With Sgt. Kratzke’s help, Hitler was dispatched to the underworld… Now, the Vergas farmboy-turned- soldier belongs to the ages

For Veterans Day and Memorial Day observances, spanning decades, you could generally count on World War II veteran Ray Kratzke to be in uniform.

Local VFW and American Legion Post members, when they visited him over the years, always marvelled that healthy, fit and trim Ray Kratzke could still wear his World War II uniform.

We were saddened to learn Monday that Kratzke died at age 99—by our count, one of three remaining Second World War veterans in the general Pelican Rapids Press coverage area. 

Kratzke spent nearly 200 days in combat, back in 1944-45—hardly taking his boots off the entire time. Sgt. Kratzke commanded a small anti-tank unit, and—indirectly—helped send Adolph Hitler to hell, forever. 

Kratzke fought his way across northern France and into Belgium where he took part in liberating Antwerp, later meeting up with the Soviets coming from the east—as Germany fell. Along the way, Sgt. Kratzke and his men found themselves surrounded during the Battle of the Bulge—the German Army’s last ditch attempt to turn the tide. 

Kratzke’s German language skills came in handy in Europe

A rural Vergas, Dora Township farmboy, in a largely German neighborhood—Ray spoke the language. So, when German soldiers began laying down their arms and surrendering—Kratzke was called upon as unofficial translator. The world will never know how many “Krauts” waved the white flag on orders from Kratzke—delivered in Deutsch. 

An accomplished, though self-taught musician, Ray performed for a bunch of victorious, Vodka-imbibing Russian soldiers when the Allies encountered one another in Germany. 

We feel honored at the Press to have helped record some of Ray’s history. The newspaper has published a number of profiles of Kratzke over the years—including a 2019 piece by free lance correspondent, Paul Gubrud. 

Ray’s obituary appears on page 7 this week. 

Managing the mail—in post-war Pelican Rapids

A war-related, non-combat back injury plagued him all his life. He and his wife Lillian sold their Lida Township area farm in 1957; largely because driving a tractor was almost unbearable. He took a position with the U.S. Post Office in Pelican, and later retired as postmaster.

“He loved being in Pelican, and Vergas as well…he had all kinds of family in Vergas,” said his daughter Nita (Kratzke) Velo, a 1978 graduate of Pelican Rapids High School.

One family story that didn’t make the obituary: Ray was known as a shadetree auto mechanic, and gained the nickname “No Parts Kratzke.” Reason: If he couldn’t scrounge up a part for a vehicle, he would fabricate it in his shop.  

Kratzke was active through his years at Pelican Valley Senior Living, and for the past year-and-a-half at the Veterans Administration home in Fergus Falls. 

“He lived a long life and his mind was really good right to the end,” said Nita. “Even at the nursing home, he always had something going on, or something he was in charge of.” 

Ray went to his grave, angry about Pelican dam removal 

After walking to work at the Post Office every day for years, across the Pelican Rapids dam, Ray was mad as hell when he read newspaper accounts about dismantling the city dam, said son Leon Kratzke. “He was really upset about the dam…He probably still is,” chuckled Leon. 

Later in life, Kratzke opened up about his combat experiences—just a little bit. “He would get very emotional, it saddened him a great deal,” said Nita. Post traumatic stress syndrome hadn’t been a diagnosis for veterans at that time. And if he suffered from it, the family never saw any evidence. “Back then, when he got back from the war, he just went back to work on the farm,” said Nita. 

His brother Clarence was also a combat veteran in WWII Europe, “never said a single word” about his experiences—right up to his death in 2015, said son Leon. 

Ray’s last act of defiance? Going to veteran cousin’s funeral—over objections of the “authorities” 

One of the final Kratzke stories involves his late cousin, Eldon Kratzke, a Korean war era veteran, who died in June 2021. 

As Nita tells it, Ray was bound and determined to attend the funeral. Family members were unable to make the trip, and nursing home staff were trying to set him up with some new-fangled, high-tech, black magic, computer Zoom thing. They tried to convince him he should attend the funeral “online,” said Nita.

Well, Sarge Kratzke took matters into his own hands. Nearly a century old, Ray made all the arrangements. He talked the administrators into sending him over in a V.A. van, and went there on his own. 

After being chauffered to the gates of First Lutheran Church, Fergus Falls, Ray Kratzke marched in the doors to pay his final respects to cousin Eldon—wearing his Army-issue World War II shirt and uniform cap. 

Kratzkes of rural Vergas were ‘Gold Star’ family Three served in World War II;middle brother Bernard killed 

Ray Kratzke’s parents sent three of their sons off to fight for their country in World War II. 

Sadly, Ray’s younger brother Bernard, or Ben as he was known, was killed in action in Europe March 3, 1945. He is buried at the Ft. Snelling National Cemetery, Minneapolis. 

One of the truly strange war accounts was told by Ray, mainly to family. All three brothers served in different units, which was common military practice in an effort to prevent multiple casualties or losses to any one family. 

In what appears to be a terrible twist of fate, Ray believes he actually saw his fallen brother on one of Europe’s killing grounds. 

Daughter Nita (Kratzke) Velo confirmed Ray’s story. “He and his unit were fighting for their life, and walking across a battlefield when he seriously thought he saw his brother laying dead,” said Nita. There was no time to stop and confirm in the heat of combat—but the image “haunted him for the rest of his life,” said Nita. 

In a written account, published in the Press several years ago, Ray was quoted “We were walking through a field and there were bodies everywhere. We couldn’t stop and I didn’t know where (his unit was serving), so I just kept going…30 days later I got a letter that he had been killed.” 

As Nita recalls, the incident was in Germany, during the Allies drive to Berlin. 

Older brother Clarence served in an armored tank unit in Europe, returned home after the war and raised a family near Vergas. He died July 1, 2015, and is buried at the St. Paul’s Lutheran Church-Loon Lake cemetery.

Now, the late Ray Kratzke will join his fellow World War II comrade and brother, Clarence—in the St. Paul cemetery west of Vergas. Kratzke was baptized and confirmed at St. Paul’s—and there, he will rest in peace. 

The late Kratzke with his unit, the 104th Infantry, during World War II. With only an eighth grade education at the country school west of Vergas, the farmboy quickly rose in rank to Staff Sergeant.
Ray Kratzke, about 1944
Ray Kratzke, 2019