By the time this column appears, this sometimes-humble correspondent will have reached the age of 75.
Not being a collector or a fan of "Antique Road Show," I am uncertain as to whether 75 is the threshold of antiquity or merely the induction as a primitive — nevertheless, getting here has been one heck of a ride.
Being born during the Great Depression and growing up during World War II were hard, but since no one we knew had money we never realized we were poor. Raised a farm boy, my memories include hard work, growing most of our own food, milking cows, caring for livestock, wearing shirts made from feed sacks and hand-me-down clothing, cutting and splitting firewood and driving horses and mules.
Consequently, I am often amused by the various environmental groups extolling the virtues of consuming less, doing without and demonizing fossil fuels. We did without electricity until 1947 — we used solar heat for bath water and wind power to pump water and to charge a battery for our radio, our "facilities" were outdoors and neither heated nor cooled and I walked two miles both ways to a one-room school. It was a great learning experience but one I am not anxious to repeat. I was "green" before green was cool.
By today's standards, the application of K-12 education must appear primitive, particularly in the lower grades and in rural one-room schools. I suppose we were disadvantaged. Instead of computers and calculators, we made do with Big Chief tablets, No. 2 pencils, crayons, rulers and protractors. Despite these considerable deficiencies, we learned to read, write, add, subtract and even do long division and multiplication tables. Civics and the functions of the three branches of government were deemed important also — I see little evidence of that today.
Among my most enjoyable years were 1953 to 1957, spent here at the university. While earning degrees in political science and history, I learned to play bridge (often at the expense of attending class); worked as a referee for A. J. Stankowski, director of intramural athletics; became a die-hard Tiger; frequented such dens of iniquity as Andy's Corner and the Shack; and combed the old Central Dairy in search of a suitable companion for watching the Hinkson Creek submarine races.
The recent near divorce and subsequent reconciliation in the Big 12 brought back memories of conference affiliations for Missouri sports. I was on board for MU's first national champions, the 1954 baseball team coached by John "Hi" Simmons. That was the era of the Big 7 Conference or, as it was known jokingly as, "Oklahoma and the Little Six." The 1958 addition of Oklahoma State changed the official name to the Big 8; however, to many it became "Oklahoma and the Seven Dwarfs" — Oklahoma was a power among us also-rans.
Graduation was a joyous yet uncomfortable experience. June 7, 1957, was a hot day on Francis Quadrangle — there were no separate air-conditioned facilities, but instead it was an alfresco experience on stage. The discomfort was incurred by those becoming commissioned officers in the armed forces; a cap and gown worn over a "Class A" uniform was not far removed from a sauna. We took the oath of office dripping wet.
Looking back, nearly half my life was spent as a United States Marine, 30-plus years of active duty and five as commandant for the Marine Military Academy. And, if I could live my life over, I would do the same — except I might duck a bit quicker a time or two.
I signed on in search of travel and adventure and was never disappointed. I was privileged to command infantry units from platoon to regimental level and a Marine barracks with nuclear weapons security. I served five years as liaison officer to Congress, and I got to visit every continent save for Antarctica.
During that time of service, which included many months of cruising the high seas, nearly three years in "harm's way" and 17 change-of-station moves, I met my wife and we had three sons. Each time the situation offered, whether leave/vacation between duty stations or following two retirements, we returned to Columbia, a place we have happily called home since 1992. We have never regretted becoming contributing members of this community.
In final reminiscence, reaching this pinnacle is a little short of miraculous. I survived such impending catastrophes as carrying a jackknife; owning a BB gun at 8 and a rifle at 10; riding in the back of a pickup truck; playing unsupervised in barns, on playgrounds and in the streets; bicycling sans helmets; swimming in ponds and creeks; and shooting off real fireworks. Before the food police, who knew of the lethal properties of sweets, soda, salt, red meat, popcorn and all those tasty treats now nominated for taxation to save us from ourselves?
Government does have an important role to play in our lives; however, legislating common sense, responsibility, thought, ambition or herd behavior is not a part. The mother bird pushes the fledgling from the nest when it is time to fly solo — do we really want to return to that nest as mere wards of a benevolent government?
J. Karl Miller retired as a colonel in the Marine Corps. He is a Columbia resident and can be reached via e-mail at JKarlUSMC@aol.com.