First Lieutenant Parker D. Cramer was a native of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, the only son in a family that also included four daughters. He graduated from Washburn High School in Minneapolis, Minnesota in 1955. He was an all-star football player and was on the high school newspaper staff. After learning about the University of Rhode Island from a friend, he attended on a football scholarship.
He entered the University of Rhode Island in 1955 and enrolled in the four-year Army ROTC program, where he was an outstanding cadet leader. When football interfered with his course work, he gave up his scholarship to concentrate on his studies. He worked in the university library to help pay expenses and was a member of the Sigma Chi Fraternity. Cramer was one of the most admired and respected students on campus. He graduated in 1959 with a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Economics and was commissioned a Second Lieutenant of Infantry.
Following Infantry training at Fort Benning, Georgia, he was assigned to an Infantry battalion in Augsburg, Germany for four years. Second Lieutenant Cramer perfected his leadership skills, professional competence and love for the Army during this assignment. He volunteered for duty in Vietnam although he had been accepted to graduate school at Stanford University.
First Lieutenant Cramer arrived in the Republic of Vietnam on 3 December 1962, and began serving as one of a group of military advisors assigned to Vietnamese Army units operating in “Zone D.” This was a thinly populated, wooded region in South Vietnam which the Viet Cong had controlled for many years. First Lieutenant Cramer immediately devoted himself to his advisory duties and quickly won the admiration and respect from the Vietnamese military as well as the local civilians.
During the day, he assisted the Battalion Commander in all phases of unit training; in the evening, he conducted officer training classes. To provide timely advisory assistance, First Lieutenant Cramer accompanied the battalion on all combat missions sharing their dangers and hardships. His unselfish example and professional competence won him the respect, confidence and affection of the Vietnamese soldiers, thereby enabling him to be an effective advisor. As a result of his efforts, there was a marked improvement in the combat effectiveness of his unit.
First Lieutenant Cramer was also active in the village. His mastery of logistics improved the quality of life for all the villagers. He was remembered fondly by the inhabitants of the nearby leper hospital. They were greatly impressed by him and another American officer who assisted at daily mass whenever possible and received Holy Communion with them. During the day, they were seen visiting the chapel and hospital. The local priest remembered: “LT Parker told me that on leaving the Army, he would dedicate his life to teaching. He was glad he had come to Vietnam. As a teacher, he hoped to instill the spirit of service to others.”
During a routine operation in early May 1963, the jeep in which First Lieutenant Cramer was riding in was ambushed by an enemy Viet Cong unit in the vicinity of Ben Cat. The driver was killed immediately. First Lieutenant Cramer and another Vietnamese Officer were dragged into the jungle and shot. First Lieutenant Parker D. Cramer was declared “Killed in Action” on 6 May 1963. First Lieutenant Parker D. Cramer was posthumously awarded the Combat Infantry Badge, Bronze Star, Purple Heart, Vietnam Service Medal and the Vietnam Campaign Ribbon.
On 22 October 1963, First Lieutenant Cramer was memorialized in a ceremony on the University of Rhode Island Quadrangle by URI President, Dr. Francis H. Horn. Shortly thereafter, the First Lieutenant Parker D. Cramer Award was established in memory of First Lieutenant Cramer. The award has been given annually since 1965 by a member of the Cramer family. A traditional Military Saber is awarded to the senior ROTC cadet who has demonstrated the most outstanding officer potential, military leadership, and scholastic excellence. In 1986, the University of Rhode Island Cadet battalion was named “CRAMER’S SABERS” in honor of First Lieutenant Parker D. Cramer.
First Lieutenant Cramer is remembered for his dedication to the service of his fellow citizens, for his exemplary integrity, and for his military service in combat. The Cadet Battalion motto “Knowledge, Dedication, and Integrity” summarizes his attitude, his actions and his contributions. His exemplary devotion to duty, personal bravery and outstanding leadership is in the highest traditions of the military service and reflect great credit upon himself, his family and the University of Rhode Island.
First Lieutenant Parker D. Cramer was buried with full military honors at St. Leo Cemetery in Ridgway, Pennsylvania, and his name was engraved on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial (Panel 1E, Line 22) in Washington, DC.