I am forever trying to catch up with myself, cleaning off my ultra messy desk or some such. Story of my life! This time I find a folded up front page of the St. Louis Post Dispatch for 11/14/22, an issue with looks back to things Veterans of course. The first page headline that day was "This veteran's story is about more than war." There is a 5" x 7" color photo under the headline which shows Udell's portrait photo in uniform, the flag from his funeral and no fewer than 9 medals/awards. The sub-title is "Udell Cambers hit .325 in the minors, then died in Vietnam". The first line of text is "His name was destined to be on a baseball card, but it ended up on a tombstone first." Udell had siblings in other classes, Ted and Larry in our class for example. You may remember them as singers. Udell signed with the Atlanta Braves soon after graduation. In 1967 he hit .325 for their Class A affiliate. In 100 games he hit 13 homers, stole 28 bases. OPS was .952. "He was drafted that fall and dead by summer." In Feb. 1968 he was assigned to the 1st Infantry Div., 1st Battalion, 7th Field Artillery Regiment arriving in Viet Nam during the Tet Offensive. On June 21, 1968 the Atlanta Braves played in St. Louis against the Cardinals; that is the day Udell died.
Folks from Meacham Park would flock to Kirkwood to watch him play. He hit homers at Turner School, fans wondered how he could play so well, only 5' 8" and 150 pounds but so nimble, and humble. There were 7 children, and while not wealthy, sister Josephine is quoted as saying "With the small amount of money, we never saw a hungry day. We never really knew we were poor." Udell signed for $500 per month and had dreams of buying his parents a house someday. Udell left a legacy for KHS though, his great niece played softball for KHS, she wore #19, Udell's number too. Sadie drew a U in the dirt each time she stepped up to bat. She later played for St. Louis U and finished her career this past season, one of the best ever to play for the Billikens. In 2020 she set the school record for batting average, .438. In 2022 she made third-team All Region. Her father is Mike Wise, the son of Udell's late sister Mardell. I love the close of the article, which I have paraphrased for brevity, by Benjamin Hochman of the PD staff, "[Sadie's grandmother, Udell's mom] would love to watch Sadie play...she would say that Sadie reminded her of Udell because they could both dominate during the game but were very humble and unassuming as soon as the game was over." Another wonderful, notable Kirkwoodian, gone too soon. And yet another veteran gone in that awful war. War is such a terrible thing. Perhaps if older men, politicians, military gurus, etc. were the ones being drafted, rather than the youth of the world, war would become more unpopular! Udell is buried at Jefferson Barracks; next time you're there you can easily look up his location and pay your respects.
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