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Thursday, December 27, 2007

A soldier passes away after a tremendous journey

St. Pete Times reporter Dave Scheiber followed-up on his story - which I posted earlier today - with this sad story:

'He had a blast'
After returning from Hawaii, player, 81, dies from a heart attack.By DAVE SCHEIBER, Times Staff Writer
Published December 25, 2007

ST. PETERSBURG - Karl Sommer journeyed to the Pacific last week for an historic event, a softball game in the name of peace between American and Japanese World War II veterans.

For Mr. Sommer, who fired 40mm guns from Navy amphibious landing crafts carrying U.S. troops, it would be his final mission.

On Saturday, the morning after his return from the five-day trip to Hawaii, the 81-year-old member of the Kids & Kubs softball team died of a massive heart attack in his St. Petersburg home.

"Karl was extremely enthusiastic about the trip," said Marge Sommer, his wife of 56 years. "He had a blast. He thought that the Japanese men were just top notch in the way they handled themselves. The trip meant a tremendous amount to him."

Mr. Sommer, originally from Rochester, N.Y., was a kind and cheery presence throughout the week, and contributed two singles in the 14-2 Kids & Kubs victory last Wednesday.

"He was very excited that they won, and that he'd gotten a couple of hits, but he came home very tired," Mrs. Sommer said.

She insisted that he take a nap after the team returned Friday morning from the long 10-hour flight from Honolulu. She woke up him so he could eat dinner and watch ABC's World News Tonight report on the game, but he soon went back to sleep and awoke early Saturday experiencing low blood sugar related to his diabetes and feeling a tightness in his chest.

At first, the former St. Petersburg police detective insisted he didn't need to go to the hospital. But after his wife helped him raise his blood sugar level, he asked her to take him to the hospital after all. "I said, 'No, I'm calling an ambulance,' "she said.

Mrs. Sommer put her husband on the phone with the dispatcher and went around the house turning on every light so paramedics could find them in the early morning darkness.

She said she could hear her husband on the phone with the dispatcher the entire time. But when they entered the bedroom, the phone was on the floor and he was lying on the bed. "That is how fast it was," she said.

Before he left on his trip to Hawaii, Mr. Sommer talked with the St. Petersburg Times about his life. He was a high school sophomore in Rochester when Japan attacked Pearl Harbor. He told his father, an immigrant who had fought for Germany in World War I, that he wanted to enlist.

"He said in his German accent, 'Karl, this is your country, and if you want to fight for your country, you fight for it."

Mr. Sommer joined the Navy in 1944 and left at the end of the war as a second-class petty officer, later serving in Korea. In addition to working at the St. Petersburg Police Department for nearly 10 years - earning the Ned March Award for exemplary service - he worked for the GTE Yellow Pages. More recently, he has owned a 151/2-acre orange grove near Dade City.

"Other than his diabetes, he's had good health and was very active - one of his friends told me, 'Marge, I was so jealous of Karl because he could always get out there and do everything," Mrs. Sommer said. "He had a tremendous enthusiasm for life."

Mr. Sommer was a regular at Rays games and was an accomplished painter - even creating the Kids & Kubs sign that hangs at the team's field in North Shore Park.

This was Mr. Sommer's sixth year with the team. He was a greeter at the recent team Christmas banquet and was thrilled about playing the team from Japan. "It's about letting other people know that we're all human and filled with respect and dignity toward one another," he said.

Sommer and his wife have two daughters and two grandsons. A service is planned for Jan. 3. Meanwhile, teammates reflected on his passing.

"Karl was a very fine person," said team president Winchell Smith, 88. "He was part of our family and he'll be missed."

"He was proud he made the trip and he loved it," said Irv Abelson, 82, his Kids & Kubs roommate in Hawaii.

His wife put the game with Japan another way:

"I really feel it was one of the best days of his life."

SERVICES: Funeral on Jan. 3

A funeral service will be at 11 a.m. Jan. 3 at Northeast Presbyterian Church, 4400 Shore Acres Blvd. NE, in St. Petersburg.

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