Robert Roger Craner – Colonel, United States Air Force

Of the 4,525-words in the speech presidential candidate John McCain delivered on the final night of the Republican National Convention, one name caught the attention of many area residents – Bob Craner.

Lieutenant Colonel Craner of Cohoes died seven years after he was rescued from Hanoi. He was mentioned in a couple paragraphs of the Arizona senator’s acceptance speech.

Craner spent nearly six years in a North Vietnam prisoner of war camp, with about one year in solitary confinement in a room adjacent to where McCain was held.

“They had no contact with the outside world besides their communications with each other,” said John Craner, Bob’s brother who still lives in Cohoes.

“Just as John McCain talked about my brother, that is how my brother would talk about McCain sometimes. He thought McCain was a great guy.”

In Thursday night’s speech, McCain said that Craner “saved” him after a harsh beating in the POW camp when McCain refused to go home before other men who had been held captive longer.

“When they brought me back to my cell, I was hurt and ashamed, and I didn’t know how I could face my fellow prisoners,” McCain continued. “The good man in the cell next door to me, my friend, Bob Craner, saved me.

“Through taps on the wall, he told me I had fought as hard as I could. No man can always stand alone. And then he told me to get back up and fight again for my country and for the men I had the honor to serve with, because every day they fought for me.”

Craner’s brother, a lifelong Democrat who said he planned to vote for McCain this November, added, “After that moment, my brother said, he knew McCain had guts because everyone wanted to get out of that camp.”

Craner, who died in October 1980 of a heart attack, was a 20-year veteran in the U.S. Air Force. Upon his return to the United States in 1973, he started studying international relations at Holy Cross College in Worcester, Massachusetts.

In memory of the local hero, the city named a park, a roadway, and a medal after Robert R. Craner. The medal is given bi-annually to area veterans.

“They are lasting tokens of this true hero so future generations will remember him,” said Mayor John McDonald. “It’s a great day in the city when a hero from Cohoes is mentioned in national light.”

McCain’s mention of Cohoes man stirs memories

COHOES, New York – Nearly 39 million people were watching Thursday night as Senator John McCain accepted the Republican Party’s endorsement for the presidency, but John Craner wasn’t one of them.

The 71-year-old Latham man said he normally goes to bed early, and has been watching the political conventions on C-SPAN in the morning. But before he could get through McCain’s 48-minute speech, the phone was ringing off the hook.

People were anxious to tell him McCain had mentioned Craner’s late older brother Bob when talking about the time they spent at the so-called Hanoi Hilton as prisoners during the Vietnam War.

“That felt good. There’s a lot of people who have said nice things about my brother, but what John McCain is saying is even more important,” John Craner said. “I suppose since they were so close because of what they both went through. They were in a cell right next to each other, and they spoke to each other for one year … Bob told me that he’d never been closer to anybody than him.”

After over two decades as a U.S. Senator, John McCain’s story of six years of captivity and beatings at the hands of North Vietnamese who captured him when his Navy plane was shot down is well-known. It has been told in the candidate’s memoir, and depicted in a 2005 movie. But he recounted it again Thursday night at the Republican National Convention in St. Paul, referencing Craner’s part in it.

“They broke me,” McCain said. “When they brought me back to my cell, I was hurt and ashamed, and I didn’t know how I could face my fellow prisoners. The good man in the cell next door, my friend, Bob Craner, saved me. Through taps on a wall he told me I had fought as hard as I could. No man can always stand alone. And then he told me to get back up and fight again for our country and for the men I had the honor to serve with. Because every day they fought for me.”

Craner, a Lieutenant Colonel in the Air Force, was shot down in his F-100 in December 1967. He spent over five years in captivity – many in the cell next to McCain – before he was reunited with his family in 1973. Thousands of Cohoesiers packed the middle of the city when he returned to his Spindle City home, where he was born in 1933.

“He truly is a hero in the city of Cohoes – he was truly our hero in every sense of the word, and he truly got John McCain through some dark times,” said Cohoes Mayor John McDonald III. “To see his name recognized on a national level it brought a very profound sense of satisfaction to a lot of people in Cohoes and all around.”

A park was re-dedicated to honor Bob Craner in 1974, and remains today a memorial to veterans overlooking the Harmony Mills and Mohawk River. Craner remained in the Air Force after his return, earning a degree from the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester and later serving as an attache.

Craner died at 47 of a heart attack in 1980 and was buried in Arlington National Cemetery in northern Virginia. John McCain, then a Naval liaison to the U.S. Senate, spoke at the funeral.

“He said a lot of nice things about Bob,” John Craner recalled. “I think if he was still alive now, he would have definitely been supportive of John McCain. I’m a lifelong Democrat from Cohoes -everyone from Cohoes is a Democrat, right? – but when it comes to election night, there’s no way I can’t vote for him.”

News Report: June 1976

Colonel Robert R. Craner, Cohoes, New York, a 43-year-old career Air Force officer, will  begin a two-year assignment as military attache
with the American Embassy in Sofia, Bulgaria, after further training in Washington, D.C. Colonel Craner spent the last two and a half years at Holy Cross, majoring in Russian studies. He was elected to Phi Beta Kappa and was graduated summ cum laude.

An F-100 jet fighter pilot, during the Vietnamese conflict, he was shot down over North Vietnam in 1967. The first three years were spent in solitary confinement, with periodic beatings and interrogations by his captors. During this time he communicated with other prisoners-of-war by tapping on the walls and leaving notes hidden in the water hole where the prisoners were taken once a week to wash. “I had a great friend in the next room,” said Col. Craner. ” I never saw him but it was the closest relationship I’ve ever had.”

For his military exploits, Colonel Craner has won three Silver Stars, the Legion of Merit, four Bronze Stars, two Purple Hearts, the Distinguished Flying Cross, eight Air Medals and the Air Force Commendation Medal.

New Report: 8 October 1980

Full military honors were accorded at Arlington National Cemetery today for Air Force Colonel  Robert R. Craner 47, the Vietnam Prisoner
of War – after whom the former Devlin Street Park in Cohoes is named.

Colonel Craner died suddenly Friday at Arlington County Hospital in Arlington.

Colonel Craner spent nearly six years in a P.O.W. camp after being shot down while on a mission over North Viet Nam in December 1967.  The fighter pilot with the 37th Tactical Flight Wing, PACAF, was released by Hanoi March 14, 1973.  He returned to his hometown amidst much celebration a week later.

March 23, 1973, was declared “Lieutenant Colonel Robert R. Craner Day” in Cohoes.  A motorcade met Colonel Craner and his family at Albany County Airport and proceeded to City Hall for a ceremony, where he was presented a key to the city and other honors. Children were released early from school to greet the returned hero and posters and banners lined the streets.

In 1974, the former Devlin Street Park was renamed in his honor.

Colonel Craner’s numerous medals and awards, included two Purple Hearts, two Silver Stars, the Distinguished Flying Cross and the Bronze Star. In September, he received his most recent medal, the Defense Meritorius Service Medal.

Last month, he returned from overseas to study languages in preparation for his next appointment as Air Force air attache to Honduras. He was studying Russian and Hungarian. Previously, he, was air attache in Budapest, Hungary.

Born in the Orchard section of Cohoes, he was the son of Grace R. Craner of Cohoes and the late Alfred Craner.  A 1950 graduate of Catholic Central High School, he also attended the University of Nevada at Las Vegas and Arizona State University in Tempe and received a degree from Holy Cross College, where he majored in Russian Studies.

In 1953 and received his navigator and pilot training through the Aviation Cadet program. His military career included pilotihg F89 aircraft
in Labrador, F100s in France and Germany and serving as a weapons instructor at Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada.  It was during his second volunteer tour in Southeast Asia that he was shot down.

Survivors, in addition to his mother, include his wife, a son and daughter, a brother, two sisters, and several nieces and nephews.

A full military funeral was scheduled to be held at 2 p.m. today from Fort Meyer Chapel. Internment was to be in Arlington National Cemetery.

Soldier’s experience part of TV movie
12 May 2005

COHOES – Twenty-five years after his death, the five years of brutal torture city native Robert Craner endured as a prisoner of war in Vietnam will be remembered as part of a television movie based on the life of fellow POW Senator John McCain.

The veteran Air Force pilot returned to Cohoes in 1973 to a hero’s welcome.

Craner spent three of his five years as a POW in North Vietnam with McCain, who recently completed his memoir “Faith of My Fathers” that includes memories of Craner.

His return home surprised many friends and relatives who presumed he was killed in action after being out of contact for so many years.
“It was such a big relief for us to find out he was alive and coming home,” said Frank Colaruotolo, who was the president of the Cohoes Common Council when Craner returned home in 1973.

Craner was given a parade, followed by other tributes, including the naming of Craner Park in his honor and for all Americans who sacrificed their lives to defend their country.

“He was a great, mild-mannered guy and a fine military man who was celebrated when he came home,” said Colaruotolo of Craner, who died in 1980 of a heart attack. “A fine example of someone who did things right, sacrificed a lot, but sadly died too young after he came back.”

Craner’s F-100 fighter jet was shot down in 1967 while flying a mission over North Vietnam. He survived the crash but was quickly captured by the enemy and spent his first three years as a POW in solitary confinement. During his imprisonment, Craner spent three years in an isolation cell next to one occupied by McCain. The two prisoners perfected a code to tap messages to each other’s cells and remained close friends until Craner died.

“He was presumed beaten, tortured and probably dead for seven years,” said Craner’s great nephew Philip Sawyer, who owns Walk of Fame Video in Cohoes. “I think a lot of people were inspired by how his enduring so much abuse was a testament to the strength of the human spirit.”

Sawyer, 37, only met Craner once during the Craner Park dedication when he was 7 years old, but says the war hero definitely left an indelible
impression on him to this day.

“He was this really tall, nice man who rubbed my hair and gave me a bear hug,” said Sawyer. “For everything that he’d been through, he still was an incredibly happy man who everyone loved.”

When the movie airs, Sawyer plans to invite friends and family to a showing on his projection television at the video store. “We’ll make a family night out of it. … It’s very significant to us so it will be tough to watch,” said Sawyer. “I know what happened over there, but I’m guessing it will be difficult to visually see the abuse connected to him (Craner).”

The movie, starring Shawn Hatosy (as McCain) and Joe Chrest (as Craner) premieres on May 30 [2005] at 8 p.m. on the A&E Network.

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