The American Legion is celebrating its 100th birthday in 2019. In addition to national and statewide activities commemorating this milestone, American Post 328 of St. Joseph is planning a number of festive and patriotic activities for the community.
One of those special events will be profiles of St. Joseph-area veterans published in each Newsleader during 2019. The Newsleader is joining with Post 328 to recognize veterans and Legion members who served during World War II, Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan and other theaters of conflict and Cold War tensions.
by Tom Klecker
Gary Ronald Kraft, 75
U.S. Army – Vietnam Era
Gary Kraft was born in Aberdeen, South Dakota. He is the youngest of three, (one sister and one brother). He grew up in town where he experienced a “pretty normal childhood.” His father was a railroad conductor. He would usually come home from play only after it got dark.
Kraft was raised in a “traditional Catholic family.” He enjoyed going to the movies. If he saved enough Eddie’s Bread wrappers, he could bid on prizes at the theater. He fondly recalls the drive-in-movie theaters of old.
By temperament, Kraft describes himself as reserved.
He attended and graduated from Central High School in Aberdeen. There were 360 students in his graduating class.
Kraft exhibited a fair measure of athletic prowess in his youth. He played American Legion Baseball. He also played basketball as well as varsity football in high school.
Kraft graduated from high school in 1962 and then enrolled at Northern States Teachers College in Aberdeen. He majored in business and economics, graduating in 1966.
During high school and throughout college, Kraft worked for the Aberdeen American newspaper. He started out doing odd jobs including cleaning toilets. Over time he progressed to the engraving room and later coordinating deliveries with the carriers. At one point he was writing sports articles for Aberdeen and the surrounding town’s high school athletics.
While in college, Kraft started dating Sharon (1963). They were engaged in 1965. Graduating from college at the age of 22, and, I-A with the local draft board, he started looking for a job.
Kraft was initially interviewed for a job as an insurance claim adjuster. The Chicago company understandably was reluctant to hire him given his military draft status.
Kraft returned to Aberdeen with the intent of joining the National Guard for six years. A recruiter however, put him onto a “college option program.” Kraft essentially volunteered for the draft with the understanding he could upon completing basic training apply for officer’s candidate school. He could also choose his own occupational training school.
Kraft’s basic army training took him to Fort Dix, New Jersey, for eight weeks and Fort McClellan, Alabama, for advanced infantry training.
From there, he got orders to Fort Lee, Virginia – O.C.S. School. Out of his class of 120, 70 graduated. Kraft graduated seventh in his class.
Shortly thereafter he and Sharon had a small wedding back home in Aberdeen. It was Dec. 21, 1967 (the shortest day of the year). Kraft, now a commissioned second lieutenant in the Quartermaster Corp, attended petroleum school in Virginia. He later was assigned to New Cumberland, Pennsylvania, as he awaited orders to Vietnam.
Arriving in Bien Hoa, Vietnam, air base in June, 1968, Kraft was assigned to the 64th Quartermaster Battalion (a battalion is composed of 300-800 soldiers).
He was also assigned to a fuel barge transfer site on the Dong Nai River. He supervised pumping fuel off barges and ships. ESSO, Mobile and Dutch Shell were some of the companies that provided petroleum, transportation fuels and lubricants.
In 1862 Napoleon reportedly said, “an army marches on its belly.” Likely true, but a modern army in Vietnam traveled on fuel. More than 50 percent of all tonnage delivered to troops in Vietnam was petroleum products.
The fuel pipelines that transported petroleum product (gasoline and diesel fuel) from the ships were above ground. Kraft says the Viet Cong usually never blew up the lines as they tapped into the pipes at night for this precious commodity. In the morning repairs were made on the pipelines only to repeat that routine frequently.
There were times Kraft functioned as the convoy commander. He was in charge of a convoy of 5,000-gallon fuel tanker trucks transporting much-needed fuel to the surrounding base camps.
Some of the fuel tank farms came under attack but not usually, as these 350,000 gallon tanks were well protected. In August 196, Kraft was promoted to first lieutenant.
About half way through his one-year deployment in Vietnam, Kraft had a week’s R &R with his new bride, Sharon, in Hawaii. As one can well understand it was an emotionally memorable reunion for both.
Sharon returned home to Aberdeen where she stayed with her parents and awaited Kraft’s return. It was a difficult time for her.
Kraft’s third assignment in Vietnam was that of assistant operations officer at the battalion level back in Long Binh.
In July 1969, Kraft’s deployment to Vietnam was over. He flew back to Oakland/San Francisco where he met Sharon. Before returning home they spent a delightful week at Disneyland. While there, he saw the Apollo 11 moon landing (July 1969).
Discharged from active duty, he and Sharon rented a small one-bedroom apartment on the third floor in Aberdeen. But not for long.
Interviewed again in Chicago by the General Adjustment Bureau, Kraft was hired in 1969 as an insurance adjuster. He was assigned to the Minneapolis office.
While they were living in an apartment in Brooklyn Park, they were blessed with their first daughter (1970). In 1974 as now homeowners in Golden Valley, Sharon gave birth to their second daughter.
After three years Kraft had an opportunity to change jobs which offered him more responsibilities and challenges. He went to work for T.M. Campion Co. in Minneapolis. He became their project manager.
All of these employment opportunities afforded him the time to hone his estimator skills.
In February 1979, Kraft and his family moved to St. Cloud/St. Joseph area. He took a position with Miller Construction as project manager and estimator. He worked for Miller Construction for 11 years. During this time period his third and fourth daughters were born.
In 1989, after prayerful discernment, Kraft took a position at St. Cloud Hospital as construction manager. After 20 years of employment, he retired in 2010 as director of facility development for all of CentraCare operational locations.
Kraft and his family have lived in the St. Joseph area for 40 years. He and Sharon have been married for 52 years. They have four daughters and 13 grandchildren.
Kraft is a past commander of the American Legion Post 328 of St. Joseph. In retirement, he devotes time to exercise, travel and substantial volunteerism. He is a well-anchored man who displays competence and humility in admirable proportions.