John Kremer, lying in the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Maryland, his left leg gone, the casualty of the war, never lost his humor as he discussed with his father the future of his right leg.
“I was a mess,” the elder John Kremer admitted.
His son was more a comic.
After consulting with the medical staff, it was concluded the best move was to remove Kremer’s badly damaged right leg in hopes of improving his survival chances and speed his recovery.
Then he dropped this bomb on his father: “You want a toe?”
“I’m taking the big toe,” his son said. “You want one?”
Armed with that grit and equal determination, Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Kremer has continued fighting since he lost both of his legs below the knee in Afghanistan after he stepped on a land mine in 2010 while clearing an area for the Army. He was awarded a purple heart.
Kremer, who went into the Navy as a hull technician, worked his way through dive school and then explosive ordinance disposal school. He served three tours in Iraq before getting orders to Afghanistan.
His daughter, Adalyn Olivia Kremer, was born 12 days before his accident, and Kremer, a 2002 Franklin High School graduate, set a goal: Walk before his daughter.
“He did, too,” said his father, who retired from the Navy in 2001 after 20 years.
By December of 2010, he learned to walk unassisted — no canes, crutches or wheelchairs — on two prosthetics. He began running in February, then skydiving. He completed a 10K race at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Fairborn one year to the day after his injury.
Now, Kremer, an outstanding high school wrestler who qualified for three state tournaments, is a member of the U.S. men’s sitting volleyball team that’s competing in the Paralympic Games in Rio de Janeiro.
Some of Kremer’s career highlights include participating in the 2016 ParaVolley Intercontinental Cup, where he started all six matches, winning a silver in the 2015 Pan American Games and placing fifth in the Sarajevo Open.
He also was named the 2015 U.S.A. Volleyball Male Sitting Most Improved Player.
Kremer is one of the five military veterans on the 12-man roster.
His father calls him “a remarkable man.”
Then he added a line that every child would love to hear: “I wish I could be like that.”
Kremer, his wife, Gabrielle, and their daughter live in Buford, Ga.
His father still remembers being at the hospital with his wife, watching the dismembered soldiers in the hallways. He said people always talk about those killed in war. Those severely injured also need to be recognized, he said.
“These kids are, well, they’re tough,” Kremer said through tears. “I remember them saying, ‘This ain’t going to get me down.’”
His son is the same way.
“He doesn’t quit,” his father said. “He has a drive; a good man. He’s never been a quitter. I guess that was the way he was raised.”
John Kremer, 32, and his two sisters, Jessica, 35, and Jemma, 28, moved continuously as children because their father was in the military. They lived in California, Texas and Seattle, before settling in Franklin when John was a freshman.
While in Seattle, Kremer “fell in love” with helicopters and the Navy’s explosive ordinance disposal program, his father said.
Kremer, 53, a maintenance worker at AK Steel, said one night while out with some buddies he ran into his son’s Navy recruiter. He yelled across the bar, blaming the recruiter for his son losing his legs.
“The place got quiet,” Kremer said.
Then he went up to the man, and they hugged.
Apparently a sense of humor runs in the family.