. “On Dec. 14, we received our papers, and we were going home. I spent both Christmas and New Years on our vessel, and we docked on Jan. 1, 1946.”

Ivan served the Army Air Corps from October 1942 to January 1946.

Once home, he worked in the airplane industry as a tool and die maker in Michigan. When his father died, he returned to Minnesota and lived in Nisswa. He worked in the retail men’s clothing business for many years before retiring in 1984.

It was about that time that he took up wood carving.

This elephant family is just a few of Ivan’s recent carvings. Photo by Amy Schaefer

“My son in law and daughter gave me a carving kit for Christmas, and I let it sit on the shelf for almost a year before I decided to give it a try and have been carving ever since,” he said. “Most of my carvings are 1” to 2” tall. I use various wood in my carving. The mountain goat is on driftwood, and the ears of the elephant are made from wooden clothes pins. Carving taught me patience, and it taught me art and balance.”

In 2011, Ivan and his wife, Alice, moved into Realife Cooperative Mueller Gardens in St. Cloud. Alice has since died, but Ivan continues to reside there. He is the oldest resident at Realife and still serves on the R&R Committee.

“It’s been a good life and I’ve had many blessings,” he said.



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