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  • March 29th, 2016

JUST KARL

Retired Marine Corps Colonel J. Karl Miller died on Easter Sunday. He was 80 years old. I didn’t know him as J. Karl – just Karl. Maybe that’s what the J stood for – Just Karl. (actually it was justus)
I knew him longer than any living person except his younger brother Jim.
Karl was a much decorated Marine – wounded in Vietnam, he rose through the ranks and retired as a lieutenant colonel. As is customary, they bumped him up a rank to full colonel in retirement.
Karl grew up on a farm outside Dalton, Missouri – a grease spot on the state map. He was out ranked among the town’s historic citizens only by General Sterling Price, a Confederate officer in the Civil War who had a plantation south of Dalton.
There is a photograph of Karl and me, two gawky teenagers, standing in front of the Dalton Hotel, a ramshack wreck of a onetime hostelry for traveling salesmen off the railroad trains that rumbled through Dalton day and night. I lived in the rambling wreck through high school and into college with no running water and exposure to the outside world through books and the sound from an old Zenith upright radio.
While I listened to St. Louis Cardinals games in the summer nights, Karl was doing the same a few miles away.
We thrilled simultaneously as Harry Carey bellowed “It might be! It could be! It IS! a home run” as Stan the Man Musial lashed a fastball out of the park.
The reason for the photo was that Karl and I were dressed to leave on the train to Chicago to find a summer job between college years. One magic afternoon in Chicago we skipped work for the dairy products company Meadow Gold to go to Wrigley Field where the Cubs were entertaining the Cards. We splurged on box seats directly behind third base, spending a whopping $3.50 to see the Man hit a line drive so hard that it reached the ivy-clad right field wall in about three seconds and rebounded all the way to second base before Musial reached first, robbing him of a double.
While Abner Doubleday allegedly invented baseball, Karl and I can claim credit for inventing “Ladies Home Journal” baseball.
It’s a fairly simple game and lots of fun.
Just be careful not to play it over the lobby of a residential hotel which is what we did. You roll a LHJ tightly as a bat and try to throw a ping pong ball past the batter. There are no bases but many ground rules – a hit against the outside wall is a double, over the couch a foul ball – you pretty much make up the rules as you go.
It got pretty loud with the crashing lunges of the fielder trying to snag a batted ball, loud arguments about “foul!” or “fair!” and shouts of “It might be! It could be! It IS! a home run”.
One night in the middle of a tight game, the phone rang. It was the manager in the lobby who said that if we didn’t shut the hell up, we’d shortly be looking for a new place to live.
Every evening after work we went to a local cafeteria for dinner. We always had a hot beef sandwich because it was cheap ($.90) and the copious portion of mashed potatoes would prevent scurvy.
Karl was my roommate for my sophomore year at the University of Missouri, his freshman year. We would have continued as roomies but Karl got acquainted with a bunch of Tiger football interior linemen and I made the mistake of bringing a Monopoly game to school. Karl invited his massive buddies in to play and I found my bed often occupied by a 250 pound pulling guard. So I spent much of the year studying and sleeping in the dorm lounge. Dislodging those behemoths was impossible.
One night we hiked to The Shack, a local beer joint, immortalized by Mort Walker, creator of Beetle Bailey. We planned to have a glass of Griesedieck Beer ($.10) for each remaining half inning of the Cardinal game already in its late innings – two or three glasses, max. Only trouble was that the game went into extra innings – 10, 11, 12, 13, 14 – and by the time someone won – I have no idea who – we were blasted.
Karl graduated with a shavetail second lieutenant’s gold bar on one shoulder and a Marine Corps patch on the other. I opted for Army ROTC and got assigned to anti-aircraft artillery, learning to shoot at jet planes with 1930’s guns, at the dawn of the guided missile age. Not a useful skill for a would-be writer.
Karl became a career Marine, went to Vietnam and survived the horror of that (or any other) war.
We pretty much lost touch for those years. After he retired, we’d have an occasional lunch or exchange emails – but no more LHJ baseball. Once he went quail hunting with me and I realized he was hurting, a legacy of his war wounds, so I cut the hunt short.
Then he had a stroke which further limited his mobility. From what I know, Karl was an active civic citizen, giving generously of time and money to good causes.
He volunteered to write an op-ed column for The Columbia Missourian, the University’s student newspaper. Karl was an ardent right winger. I started out that way – but veered left into Bernie Sanders territory.
When we got together, we avoided talking politics and stuck to country music and baseball. Now, we’ll never have a chance to argue our differences.
Karl was a friend and one whom I admire. Facebook flooded with tributes to him from friends, family and former Marines. I can only say that if the Marines are looking for a few good men, they found one of the best in Just Karl.
I will miss him every day.

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2 Comments

  1. BONNIE MARCEY

    April 1st, 2016 at 12:33 pm

    Reply

    I DONT KNOW HOW TO USE ALL THESE SOCIAL MEDIA SITES BUT I SENT YOUR BLOG TO AN ONLINE FRIEND WHO LIVES IN MISSOURI. HE WROTE A REPLY AND WANTED YOU TO HAVE IT:

    Joel:

    What a wonderful tribute to a very fine man !! I thank you very much for including me in your circle of friends and JK admirers.

    I’m an old geezer 9-10 years older than JK. I met him via the Podium chat room four or five years ago and was invited to join in “Trivia” a few years later.

    As time went on and I learned more and more about him and his Missouri connections ( I live in Kirkwood ) I became a big fan. I enjoyed the many hours of banter in the “Pod” that helped me amuse and educate myself through the day.

    Three or four years ago, as my driving days dwindled to zero, I was invited to meet JK and Jim Herber for lunch. What fun! The man had a magnetic personality and I became a big fan not only about his intelligence and ability to assess character, but his wonderful wry sense of humor was astonishing.

    I am honored to be included in his vast circle of friends and admirers.

    May God rest his mighty soul.

    Keith P. Williams Sr
    115 N. Ballas Rd
    Kirkwood, Mo 63122
    KIPSR@AOL.COM

    • joelvance

      April 1st, 2016 at 1:20 pm

      Reply

      Karl was a friend and will always be an important part of my life and will loom large in my memories.



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