COLUMN: A curmudgeon's eye view of practically everything

Tuesday, June 22, 2010 | 12:01 a.m. CDT

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

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Ellis Smith June 23, 2010 | 5:53 a.m.

An odd choice of campus. For the same cost but greater study Col. Miller could have chosen the other campus* and earned a REAL degree.

*- There were two campuses then; today there are four campuses.

(Report Comment)
Don Milsop June 23, 2010 | 5:32 p.m.

Mr. Smith, the REAL degree that Colonel Miller earned in his service to his country is something neither you nor any other student will ever achieve in the halls of academia, where common sense and logic are anathema, but tenure trumps all.

(Report Comment)
Gregg Bush June 23, 2010 | 6:22 p.m.

I'm reminded of another friendship - David and Jonathon

(Report Comment)
Don Milsop June 23, 2010 | 7:19 p.m.

John 15:13 Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.

When you have observed this truth put into action multiple times in a single battle, and in multiple battles, and in the case of Colonel Miller, even over years and different conflicts, then you understand the depth of devotion that
our warriors have for one another, and how that translates into respect and understanding that you can read about and understand, but you can't truly touch the depth of what it means.

This is a great story in that regard:

(Report Comment)
Jimmy Bearfield June 24, 2010 | 8:20 a.m.

Don, Ellis actually graduated decades ago from UMR and now spends muc of his retirement here and on the Tribune board -- where he's Joe Miner -- cheerleading ad nauseam for his alma mater.

(Report Comment)
hank ottinger June 24, 2010 | 1:08 p.m.

Mr. Milsop writes, " in the halls of academia, where common sense and logic are anathema, but tenure trumps all."

Pure buncombe.

(Report Comment)
J Karl Miller June 24, 2010 | 8:40 p.m.

Jimmy--Correction, Ellis Smith actually graduated from Missouri School of Mines and Metalurgy as it was known in those days of yore. Unfortunately, I had no authorization for concealed or open carry of a slide rule ergo, Rolla was out of the question for me.

(Report Comment)
Don Milsop June 25, 2010 | 5:06 a.m.

Hank, I'll make my point. I've been out of HS for 42 years, and out of college for over 25 years. A decade plus in the Marines got in the way of my continued education for a while. This civics test would have been easily passed by the average 8th grader 40 years ago:

Here are the results:

And if you scroll down on this website, you'll see the 2007
test results for our colleges on this exam:

Out of school for over 25 years, and I still scored 93+%. And the top graduating seniors out of Harvard didn't make it to even 70% unless you rounded up? That is simply pathetic. It's also an indication that our citizens are not getting a quality education and they are not being taught the basics of democracy in a constitutional republic.

(Report Comment)
Ellis Smith June 25, 2010 | 6:01 a.m.

Good, Karl, I see you took my remarks as they were intended: as a jest. BTW, Metallurgy is correctly spelled with two L's. Some metallurgists have trouble with that too.

For the record (although this may have come up before), I am two years older than you are. (I grew up in a city.) I hope that in a couple of years when you reach my present age you are healthy and still writing columns.

The name University of Missouri-Rolla (UMR) was possibly the biggest mistake in the 140 year history of our campus: the new name, Missouri University of Science & Technology, informs the public and prospective students what goes on there.

[Not certain "Bearfield" is this person's real name.]

(Report Comment)
hank ottinger June 25, 2010 | 10:03 p.m.

Mr. Milsop: aside from the fact that you don't address my wisecrack about your post, your citing of a 2007 study done by a conservative think tank, one which has a record of listing the 50 best books and the 50 worst books of the 20th century (Whittaker Chamber and T.S. Eliot in the former, group; Albert Kinsey, Margaret Mead, and John Dewey in the latter: now there's an open-minded strategy!) does little to convince me. Nor does generalizing from personal experience (yours). Nor is your logic: people acquire knowledge in many ways through many methods, and one's civic engagement cannot be assessed by what grade he or she registers on a "civics test" conjured up by paleoconservatives riled by "political correctness" and haunted by supposed faculty Marxists.

(Report Comment)

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