May 29, 2006

Judi Kramer makes the Kitsap Sun.

Mourning the memory of Dad

A Bremerton Woman is piecing together memories of the father
she lost during World War II.

-- by Elaine Helm

A photo and a silver trophy cup from a "Most Beautiful Baby" contest. A Purple heart medal. A set of silver spoons and a pair of wooden clogs sent from a battlefield in France.

Bremerton resident Judi Kramer has collected these things over her adult life as she pieced together an understanding of the father she hardly knew.

"My mother never talked about my father, never told me much about him," she said.

U.S. Army 1st Lt. Romain Hollis, Kramer's father, was killed Sept. 15, 1944, in Luxembourg. He was 31.

Kramer, born at Fort Lewis just a week after Pearl Harbor, wasn't even 3 years old.
Her only memory of him may not even be a true memory. It might be pulled from of one of the few stories her mother told her about him, she acknowledged. "I picture him on a train, leaning out the window and waving to my mother and I," Kramer, 64, said. "I remember that."

Not until Kramer was an adult with her own children did she actively seek to learn more about her father. "All of a sudden, it just became important to me," she said.
In 1984, she traveled to Henri Chapelle American Cemetery in Belgium to visit her father's grave at a Memorial Day ceremony.

Some time later, she found out about an organization for people like her who had lost a parent in World War II. The group, American World War II Orphans Network, was founded in Bellingham by Ann Bennett Mix in 1991. It now has more than 1,000 members.

Kramer traveled to San Antonio this weekend for the group's convention, held on Memorial Day weekend every two years. There she finds a sense of family, she said.

"When we gather, it's a very emotional thing because we grieve for fathers we never knew," Kramer said. "I look forward to going and seeing them. We hug and kiss and cry and laugh."

About six years ago, Kramer started making a quilt for the group. Surrounding a blue star rimmed with gold in the center of the quilt are the names, units, birth and death dates of about 200 fathers whose children she has met.

She continues to add new names to the quilt – and to learn more about her father. After her mother's death 15 years ago, she received a box that included a copy of her parents' marriage license. It was the first time she had seen her father's signature.

Kramer still would like to find some of the correspondence between her parents during the war. "I know my dad probably wrote to my mother, but I've never seen any of the letters," she said. "I guess I'd just like to see them, to know how he wrote, what he thought about my mother, about me."

Kramer said she's not aware of anyone else from Kitsap who is active in American World War II Orphans Network. Several other groups exist nationwide to support the children of U.S. military personnel killed or missing in action. Those include Sons and Daughters in Touch, for children of troops killed in Vietnam, and No Greater Love, an organization "dedicated to providing annual programs of friendship and care for those who lost a loved one in the service to our country or by an act of terrorism," according to its Web site.

Many people who lost a family member in war choose not to associate with any such group because it's too painful for them, Kramer said. "So many of them don't want to face the fact that there's been a loss," she said.

Despite her involvement with other war orphans, she said she still finds some things – war movies, Bremerton's Armed Forces Day parade, buglers playing taps, the jazz standard "I'll Be Seeing You" – unbearable because they remind her of her dad.

"I may have lost my father, but he's always been in my heart," she said.

Congratulations, Judi!
With thanks for submitting the story,
in memory of 1LT Romain Hollis