Robert Duane Karl, 85; Navy Veteran and Involved Citizen

April 07, 2005

On his 61st wedding anniversary and a few short weeks after turning 85, Robert Duane Karl, a 39-year resident of Pacific Palisades, passed away at his home after a long and valiant battle with a brain tumor.

Robert was born at home on March 18, 1920 on a farm near Aberdeen, South Dakota, one of five children of Arthur and Emma Karl. His German grandparents had homesteaded when Dakota was still a territory. Robert grew up with love for his parents and good times with his sisters, Dorothy and Eleanor, and brothers, Lincoln and Wilfred.

In Aberdeen, Robert attended Central High School and, while attending Northern Normal and Industrial School, developed a keen desire to attend the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis. By passing a rigorous entrance examination, he obtained an Academy appointment in 1939 and graduated as a naval ensign in 1942.

His first naval assignment was to Notre Dame as a 'V-7' instructor, after which he attended several Fleet schools, including Fire Control in Anacostia, Maryland. While there, he met the love of his life, Alice Morris Elmore. It was love at first sight! Simultaneously, he was assigned to the commissioning crew of the USS Sigsbee at the Brooklyn, N.Y. shipyard. He maintained contact with Alice by frequent trips on the Pennsylvania Railroad.

As a member of fire control on the Sigsbee, Robert supervised loading of ammunition at Buzzard's Bay, Maine, followed by training at Casco Bay and 'shakedown' at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Returning to Brooklyn, his marital discussions with Alice became more serious but were interrupted by the Sigsbee's deployment to the Pacific Theater.

The Sigsbee's first contact with the Japanese came during a raid on Marcus Island, a low, isolated island in the northwest Pacific. This was followed by a 'screen action' at Wake Island, fire assistance at the invasion of Tarawa, pre-invasion bombardment of Kwajalein and fire support at Kavieng, New Ireland.

When the Sigsbee returned to Hawaii for replenishment, Robert applied to become a naval aviator. Enroute to flight school in Dallas, Texas, he detoured to Washington, D.C., where he seized the opportunity to 'tie the knot' with Alice on April 5, 1944. His marriage endured but his flight training was short-lived owing to an overabundance of aviation candidates, and he was transferred to another destroyer, the USS Sproston. As Fire Control Officer, Robert participated in many naval actions, including the Battle of Leyte Gulf, fire support of landings in the Philippines and bombardment in support of the occupation of Okinawa.

At Subic Bay, in the Philippines, Robert learned that his brother Lincoln was tragically killed when an American submarine accidentally torpedoed a Japanese ship carrying American prisoners of war.

While under way to Eniwetok, Caroline Islands, the Sproston came under attack by enemy submarines. Lt. Robert Karl, manning a 5' gun battery, sank a midget submarine that was preparing to launch a torpedo at the Sproston.

Following Japan's surrender, Robert became commanding officer of the USS Sproston as it entered the reserve fleet. His post-war assignments included MIT, where he earned a master's degree in naval engineering in 1949; Portsmouth Shipyard, where he gained experience with the construction of new ships; SURFPAC in Honolulu, where he was responsible for the repair of major combatant ships bound for Korea; Newport News, Virginia, where, as a design superintendent, he was a leader in the construction of two nuclear-powered carriers, the Forrestal and the Ranger; and, finally, to the Bureau of Ships in Washington until 1964.

In his 25 years of naval service, Robert's decorations included American Defense, Asiatic-Pacific (7 stars), Philippine Liberation Ribbon (2 stars), and National Defense Medal.

Upon retirement, the Karls settled in Pacific Palisades in 1966 and became members of the Parish of Saint Matthew. Robert then commenced a 21-year career with the International Marine Oil and Development Company, supervising the construction of ship-to-shore oil delivery systems in Mexico, China, Singapore, Austria, New Zealand, Nigeria and Tanzania. He retired as a vice president in 1985.

In retirement, Robert enjoyed hunting for elk, deer and pheasant with his brother, Willie, in South Dakota and fishing trips to British Columbia and Alaska. Occasionally, he would deep-sea fish off Santa Monica Bay.

Robert, a gracious and loving person, believed in 'giving something back' to the community in which one lives. He was president of the Will Rogers Cooperative Association, president of the Masonic Service Bureau; active in American Legion Palisades Post 283; three times Master of Riviera Masonic Lodge 780; and a member of Al Malaikah Shrine, the Los Angeles Valley of the Scottish Rite and the Bay Cities Shrine Club.

In addition to his cherished wife, Alice, Robert is survived by son Robert, Jr., of Bellevue, Washington; daughters Betty of Davis, California, and Krys of Ramstein, Germany; four grandchildren; three great-grandchildren; sisters Dorothy and Eleanor; and brother Wilfred.

A service celebrating Robert's life will be held at 1 p.m. on Saturday, April 9, at Gates, Kingsley, 1925 Arizona St. in Santa Monica. Afterwards, a reception will be held at the Masonic Center, 926 Santa Monica Blvd. Donations in his memory may be made to a favorite charity.

And now, this young sailor, weary from battle yet steadfast in duty to family and nation and the responsibilities of his long and demanding life, this gentle brother of the Greatest Generation, has found his way home. Robert has 'stowed his oars.'


Webmaster's Notes, from DD-502 Deck Logs: Ensign Robert Duane Karl, USN, was aboard the the USS Sigsbee DD-502 January 23, 1943 when the ship was placed in Commission by the Commandant of the Third Naval District at New York Navy Yard, Brooklyn, NY. He was promoted to Lt (jg) May 22, 1943. After serving one year, one month and twenty one days on board the USS Sigsbee DD-502, Lt. (jg) Robert Duane Karl, USN, was detached March 14, 1944, at Havana Harbor, Efete, New Hebrides Islands.

Billy Roberts

Obituary courtesy of Max Taves, Staff Writer, Palisadian-Post, Pacific Palisades, CA