By Martie Thompson
With each passing day, the memories of World War II become more distant and less clear. According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, only about 3.5 percent of the 16 million American men and women who served in World War II are still with us.
This realization hit home with Kessler Creative account executive Zak Gragg, who works with World War II veteran Bob Kessler at the printing business. Kessler is the father of Kessler Creative owner, Keith Kessler, and comes in to work two days per week, where he performs varied tasks such as copy editing and updating the sales board.
“I have to keep my mind sharp,” Bob Kessler said.
Gragg had an idea to honor Kessler for his service and he contacted his Rotary Club colleague, Charlie Tramazzo, who works for the USO. Tramazzo was happy to oblige and on Aug. 8 showed up at Kessler Creative with a certificate and some USO pens and hats. Meanwhile, Gragg had overseen the creation of a celebratory banner and cake, all the while keeping the impending appreciation ceremony a secret from Kessler.
When his colleagues were assembled in the conference room with Tramazzo, Kessler was called in for a “meeting.” Kessler was surprised and a bit overcome when he was presented with a USO honorary Certificate of Appreciation, recognizing his service on an LST boat in the Pacific theater.
Kessler recalled enlisting in the Navy in 1943 when he was 17 years old and going on to become an electrician aboard the USS LST-745, a ship that carried troops and tanks. He said it took forever at 9 knots to get to the Sea of Japan from San Francisco.
“The Pacific makes the Atlantic seem like a pond,” Kessler said.
He said they were on the beach in Okinawa when the Japanese surrendered in August 1945. The crew thought they’d be going home then, but ended up repatriating the Japanese to cities such as Nagasaki and by Christmas of 1945 were still in the Pacific.
Thirty-eight months after enlisting, Kessler was honorably discharged. After the war, he attended college on the GI Bill and earned a degree in mechanical engineering from Hofstra University in Long Island, N.Y. He then worked in the defense industry for Northrop Grumman. After marrying Marilyn Muller in 1956 and having three children, the family moved to Pennsylvania in 1965 to start a long career of owning many different businesses. He retired to Green Cove Springs in 2000 and has five grandchildren.
According to his son, Keith Kessler, “At age 91 he still drives up twice a week to our business in Mandarin to help out with anything needed, but especially proofreading, which helps him keep his mind sharp. He is still better at it then anybody else in the company.”
Tramazzo said the USO was excited to be a part of the appreciation ceremony.
“You just don’t see World War II veterans around and going to work every day,” Tramazzo said. “The USO stands in service for those standing watch today, but we are always pleased to honor our veterans as well.”
Gragg, who initiated the appreciation ceremony, said, “I respect what our military does and if I see a way to give back, I try to do it. There are a lot of veterans in this city and a lot coming back from the Middle East who could all use a role model like Bob Kessler.”
Photo by Martie Thompson
Charlie Tramazzo of the USO presents World War II veteran Bob Kessler with a Certificate of Appreciation.