Green Berets

October 21, 1957 – Army Captain Hank Cramer First U.S. Combat Death in Vietnam

United States Army Special Forces Captain Harry G. Cramer, Jr. Photo: Virtual Vietnam Veterans Wall

United States Army Special Forces Captain Harry G. Cramer, Jr. Photo: Virtual Vietnam Veterans Wall

On October 21, 1957, United States Army Captain Harry (Hank) Griffith Cramer, Jr., of the newly-formed 1st Special Forces Group stationed at Camp Drake in Japan, became the first combat fatality (of many to come) in Vietnam.  Activated on June 24, 1957, the 1st Special Forces Group was responsible for operations in the Pacific.  The unit went on to hold the tragic distinction of having both the first and last Vietnam combat fatalities – Sgt. Fred Mick was killed on October 12, 1972 –  as well as the first Afghanistan combat fatality, SFC Nathan Chapman, who died in country on January 4, 2002.  Captain Cramer’s name was initially left off of the Vietnam Memorial due to the secretive nature of his mission.  After an appeal filed by his son, it was added to “The Wall” in 1983.

Army Special Forces units, also known as the Green Berets, have six primary missions: unconventional warfare; foreign internal defense; special reconnaissance; direct action; hostile rescue; and counter-terrorism.  They also perform combat search and rescue, security assistance, peacekeeping, humanitarian assistance, humanitarian demining, counter-proliferation, psychological operations, manhunts, and counter-drug operations duties.  Counter-proliferation activities are defined as “diplomatic, intelligence, and military efforts to combat the proliferation of weapons, including both conventional weapons and weapons of mass destruction” – in other words, arms control.

Capt. Cramer with his father, Captain Harry G. Cramer, Sr. Photo: Ancestry.com

Captain Cramer had been deployed to South Vietnam on June 25, 1957.  He led the first Special Forces team in place, with a mission to train a cadre of nationals into what would become the fledgling Vietnamese Army Special Forces.  Cramer was killed by an explosion while leading a patrol of combined American and Vietnamese troops near Nha Trang.  Although officially listed as an accident, an American eyewitness at the time claimed instead that the incident was a Viet Cong ambush.  Captain Cramer followed in his father’s footsteps in military service to his country.  Captain Harry G. Cramer, Sr. commanded an infantry company in France during World War I.