The lucky few know exactly what they want to be when they grow up. For Nobleboro resident Col. Dave Kramer, a retired, decorated U.S. Air Force officer and founding member of the Bates College soccer team, he never imagined that he would go from building model planes as a child to flying them as an adult.
Kramer, originally from West Hartford, Conn., joined the armed forces in 1962, halfway through his senior year at Bates College in Lewiston, after a recruiter called offering commission and automatic reinstatement to continue his studies if he enlisted in the Air Force for a year.
“That sounded like a good deal, so that’s what I did,” Kramer said.
After that year in basic training, Kramer returned to Bates College to finish his history degree in 1963, where he also played baseball. He then went back to the Air Force and went straight to officer training school on his own.
“I had gone in as an enlisted guy and loved it,” Kramer said. “I said ‘Gee, that was fun,’ and I believed that it was a good cause, a patriotic cause, and I wanted back in.”
After officer training school, Kramer became a maintenance officer from 1964-1967, knowing full well he had discovered his desire to fly the machines he was repairing.
“I never had that dream as a kid,” Kramer said. “I built model airplanes as a kid, but I never really wanted to fly them until I got into the Air Force, and then I did.”
Kramer was assigned to undergraduate pilot training at Moody Air Force Base in Georgia where he did well enough in his class to be assigned to the airplane he had wanted to fly all along: the North American F-100 Super Sabre, a supersonic jet fighter aircraft used by the Air Force from the 1950s to the early 1970s.
“It always struck me as a pretty cool plane,” Kramer said. “But I asked for that plane knowing that I may be going to Vietnam afterwards.”
After some additional survival training, Kramer was sent to Vietnam in February of 1969 as a member of the 355th tech fighter squadron, staying for a year in Phù Cát and Tuy Hòa. Both cities located near the middle of the country.
Kramer would go on to fly as a fighter pilot for the NATO where he was based in Lakenheath, United Kingdom, to sit for nuclear alert during the Cold War, and operated the new generation plane – the McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom II – from 1972 until 1974.
After England, in 1975, Kramer went back to the United States to command the Staff College in Montgomery, Ala., where he was in line to become a major. During that year of professional military education, Kramer also earned his master’s degree in political science from the University of Auburn.
While his career as a pilot with the Air Force seemed to be on the rise, his flying days came to an abrupt stop in 1976 when training pilots in Florida in the F-4 jet he experienced an ocular migraine that caused temporary, partial blindness midflight.
After a medical evaluation, Kramer was grounded, an Air Force term used when a pilot is no longer able to fly due to issues that could be medical or technical.
Kramer, at the time of his grounding, had flown 184 combat missions.
“I wanted to be as far away from air planes as possible because it was painful to be around,” Kramer said. “I was on track to be a squadron commander.”
While this ended Kramer’s time in the sky as a pilot, it began a new chapter of oversight, strategy, and intel in his military career.
Kramer spent the next 16 years in various leadership and diplomatic positions such as an air attache to the United States Embassy in Lagos, Nigeria, four years in Germany at the United States air base in Ramstein as executive manager to the deputy chief of staff, and chief, foreign liaison for the Defense Intelligence Agency for the Pentagon.
Kramer retired from the Air Force in 1993 receiving ten Air Medals, four Meritorious Service Awards, and two Distinguished Flying Crosses, among others.
“My Air Force career was important to me in making me who I am,” Kramer said. “Doing these things gave me confidence; you don’t know how you’ll react to combat until you’re there. You don’t know you can fly a plane until you do.”
In the next seven years, Kramer worked as a consultant and security officer for independent contractors, and eventually met his wife, Vivian, after being introduced by mutual friends, and moved to Maine.
“When I left Bates College, I never, ever thought I’d be coming back to Maine to live here,” Kramer said. “But when we were looking for a place to live, we house sat for some friends in Bristol and fell in love with it.”
Kramer, who wasn’t quite of retirement age when he moved to Maine, was looking to keep busy and applied to Renys department store in Damariscotta, and with his resume he quickly went from working in the store to helping Renys’ leadership, John and Bob Reny, plan buying trips, logistics, and even work on advertising from 2000 until 2006.
“John and Bob are great people,” Kramer said. “I just think the world of them both and for introducing me to so many people here.”
Kramer, who has lived in Nobleboro since the early 2000s, said he’s visited and lived in about 40 of the world’s nations, and it’s having lived all over that he knows Lincoln County is remarkable.
“This area is incredible, really, and I don’t think I would be able to appreciate this place had I not gone to so many others,” Kramer said. “This place is special.”
Part of what makes the area special for Kramer and his wife, who was a flight attendant for over 30 years, are the many friends in the area they have and since 2008, he’s organized a weekly breakfast club called The Breakfast Boys to help celebrate and maintain those friendships.
The 24 members are local and meet Monday mornings at The 1812 Farm when they can.
“The older you get the more important your friends are,” Kramer said.
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