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
Thomas Alois Kremer, 68
U.S. Navy – Vietnam Era
Tom was born at St. Cloud Hospital. He was the first born of seven siblings with four brothers and two sisters.
Not a stranger to hard work, Tom was raised on a 260-acre farm along the Sauk River in now what likely would be called the Westwood Elementary School area of St. Cloud.
The family milked 30-35 cows, kept six hogs and most usually raised 300 chickens from which the Kremers sold eggs. At age 7 Tom was allowed to drive the tractor home from the field. He had responsibilities to the cattle in addition to other chores.
Even though there was a two-room school house one to two blocks away, Tom’s parents enrolled him in St. Peter’s Elementary School and later Cathedral High School. Either the bus or his dad got him to school each day.
In his first grade he had 50 other classmates. Tom did very well academically and graduated from Cathedral High School in 1969. That was 50 years ago.
With a “normal childhood growing up on the farm,” academically well prepared and a solid Catholic foundation, Tom enrolled at St. Cloud State University. After two years Tom secured an associate’s degree. His goal at the time was to transfer to the University of Minnesota and attend agriculture school.
Short on educational funds that would allow Tom to continue in school and knowing that it was just a matter of time until he would be drafted, Tom enlisted in June, 1970, in a Navy program. This program would include two years active duty and four years in the reserves.
In September, he completed two weeks of training at the Great Lakes Naval Training Center followed by two weeks on a ship docked in the Philadelphia Naval Receiving Station.
Tom returned to St. Cloud and resumed classes at St. Cloud State. He played “catch-up” in his fall quarter of study and managed to complete winter and spring quarter. He worked at Hoerner-Waldorf Corporation during the summers of 1969, 1970 and 1971.
Tom went on active duty with the Navy on Sept. 13, 1971. After reporting to Treasure Island, California, he was assigned to the USS Hoel DDG-13, a guided missile destroyer (surface to air missiles). This particular ship’s complement was about 320 personnel. He stayed on that ship for the entire two years of his active duty.
In August 1972, Tom became a third class petty officer boatswains mate. People not familiar with the duties and responsibilities of a boatswains mate will find that that particular job is often described as the backbone of any ship’s crew. A boatswains mate essentially trains, directs and supervises personnel in the ship’s maintenance duties.
On Dec. 20, 1972, Tom was involved in gun fire support operations off the coast of North Vietnam. On that particular night-time operation, one of the ship’s 5-inch shells exploded in the barrel. The barrel split in several directions. Had the shell exploded closer to the breach (rear portion of a gun’s barrel), Tom and the gun crew would likely have been killed.
While stationed off the coast of Vietnam, it was at times necessary for the ship to put in for supplies and repair. Subsequently, Tom had some shore liberty in Sasebo, Japan, the Philippines, Hong Kong and Taiwan.
After completing his tour of active duty Tom was discharged on Sept. 13, 1973. Tom continued his career in the Naval Reserves.
After 31 years, he retired as a master chief petty officer (the highest rank for a noncommissioned enlisted sailor). Tom says he “retired the same day Bill Clinton retired from the presidency”.
After his two years of active duty in the Navy, Tom returned to Hoerner-Waldorf Paper Corp (now called West Rock). While employed there he assumed positions of leadership and responsibility, functioning as a foreman and later as a shipping manager (1996). He retired in 2013, after 40 years of service.
Tom met his future wife, Diann Decker, at a dance at St. Cloud State in 1970. Their relationship continued while he was on active duty. Tom says Diann’s birthday falls on the Ides of March (15th). “Ides” in Latin means to “divide.” In spite of superstitions, he and Diann married in February 1973. They have been happily married for 46 years. “And the rest is history.”
Diann and Tom had six children – two are in heaven. They have two adult sons and daughters. They are blessed with seven grandchildren.
Tom and Diann operate a quilting business in their home.
After living in St. Joseph for 22 years, the Kremers moved to St. Cloud in 1996. His current home in St. Cloud is on the very farm land on which he was raised.Tom is active in his Catholic parish of St. Michael’s.
Tom has been a member of the St. Joseph American Legion Post 328 since 1973. Tom is active in a variety of volunteer activities. He also enjoys woodworking and travel.
Feeling rather content with his retirement and life in general, Tom pensively says, “. . . one establishes a path through life . . .”