Among the millions of war heroes who will be commemorated in America on Tuesday November 11 is one of the greatest boxers who ever lived.
Joseph Louis Barrow – as he was born in Lafayette, Alabama 100 years and six months ago – was not killed in action.
Indeed, he did not see combat during World War II despite being a private in the army.
Joe Louis at Camp Upton in 1942 just after enlisting in the US Army (left) and in London in 1944
They do things a little differently over there. This is not Remembrance Day in the US.
Memorial Day, the last Monday in May, is when they pay specific tribute to those who have made the ultimate sacrifice.
November 11 is Veterans’ Day, when they honour all past members of the military.
And Joe Louis did his bit for country even though he never fired a bullet in anger.
Not that the Brown Bomber, as he was also known, was unwilling to go to the front.
Exactly one month after America declared war on Japan, following the attack on Pearl Harbour, the heavyweight champion of the world walked into an army camp near New York to voluntarily enlist as a private.
When told by the clerk to state his occupation, Louis responded: ‘Fighting… them Japs.’
A trickier question came from fellow African-Americans who asked why he was joining the then-racially segregated US army.
Again he had the answer: ‘Lots of things wrong with America – but Hitler ain‘t gonna fix ‘em.’
Louis shakes the hand of a taxi driver during his trip to London in 1944
Shrewdly, the authorities perceived that for all his physical courage his greater value would be recruiting more black soldiers, who made an important contribution and suffered numerous casualties.
Among those who followed him into uniform was Jackie Robinson, the young baseball slugger whose subsequent signing by the Brooklyn Dodgers broke that sport’s six-decade colour barrier.
The impact of Louis on race relations in the US was even more profound.
The remark about Hitler made him a driving force for anti-Nazi sentiment across all sections of society there and strengthened support for the decision to enter the war.
Then a widely distributed recruitment poster (right) helped him become America’s first non-white national hero.
It showed ‘Pvt. Joe Louis’ saying: ‘We’re going to do our part… and we’ll win because we’re on God’s side.’
In company with another ring legend, Sugar Ray Robinson, Louis travelled to Europe and the Far East, raising troop morale in the course of 96 exhibition fights watched by a combined two million soldiers.
American’s latent resentment of a black man holding the supreme world title – and not only that being acclaimed as the greatest heavyweight champion of his and all previous eras – evaporated. He became a sought-after celebrity.
The tax-man was not so forgiving. Louis received not one dime of the 90,000 dollars he generated for the war effort with a series of fund-raising bouts.
Nevertheless the Inland Revenue Service added that amount to his income……and to the $500,000 tax assessment already demanded despite his handlers milking all but an estimated $800,000 from his purses totalling more than $6 million.
Louis returned to the prize-ring in 1946, having to fight for the money as well as the glory, and was fiscally obliged to make a come-back after one retirement. The end came with an eighth round KO by Rocky Marciano – only his third loss in 70 fights – at the conclusion of a severe beating in Madison Square Garden.
He was to admit that the financial stress drove him to drugs and his last years were difficult.
Louis (left) hands out a severe beating to a bloodied Arturo Godoy at Yankee Stadium in New York in 1940
When Louis died in 1981, aged just 66, Ronald Reagan decreed he should be buried at the Arlington National Cemetery, with full military honours.
On November 11 in Great Britain and the Commonwealth, we bow our heads in respect for the fallen.
We know, also, that service takes many forms. Joseph Louis Barrow did his part.
At a time when it became fashionable to say that the Brown Bomber was a credit to his race, renowned New York Post sports reporter Jimmy Cannon wrote thus: ‘Yes, Joe Louis is a credit to his race… the human race.’
Had he been born this side of the Atlantic, he would have worn his poppy with pride.
There could be life in ‘Alien’ Hopkins yet despite his Krushing
There is a clamour for Bernard Hopkins to retire following Saturday night’s loss of his world light-heavyweight title to Sergey Kovalev, just two months short of his 50th birthday.
After all, he was knocked down in the first and lost the ensuing 11 rounds as well to end up on the wrong end of a whitewash decision in Atlantic City.
Bernard Hopkins (left) gets hit by Sergey Kovalev of Russia during the third round of The Alien’s defeat
The Alien – as he calls himself in reference to his phenomenal athletic condition for a human of his age – went the distance with the Russian who knocks out almost everyone he fights and is therefore dubbed ‘Krusher.’
Nathan Cleverly – the decades younger Welshman who is among those who have been ‘Krushed’ – returns to the ring to face British rival Tony Bellew in Liverpool on Saturday week.
Hopkins gave a more distinguished account of himself and could call it quits with great distinction, as the oldest world champion ever. So it his decision, alone, if he chooses make further history as a title challenger at 50.
Can The Alien can achieve another first? That of fighting on extra-terrestrial television.
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