A World War II veteran's perseverance

WWII vet Howard Brammer, who led Maysville's Fourth of July parade in 2008, died May 5.
WWII vet Howard Brammer, who led Maysville's Fourth of July parade in 2008, died May 5.

MAYSVILLE — His school classmates in the late 1930s and early 1940s in rural Mason County called him "Bear Down Brammer."

At his funeral visitation earlier this month, they remembered how Howard Brammer, this reporter's uncle, would bear down — as a tenacious player on the basketball court, in his studies, in everything he did.

That gritty perseverance would serve him well when, at 19, his right leg was blown off above the knee during World War II.

It would become a hallmark of the personality of a man who was part of what we know on this Memorial Day as America's Greatest Generation.

He wanted to fight

Born May 2, 1925, Brammer was one of seven children — six boys and one girl — of Flem Brammer and Erma Muse Brammer.

Flem was a cattle trader, but he was willing to barter with almost anyone for almost anything, especially Barlow knives. Erma was a gentle soul, a stay-at-home mom.

The family lived in Lewisburg, about 7 miles south of Maysville on Ky. 11 at the North Fork of the Licking River. In the town of fewer than 100 people, the center of community life was C.F. Lee's General Store.

In the evenings at the back of the store, the Brammer boys and their dad played euchre with other locals. Proprietor Charley Lee "pulled the plug" at 9 p.m., and everybody got up and went home.

After graduating from Mays Lick High School in 1943, Brammer's draft board gave him the option of serving in a defense factory, but he turned it down. He could have stayed stateside and worked as a typist on a military base but said no to that, too.

Howard had three brothers fighting in the war. He wanted to join them.

He enlisted in the Army's 36th Division, Company E, 143rd infantry in September 1943 at 18 as a rifleman, and within four days of landing in Italy, faced enemy fire.

While fighting at Anzio Beach in Italy, shrapnel cut his upper body. The wounds were superficial but left scars.

While liberating Rome, he was shot in the shoulder, arm and back and was hospitalized on a ship in the Mediterranean Sea.

After a brief recovery, he was sent back into action.

Losing his leg

Brammer was sent to Gen. George Patton's 7th Army, known as the "Seven Steps to Hell," to fight in France. He was assigned the duties of first scout, charging him with finding the enemy's whereabouts.

In October 1944, as a newly commissioned field lieutenant, Brammer took four men on patrol.

As they dug fox holes in the Vosges Mountains in eastern France, Brammer leaned against a tree and noticed a German tank not far off.

When it fired, the blast killed the four other men.

He later would tell how he saw his right leg sail several feet up in the air before landing in front of him.

He expected German soldiers to look for survivors and finish him off. But the enemy didn't return.

Brammer made a tourniquet with his belt to stop the bleeding from the stump that dangled from his right side.

He slowly crawled about 400 yards up a hill to a road to try to get back to his outfit.

When he heard a Jeep coming down the road, Brammer couldn't decide whether to pray for it to stop or go on. He didn't know who would be driving it.

The first one did not stop.

He heard another one and prayed it would stop.

It did.

Two soldiers put him on a blanket and called the medics before he lost consciousness.

Zeal never waned

Before returning home, he wrote to his parents: "Mom and Dad, It's better to come home on one leg than not come home at all," he said.

Brammer spent a year in rehab in Temple, Texas, before coming back to Kentucky in 1945. He had been fitted with an artificial leg.

For the rest of his life, Brammer said he never knew why he was spared, why the other men in his unit died.

But he returned with the same perseverance he exhibited in high school.

He attacked life, even love, with zeal.

Five months after meeting Lucille Hampton, also of Mason County, they married in November 1946. She stayed by his side for nearly 65 years.

Howard Brammer did not let his disability keep him from becoming a success.

He managed two restaurants in Maysville owned by the White Light System. He eventually bought the popular eateries and the town's bus station, and provided jobs there for his brothers and sister.

Howard also became a prominent real estate broker and insurance agent. He was elected city commissioner, and worked on improving Maysville's police and fire departments.

At First Christian Church, where his funeral was held May 10, he held the positions of deacon, elder, elder emeritus, board chairman and trustee.

An oft-told story

The winter of 1950-51 was brutal in northeastern Kentucky. Snowfall was heavy and the ice treacherous.

But Howard Brammer, then 25, was on top of the world.

The young man had learned to walk fairly well with an artificial leg.

Brammer and his wife were raising a 2-year-old son, Larry.

He jumped at the chance when a younger brother asked him in early January 1951 to help get his wife and their firstborn son from Haywood Hospital in Maysville to her parents' tenant farm about 10 miles from town in a part of Mason County known as Fernleaf.

They navigated the slick, curvy roads.

When they got to the snow-covered gravel lane to the house, the couple walked together through a storm to get inside.

Brammer cradled the baby in his arms. He marched through the snow, dragging the prosthesis along.

Once in the house, he placed the baby in a hand-me-down bassinet near a potbellied stove crackling with a coal fire to keep everyone warm.

He relished telling that story for many years.

That baby was me. Thank you, Uncle Howard.

Bearing the pain

The public always was familiar with his limp but not with the personal pain of his war injury.

Brammer would wake up many nights with what doctors called "phantom pain." He thought his leg was still there.

He worried about taking too much pain medicine. To cope, he would get out of bed, sit in his recliner for hours and use heating pads to try to ease the bursts of pain.

He would bear down.

For him, it was worth it.

One of his greatest honors came on the Fourth of July 2008. His hometown named him grand marshal for its annual patriotic parade.

On this Memorial Day, an American flag on a small stick will adorn the grave of Howard Brammer in Maysville Cemetery, who died at home with his family nearby on May 5, 2011.

He was 86.

It is estimated that 850 American WWII veterans die each day.


Here's a list of Lexington services that might be affected Monday by Memorial Day.

Government: All city offices closed.

Courts: Federal, circuit and district courts closed.

U.S. Postal Service: No mail delivery.

Libraries: Closed.

Health department: Closed.

LexTran: Buses will run Saturday service routes; not all connectors will run.

Garbage collection:

■ Lexington city: For customers who usually have collection service on Monday, the makeup day is Wednesday. Landfill and recycling center closed.

■ Rumpke: Collection as usual.

■ M&M Sanitation: Closed. Pickup will run behind one day.


Camp Nelson National Cemetery. 11 a.m.-12:30 p.m. 6890 Danville Rd., Nicholasville. At 2 p.m., members of Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War will dedicate a marker for a Civil War soldier. (859) 885-5727.

Lexington National Cemetery. 11 a.m.-noon. Inside the front gates of Lexington Cemetery, 833 W. Main St., Lexington. Service will feature remarks, a presentation of colors, playing of taps and a three-volley salute. Featured speaker is retired Air Force Col. Steve Parker. (859) 255-5522.

Cave Hill National Cemetery. 11 a.m. 701 Baxter Ave., Louisville. (502) 893-3852.

Mill Springs National Cemetery. 11 a.m. 9044 W. Ky. 80, Nancy. (859) 885-5727.

Kentucky Veterans Cemetery North Memorial Day Observance and Carillon Tower Dedication. 1 p.m. 205 Eibeck Ln., Williamstown. Guest speakers: Gov. Steve Beshear and William Boettcher, president of AMVETS National Service Foundation.

Zachary Taylor National Cemetery. 2 p.m. 4701 Brownsboro Rd., Louisville. (502) 893-3852.

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