Local business leader and World War II veteran Gust "Gus" Kraras will be honored April 17th on Fightins Opening Night as part of the Savage61 Chrysler Dodge Jeep Ram Ceremonial Flag Service Honoree. Kraras' celebration on Opening Night kicks off the Ceremonial Flag Service for the 2015 season.
In 1950, FirstEnergy Stadium was built as a memorial to the veterans of our community. To bring even more attention to this, a ceremonial flag flies in front of America's Classic Ballpark at each home game to honor one specific veteran. For the 2015 season, living World War II veterans, in addition do any veterans that have passed, may be honored with the Ceremonial Flag Service. The addition of living World War II honorees is new for 2015 , and on Opening Night, Gus Kraras will become the first of what the Fightins hope will be many World War II veterans to be honored at the ballpark this season.
"The ceremonial flag honoring a veteran became an important, and emotional part of the Fightins game presentation in 2014", said Fightins General Manager Scott Hunsicker. "In 2015, we really want to engage the families of World War II veterans, and honor these brave men and women. When discussing what World War II veteran should be the first to be honored on Opening Night, we immediately thought of Gust Kraras. He's a great man. His dedication and contributions to our country and our community are incredible. Plus, he actually sold hot dogs here at the ballpark when it first opened in 1951! We are so excited to honor Gust Kraras on Opening Night, and we invite all the families of World War II Veterans to please contact us so we can honor your loved one as well."
Born in 1921, Kraras immigrated to the United States in 1938 from Greece when he was just 17 years old. He was living in Nashville during the Pearl Harbor attacks, and a day later, he decided to volunteer into the United States, but wasn't able to since he wasn't yet a citizen. He overcame this issue by requesting his draft board to advance his draft number and shortly thereafter, was in the Army and assigned to the Field Artillery.
In 1943, Kraras asked to be transferred to the newly-formed Greek Battalion at Camp Carson, Colorado. Nearly 300 volunteered to be sent on a special mission to occupied Greece and from that, only 173 men and 10 officers were sent. That group was part of the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), which later evolved into what we now know as the CIA.
Following their extensive training, Kraras and the rest of the Greek Battalion was sent to Cairo, Egypt. On their second day, his group was picked as one of the two that received paratrooper training. Because of Army regulations at the time, Kraras and his party had to volunteer to become paratroopers. The next day, the selected troops went to the then-Palestine to attend British Paratrooper School. In the U.S. Army Paratrooper Schools, training typically lasted 90 days. Kraras training at the British Paratrooper School lasted just three days and five jumps.
Now in Greece, Kraras' platoon's missions were all very similar. They would be responsible for blocking highways and waiting for German convoys. Once they would find a convoy, they would dismantle the first and last truck using bazookas and then take on the convoy with everything they had. They would then take off up through the mountains and hide as Germans would attempt to find them-they never did.
Kraras was honorably discharged on November 15, 1945 and he took up residence in Reading where his brother John lived with his family. He went into business with his brother and later, opened up several restaurants in the Reading area and in Wildwood, New Jersey. The Kraras family went on to own and operate numerous restaurants and hotels in the seaside town for over five decades.
He met his wife Stella Dialectos upon returning from the war and married in 1946. They had three children: Chris Kraras, Angel Kraras Cammarano, and Patricia Kraras Donahue. Gus is still involved actively in his business ventures and church community in the Reading and Wildwood areas.
The World War II veterans will be honored, in addition to fallen veterans of all wars, nightly during a pre-game ceremony beside their family and friends. Before each home game, the Fightins raised a ceremonial flag to tribute to their memory and welcomed their family to the game. The flag will then lowered and given to the family following the game. During the ceremony, the Fightins will tell each veteran's story and present the veteran with a Ceremonial Flag as a token of appreciation for all that they have done in protection of the United States of America.
Reservations for the Savage61 Ceremonial Flag Service are now being taken for the 2015 season. Those interested can call 610-370-BALL ext. 293 to reserve a date. Anyone interested in paying tribute or honor to a veteran is asked to call that number with their preference of a game date. Available game dates are filled on a first-come, first-serve basis.
The Fightins will kick off the 65th season of baseball at America's Classic Ballpark on Friday, April 17th when they host the Richmond Flying Squirrels, Double-A affiliate of the 2014 World Series Champion San Francisco Giants, at 7:05 p.m. Tickets for the 2015 season can be purchased online at Fightins.com, by phone at 610-370-BALL, or by visiting the FirstEnergy Stadium Ticket Office.