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Karl Stingl - Personal Communication

Taped interview, 22 August 2005
by Lowell Skoog

Karl Stingl was born in 1922 to German-speaking parents in Kraslice in the Sudetenland of Czechoslovakia. This area had been part of Austria before World War I and it was the first place into which Hitler marched at the beginning of World War II. In 1937, when Karl was just 15, his parents sent him to the United States to live with his father's cousin in Bremerton, Washington. In a soft German accent, Karl recalled, "I was just at the ripe age. They had to go through all kinds of deals [to get me out]. I would have been ripe for the military."

Karl's brother was five years younger. "There was no way to get both of us over [to America] at the time," he recalled. Karl showed me a photo of his brother in a Hitler Youth uniform. "Here's a picture of a bunch of my school buddies after I left," he continued, pointing to another photo. "Most of those guys got killed in the war. I was right at the right age. Those guys... I can't imagine how it would have been, to go through all those different deals. I saw plenty when I was here [in the U.S. 10th Mountain Division]. We were pretty lucky." Karl's brother fought in the German army. "And I was on the other side," he said grimly.

Pre-War Skiing

Karl started skiing as a boy in Czechoslovakia. He competed in jumping and cross-country meets as early as 1933. He didn't take up alpine skiing until he arrived in the United States. Karl remembered jumping at the Beaver Lake hill above Snoqualmie Pass. (He said there were two jump hills there, one on either side of the lake.) One afternoon after jumping he came down to the pass and met Sigurd Hall, Bert Mortensen and Randy Zimmer "who were the hot-shot slalom skiers." Karl ran through their course on Seattle's Municipal Hill, behind the Seattle Ski Club lodge, on his jumping skis. Sigurd Hall and his friends urged Karl to "get some skis that turn" so he did, at George Aaland's shop in Seattle. He returned later to practice with them and before long he could keep up.

Karl showed me clippings and brochures for several pre-war tournaments. The first tournament he entered was at the Snoqualmie Ski Bowl when the Olympian Jump Hill was dedicated. The hill was completed in November 1939 and dedicated on February 22, 1940. It faced east and was located south of where the Hyak chairlifts were later built. (Karl showed me a photo of the hill.) National records were set on the Olympian Hill. Karl recalled that for record attempts they would move the starting point way up the hill, so the jumpers could carry more speed. Jumpers would clear the knoll really high and then drop straight down, much more dangerous than jumping the same distance on hills that were designed for such long jumps. Iron Mountain, MI, Leavenworth, WA, and the Snoqualmie Ski Bowl all wanted the national jumping record. In the Snoqualmie Summit Team Championships on February 15, 1942, Karl won first place ribbons in the jumping, slalom, downhill and men's team events, losing only in the cross-country race.

Karl climbed toward Camp Muir with Sigurd Hall in 1940, the day Hall was killed in the Silver Skis race. Karl ran in the junior race held the following day. He climbed with Hall to McClure Rock, the starting point for the junior and women's events, to check out conditions and skied down from there. He remembered that Hank Seidelhuber and another guy came down from Camp Muir before the race started. "They quit because you couldn't see nothing," Karl recalled. "They were smart." Sigurd Hall's aggressive run and his fatal crash "surprised the heck out of everybody." Karl organized a lot of races after the war and said he would have postponed the 1940 Silver Skis to the next day. "But it was a heck of a climb to get guys up there," he remembered. In 1941, when he was 19, Karl foreran the Silver Skis men's course. Bill Taylor won the race after taking a fall. Karl ran without falling and suspected that he could have won the race that year.

The Bremerton Ski Cruisers and the Shelton ski club built the Flapjack Lakes Cabin in the Olympic Mountains before World War II. Karl skied at the cabin a number of times after it was built by others. Mt Gladys was the main ski destination above the cabin. Elvin R. (Bob or "Swede") Johnson took Karl under his wing in Bremerton and introduced him to skiing and climbing in the Olympics. Johnson was later a ski coach in Wenatchee and at Whitman College. There were no big mountains in Europe where Karl grew up, so he learned to climb in the United States. He recalled that it was a four mile hike from the road-end at the Staircase Ranger Station to Flapjack Lakes. (The map shows about seven miles.) Carrying skis, a pack, and a sleeping bag made this a strenuous trip.

One Christmas Eve they skied and hiked out from the cabin to the Staircase Ranger Station and could not get their car started. They hiked to a CCC camp just above Hoodsport in their ski boots. One fine spring morning they left the door of the cabin open and a skunk came in. Bob Johnson had heard that if you grabbed a skunk by the tail and tossed it quickly it couldn't get you. He tried this and got away with it the first time. But the skunk came back. Johnson tried the trick again and this time the skunk got him. Karl and his friends made Johnson hike out behind them back to the car and they put him in the rumble seat for the drive home. Karl had a few photographs of the Flapjack Lakes area on winter. He said he donated pictures of skiing at Hurricane Ridge to the Olympic ski club in Port Angeles.

Karl's scrapbook had a brochure for the Golden Rose Ski Tournament at Mt Hood on June 12, 1949. The race was inaugurated in 1936. In 1949, the starting point was near 10,000 feet, just below Crater Rock. The finish line was near 7,000 feet at the head of the ski lift. The course was 1.9 miles long at an average grade of 24 degrees. A limited number of control gates were placed to define the course. Racers started at one-minute intervals and were timed through short-wave radio control at the start and finish. Past champions were listed:

1936, Boyd French
1937, Hjalmar Hvam
1938, Lewis Davis
1939, Cliff Blann
1940, Olaf Rodegaard
1946, Gene Gillis
1947, Gene Gillis
1948, Dick Irvin and Don Johnson (tied)

1938, Gretchen Fraser
1939, Dorothy Hoyt
1940, Marianne Hill
1946, Gretchen Fraser
1947, Gretchen Fraser
1948, Ruth Goodrich

10th Mountain Division

When the 87th Mountain Infantry Regiment was training at Paradise in the winter of 1941-42, they would have Saturday night dances. The local girls would drive up from Seattle and Tacoma. A guy would play guitar, and a handful of soldiers would sing ski troop songs. Karl was not in the army at this time but he knew about the mountain troops and wanted to sign up. Since he was not yet a citizen, he couldn't enlist, but he could be drafted. He got letters of recommendation from Olav Ulland and Allan Granstrom. Once he got drafted, those letters helped him get into the 87th Regiment. He was in the first group to occupy Camp Hale, Colorado, after it was completed.

Karl went to Kiska with the 87th and was in the second landing craft to hit the island. Five men in his company were killed the first night. He felt partly responsible for it. The battalion command post was moved after dark and when it got light again, people noticed that "all of a sudden somebody was over there that wasn't over there before. It must be the Japanese," he recalled. So they started shooting at each other. Karl and Dev Jennings (a 1948 U.S. Olympian) were sent to bring men from the front line back for support. "I told them that the battalion CP had been attacked by Japanese in large numbers, and watch out for infiltrators." Then he went over the hill to tell the mortar squad. He went to his company command post for a while, but not much was going on there. When he decided to head back to his foxhole, "all hell broke loose. Everybody started shooting at me. They thought I was the infiltrator."

It was unusual to have so many people killed from small arms fire. In Italy they lost a lot of men, but it was usually from artillery. On Kiska it was strictly rifle fire. "There was a heck of a lot of shooting going on," Karl said. In the fog, everything seemed to move. A man in front of him was killed when the shooting began yet Karl remembered, "There was no doubt in my mind that he waved at me" after he died. "It was spooky."

Back at Camp Hale, Karl taught skiing and participated in the D-Series war games. His group played the enemy. "We made the division commander look awfully doggone silly," Karl recalled. Their unit could see patrols coming up the hill and they'd wait for each one and pick them up as prisoners. Karl's group simulated raids that blew up bridges and so on. The maneuvers were supposed to stop earlier, but due to problems like these, the commanders kept them going.

Karl was injured during the battle for Castel d'Aiano, the same place where U.S. Senator Robert Dole was wounded. Karl and others had delivered some radios and were riding in a Jeep at night. The Americans shined lights at the sky to illuminate the clouds so vehicles could drive around without their lights on. Suddenly, Karls's Jeep flipped over. He didn't know if it had been hit or not. "Things just happened," he said. The driver was thrown clear and Karl was pinned underneath. Several guys helped free him and some aid men put him on a stretcher. "Then the shells started coming in pretty thick," he recalled "and all the aid men disappeared. I was laying on the stretcher, maybe a few inches off the ground. That was too high! I crawled off the stretcher to get lower. You can't imagine that kind of stuff..." Karl had broken a shoulder blade and was sent to the hospital. By the time he returned to his outfit, the war was over.

Post-War Skiing

Karl taught skiing at Sun Valley and tried out for the U.S. Olympic Team in 1947. He didn't make the team and taught skiing at Aspen in 1948 instead. He was a top competitor for about four years after the war and took second in the national four-way championships in about 1950.

In the 1947 Silver Skis race, Karl lost to Bill South by just a fifth of a second. That always bothered him, because he recalled that they didn't use radios for timing, just synchronized watches at the start and finish. He thought the race should have been called a tie. The officials changed the finish from the normal place in Edith Creek Basin to a spot near Alta Vista, just below Panorama Point. Don Amick headed for the wrong place and never crossed the finish line, but nonetheless was awarded third place. Amick skied for the Washington Ski Club, which co-sponsored the Silver Skis. He was a local favorite for the 1948 U.S. Olympic Team.

Buster Campbell was the University of Washington ski team coach for a few years immediately after the war and Karl was his assistant one year. Karl became the U.W. coach in 1951 and continued there until 1968. In the summer he did carpentry work. He also worked as a rigger for the U.W. crew for a few years. Karl and Buster Campbell competed against each other in junior four-way meets. Buster usually won the cross-country race and Karl usually won the jumping event. Karl was a charter member of the Kongsbergers Ski Club.

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Last Updated: Wed Aug 24 20:27:15 PDT 2005