In the 5 January edition we discussed the Navy appointing former heavyweight champion Gene Tunney to head up their physical fitness routine. On the front page of today’s paper is Jack Dempsey, the man who lost his title to Tunney — and then lost their rematch. 11 years older than the service’s maximum entry age of 35, Dempsey still passed the physical exam and wants to serve as a private. In June 1942 he accepts a commission in the Coast Guard Reserve where he serves as their Director of Physical Education. Cmdr. Dempsey also served aboard troop transports in the Atlantic and Pacific, and he remains in the Reserve until 1952.
Wouldn’t it be fascinating to see a Dempsey-Tunney rematch-by-proxy between their Navy and Coast Guard trainees?
Also on the front page is the sensational Joe Louis, who is nearly five years into his 12-year reign as boxing’s heavyweight champion. Louis will soon enlist in the Army (as does his challenger, Buddy Baer — brother of former heavyweight champ Max Baer), serving in a segregated cavalry unit out of Fort Riley (Kan.). His celebrity status comes in handy on occasion, such as when he helps several black soldiers stationed at Fort Riley whose Officer Candidate School applications were being delayed by their chain of command. One of those soldiers is future baseball legend Jackie Robinson, who would receive his commission in January 1943.
The legendary Sugar Ray Robinson joined the Army along with his friend Louis, and the childhood neighbors would stage boxing expeditions during the war. Rocky Marciano, who would become the heavyweight champion in 1952, was drafted into the Army, involved in shipping supplies across the Atlantic.
James Braddock defeated Max Baer in 1935, becoming heavyweight champ in one of boxings greatest upsets. Braddock enlists in the Army, earning a commission and serving as a hand-to-hand combat instructor in the Pacific Theater.
German boxer Max Schmelling took the heavyweight title from former sailor Jack Sharkey in 1930, who took it back after a 1932 rematch. Max Baer then defeated Schmelling in 1933. Schmelling turned around and upset a then-undefeated Joe Louis in 1936, but lost their celebrated 1938 rematch. He was drafted into the Luftwaffe, where he served as a paratrooper and was wounded during the 1941 Battle of Crete.
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