Sylvester Ramacher poses with his three hats from his years in three branches of the military — the Marine Corps, Navy and Army Reserves. Village Life photo by Julie Samrick

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Saluting local veteran Sylvester Ramacher

By From page A1 | November 08, 2017

El Dorado Hills resident Sylvester Ramacher, 85, has done something few have — he served in three branches of the military. He enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps during the Korean War, then the Navy and finally the Army Reserves, embracing the experiences that have shaped him into the man he is today.

Born in 1932 in Saint Paul, Minn., Ramacher is one of three children born to a mother who “was very Irish” and a father who “was very German,” he explained. He enlisted in the Marines when he was 18, a move that would bring him out West. He served from 1950 to 1954 as an anti-aircraft machine gunner. During a recent interview he recalled being stationed in Korea at the same time as legendary Boston Red Sox left-fielder Ted Williams and as the first American to orbit the Earth, John Glenn. “They were both fighter pilots,” Ramacher recalled.

After completing his service, Ramacher was laid off from a job and quickly decided to enlist again. “I joined the Navy to travel,” he said. “I dreamed about going to the Mediterranean.”

He served in the Navy from 1956 until 1960, stationed in the Pacific, Asia and eventually on the West Coast onshoreduty and then as a cook. “My cousin told me that being a cook would give me the best liberty and the best promotions,” Ramacher said, adding with a wink, “I never did get a promotion.

“When Vietnam came along I was dumb enough to think I’d like to do that,” he continued. He began practicing martial arts in 1963, thinking it might be useful should he go to Vietnam.

“I wasn’t accepted because I already had a family, but I wanted to go,” Ramacher said. So, he joined the Army Reserves in California, where he served until 1966.

Asked why he kept returning to military service, Ramacher replied, “I liked the brotherhood.” He said he often wished he’d stayed long enough to retire, “but that’s the way it goes.”

He worked for the U.S. Post Office and then made his career as a corrections officer with the Department of Corrections between 1965 and 1997. He worked at Folsom State Prison for 24 years, until 1989, and then spent eight years at Pelican Bay. He moved back to the greater Sacramento area, to El Dorado Hills with his wife Phyllis, nearly two years ago.

He has three adult children, one son and two daughters, and many grand- and great-grandchildren. Serving in the military is a family tradition too. Ramacher’s son served on a Naval aircraft carrier and now his son’s two daughters serve as well. “They are all on aircraft carriers in the Navy,” Ramacher said proudly.

His early desire to practice martial arts in the early 1960s would be life-changing. He practiced karate for 55 years and studied other martial arts as well. He holds a fifth-degree black belt in American Kenpo and was the Senior Olympics Grand Champion twice, most recently in 2003 when Ramacher was 71 years old. In 1975 he was granted the Presidential Sports Award from President Gerald Ford. For many years, Ramacher owned a martial arts school in Crescent City. Today he works out at a gym three days a week and practices stick fighting three days a week.

“All of the things I love to do have to do with the Asian way of life,” Ramacher explained, but said he isn’t quite ready for Tai Chi, calling it “too slow.”

He’s also a talented pen and ink artist. He shared his award-winning drawing “Home by Christmas,” a depiction of his life during the Korean War and General MacArthur’s famous words at Thanksgiving in 1950, during what seemed like a turning point in the war, that MacArthur hoped would “get the boys home by Christmas.”

The advancements he’s seen in technology amaze Ramacher most. He said things have come a long way since he used to visit his grandparents’ house, where there was no electricity and he’d take his weekly bath on Saturday nights in a galvanized steel tub. He doesn’t own a computer and just recently got a cell phone. “They’ve done a lot of good, but also a lot of damage,” he said of the ubiquitous devices.

Asked about the recent NFL National Anthem boycott, Ramacher was unfazed. “That story will be a little dot in history that no one will remember,” he said.

He’d prefer talking to people in person and enjoys spending nearly every weekday at the Gilmore Senior Center telling “interesting stories” with other veterans. “I sit at the BS table,” he joked.

Ramacher is a lifetime member of Veterans of Foreign Wars, the Marine Corps League and the Minnesota Korean Veterans. Of his years in the military, Ramacher said his first years in the Marine Corps were the most life-changing to him, saying, “I was gung-ho.”

Julie Samrick

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