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Thursday, February 23, 2012

Never been touched!

Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee. I know that’s not mine, but that single statement describes the guy I’m gonna tell you ‘bout. I can’t portray him any better no matter how hard I try. How else would you start off a boxing story?

It was just after the Summer Olympics of 1976 and Charles Mooney, a soldier assigned to the 530th Supply and Service Battalion, had tried out and was talented enough to win a Silver Medal in the bantamweight division. Upon his return to Fort Bragg, the command was alive with boxers and those wanting to be boxers—they were everywhere.[i] The excitement only grew when the entire US Team was invited and attended a rally on post—everybody seemed to be in the boxing mood.

The call went out for those wishing to try out for battalion and command teams competing at the unit level and hoping to advance all the way to the post championships. Charles Mooney was exempted from the hoop-dé-do; he was spending much of his time with the Gunslinger—the XVIII th Airborne Corps and Ft Bragg Commander—Charlie was in real demand.

The Battalion Chaplain had some boxing experience and volunteered to coach the team. I tried to assist as much as my time would allow—the rigors of command didn’t leave much in the way of free time.

Every gym rat plus a few wantabes showed up for the initial meeting—all eager to get started. Of course there were those that were only looking to avoid whatever they could manage to get away with. One of those looking for the easy way was a supply specialist named Reese who was assigned to the Assistant Chief of Staff for Materials office within the Support Command. Reese was a GRE (gym rat extraordinaire) and continually sought the way around instead of through—he’d do anything, even to the extent of working harder than required to accomplish his daily routine.

At the time, running was our forté so the training to box started almost immediately. Initially training time came after the normal duty day, but the Chaplain wrangled the boss into allowing the team members to train three days a week after morning formations and details were completed. Of course the Sergeant Majors of each command section complained but the Chaplain got his way and the training routine was set.

Lots of heavy bag and light sparing took up the day. Reese seemed to be doing fairly well for himself and his prospects of making the team looked good. The guy was quick if nothin’ else—real quick. I managed to get by and show some command interest in the guys from the Headquarters Company—GIs like interest, no matter the source.

Early on, the Chaplain set up some sparing bouts with the other commands within the Support Command. These generated more interest in what was transpiring than one might imagine. Having a celebrity in the crowd, our Charlie again, didn’t hurt a bit. Our guy Reese did all right for himself as a novice to the sport. Did I mention that he was quick?

Training continued and before long it was time for the battalion level elimination bouts. These were important, both for team points and individual fighter advancement. With only one field house rigged with a boxing ring on the side of Ft Bragg where our units resided, we would have to make do—old WWII barracks buildings don’t allow for much in the way of reconfiguration. Chairs ran along two opposite sides of the ring and barely only standing room on the other sides made for an awkward set-up—we made it work.

Our first challenge came from the Supply & Service battalion and our fighters held their own; three of the five real bouts went into the record in our column. Reese punched his opponent into oblivion with no trouble whatsoever—he is fast! The Supply & Service battalion won the match overall as they took the two bouts that our unit lost and scored unopposed wins in the weight classes that we had no participants in—there being eleven weight classes overall. This was a disappointment to our guys and consoling them with the win facts didn’t make a difference.

The next day they were back into the training routine. The Chaplain decided that the time had come to start cutting boxers and concentrate on those that had the best chance of moving up and on. He set up a round robin internal tournament to decide just who would remain and who would return to their routine duty assignment—he had knuckled under to the command pressure of the everyday task of mission requirements.

Reese took his weight class just as everybody was beginning to expect—I seem to remember mentioning that Reese was fast—you recall that don’t you? The team was cut to twelve members in an attempt to try and cover as many weight classes as possible, even though some classes had multiple contenders in them. Better to be safe because one can never tell what’s around the next corner in mission needs.

Reese was becoming loud and boisterous about his singular talent in finishing off his opponents in the very first round—his hand quickness was trouble for every one of them, even his own team members in training bouts. None of them wanted to get in the ring with him—even the heavyweights.

Up next was the Support Command Championships and the entire team was high as a kite. They still had very little experience but seemed to be unafraid of what was to come. Reese had become the expo-facto team leader and looked up to by all.

The team came through the ordeal with flying colors, wining all five weight classes we entered and scoring enough points to be declared the Support Command Champions.

Then came the word of our next challenge. Ft Bragg was to entertain a box-off with challengers from Camp Lejeune, our Marine neighbors just to the east of us. The guys’ first questions was: “Are we gonna have to fight the Spinks brothers?” Luckily the answer to that for our guys was no. Just like Charlie, they were spending too much time away from the ring to be able to compete. However they were gonna attend and the morale factor just might be too much to overcome. There being few knowledgeable boxing aficionados, I was volunteered to judge many of the bouts—not much of a conflict here; each fight was fairly one-sided.

The night arrived and the bouts started. When all was said and done each post had scored five wins—a draw; a sister kissing if there ever was. Reese had, again, KO’d his opponent in the first round and obtained a standing ovation from the Spinks brothers. There was no touching him.

Next for the team it was back to training because the post championships were the next weekend. Reese was even more motivated to train instead of accomplishing his regular job than ever before. After the unit’s three mile run every morning, Reese would often retrace the route before heading to the gym. He had become fanatical about taking the post championship—nothing else mattered.

Saturday night arrived right on schedule—you probably already guessed that. The entire team was enthused. I was again tapped to judge and eventually lost track of what was happening with the team. I saw much of what was going on but had to remain on my designated judge’s stool most of the evening.

Close to 9:30 PM, Reese’s bout came up and I was again in line to judge. I ask those in charge if this was gonna be a problem and all seemed to agree that I was on the up-and-up—the course was set: Reese in the ring and me on my stool a’watching and a’judging.

The combatants were announced and sent to their corners. The Chaplain gave Reese his pre-bout instructions. Reese looked like he could take on the world. This, as they say, was for all the marbles and Reese looked ready to roll.

The bell rang and the fight was on. Reese hit the other guy with a couple of jabs and he looked startled from both the speed and the thud. They circled and Reese got in a few more jabs plus hook or two. His opponent was staggered just as each before him had been. As the round continued, Reese hit his opponent as often as he desired; the other not getting a lick in anywhere. Three minutes doesn’t last long when you are doing the damage and soon the first round was over. The challenger had not landed a glove and I scored the round 10 to 1 in Reese’s favor. I can’t tell you why I gave the guy the one point. I guess I just thought that he deserved something for the beating he was taking.

As short as three minutes is; I know you realize that the one minute between rounds is even shorter—much too short for the guy taking the punishment.

The second round bell sounded and both fighters made their way to center ring. As soon as they arrived, the challenger started to back away from the coming onslaught. Reese hit him over and over. First jabs, then hooks, an uppercut thrown in here and there and then more bone chilling jabs followed. It was brutal to watch. The guy again lasted the round and looked to be so grateful for the bell and the temporary end of his punishment. I scored this round like the first, 10 to 1—again feeling sorry for Reese’s opponent.

During the between round, I watched the guy in the other corner. It seemed that he was on his way out and wanted desperately to throw in the towel—just so it all could be over. In Reese’s corner the Chaplain was all over Reese. I could hear just a bit of antagonism in his demeanor. Reese had never let a bout get this far. Every fight to date had ended in the first round. Reese bounced, looked confident and nodded his head to end it as soon as possible.

The bell to open the third and final round sounded. Again to center ring, the tapping of gloves and the bout was back on in haste. Reese landed blow after blow throughout the first minute and continued the same pillaging during the second minute. I had no idea why the other guy was still standing. There was nothing to give him any hope that he could continue, much less come out victorious. Another thirty seconds of pounding took place. I just knew that there was no way that the other two judges could have scored the bout any differently than I had—Reese’s opponent had never landed a glove on him.

I snuck a look at the clock—twenty seconds remained. I looked back up just in time to see a roundabout flailing left hand land directly on Reese’s nose. He had finally been touched and the touch was a good one—misdirected and oddly thrown, but good nonetheless. I don’t think his opponent even knew it landed, but Reese did. Twenty seconds or less; he could avoid Muhammad Ali for that long; just twenty seconds and the Post Championship in his weight class was his. Shuffle here, shuffle there; run around if he had too—the points had to be on his side. Ten per round was the max. The bout was his.

Immediately, Reese looked for his corner and in what amounted to a panic, he began to try to get outta his gloves and the ring at the same time. He had never been touched but Reese had finally been hit and he didn’t like it one bit. He raced to the Chaplain who was trying emphatically to encourage him to stay in the ring and last it out. Reese wanting nothing more to do with the sport of boxing climbed through the ropes and exited the area on his way to anywhere but the ring. It was over and his opponent was soon to be declared Champion.

I conferred with the other two judges and they both had similar scores. Had Reese finished the round inside the ring, he would have won the bout.

In any event, the team from Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 1st Corps Support Command won the championship and we were presented the trophy you see below. Reese attended the presentation, but …….

SP4 Reese is looking over the shoulder of PFC Anthony who has the trophy in his hands. The trophy is being presented to the Ft Bragg Boxing Championship Team by COL Elmer D. Pendleton (Commander, 1st Corps Support Command) and being accepted by CPT John Howard Hatfield (Commander of Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 1st Corps Support Command).

[i] The USA had done rather well at the Olympic Games: Flyweight – Leo Randolph – Gold; Bantamweight – Charles Mooney – Silver; Lightweight – Howard Davis – Gold; Light Welterweight – Ray Leonard – Gold; Middleweight – Michael Spinks – Gold; Light Heavyweight – Leon Spinks – Gold; and Heavyweight – John Tate – Gold (Tate defeated by Teófilo Stevenson from Cuba—one of only three boxers to win Gold in three Olympics Games).

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