Saturday, April 14, 2018

Don B Snyder. Part 9: Army Boxing

Climbing My Family Tree: Don B Snyder
Don B Snyder

This is Part 3 of a 13-part blog series sharing my Grand-uncle Don’s life story, in his own words, via an autobiography sent to me by Don’s grandson, Ron Oldfield, after Ron stumbled across one of my prior posts about his grandfather. It is shared with the permission of both of Don’s children and Ron Oldfield. [Note – Anything in brackets with green type is my added explanation of something in Don’s text.]

Don’s story: 

Part 9: Army Boxing

I told about boxing on an athletic show. Later I won a golden gloves [boxing title] in Findlay, Ohio. After that, I was a runner-up at a 16 county meeting in Toledo, Ohio. A close decision. Next, I started fighting on the various cards in various towns. These were all ‘main goes’. I won most of them, I think I might have lost two, plus a few draws.

Climbing My Family Tree: Snyder, Headline from the Findlay Republican Courier, 1938
Headline from the Findlay Republican Courier, 1938
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In the army, they started a boxing tournament in the division (12 to 20,000 men). I wasn’t interested as I didn’t have a chance, or so I thought. Another guy in our company was going in on the novice part. I thought “why not?” I had little to lose. We trained at the division headquarters. I saw guys jumping rope beautiful, others hitting the light bag in perfect timing. Boy, did I make a mistake? I could hit the heavy bag, as I had made one at home. They had me work out with one of the guys. He was easy. Another time working out and he wasn’t up to par. I had heard of ‘gym fighters’, looked excellent but couldn’t fight. These fellows came from all over the country.

In the tournament, I fought two guys. Then I fought a guy from Philadelphia. I heard he won the division championship at Madison Square Gardens in New York. I beat him. Later they said two boxers in the other weights didn’t show so we’d have the championships the next week. I had already beat him and I should have been the champion, not so. I said I’d fight him again. This time also, I felt I’d done it again. But he got the title, pictures, etc. I think there was some shenanigans but I don’t know. The enlisted man in charge was from his regiment. I later heard our battalion commander had canceled all passes and marched them all to see me fight.

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Anyways the captain in charge of the team wanted me to still fight with the team against the other camps. I don’t think the champ ever fought after that. Anyways I said ok. McClellan Air Base came to our base to fight. At our camp in Livingston, Louisiana, I stopped mine in the second round. Later we went to their base to fight. I had what the camp paper called an unorthodox style. My style was best for me. I first learned to box as a stand-up fighter, throw a punch, block the others. In-fighting requires one to slip and bob and weave and counterpunch as they were coming in. I was built for in-fighting, as I was short and strong. I had been drinking the night before and felt I shouldn’t fight. I told the captain and he said ok. But he told me to put my trunks on. I asked him why and he said it would look better if we had more boxers. I said to myself “why not, even if I was not fighting?” This is funny. The captain must have had this all planned. When it came to the light weight’s turn he looked at me and said: “O.K. Snyder, get in there.” I said, “no, you said I didn’t need to!” Then he said, “get him, guys.” It must have been planned as four guys picked me up bodily and carried me feet first to the ring and shoved me in with me yelling “no, no!” The crowd was laughing and I thought “what the hell, why not?” So I laughed too and said ok. I wondered later what in the world was my opponent thinking, seeing this. Anyways, he was easy. I clinched with him in the second round and said, “I’m going to deck you in the next round.” The referee must have heard this, as he stopped the fight and raised my hand.

Climbing My Family Tree: Map - Camp Van Dorn, MS
Camp Van Dorn, MS
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The next fight was at Camp Van Dorn, Mississippi. Anyways after the first round there, they asked me “how is he?” I said “easy, he don’t know anything.” Wrong. I seen it coming, but too late. We had clinched and he butted me with his head. There is an artery that is below the eyebrow and his head ruptured it. The blood just gushed out. I clinched with him and my arm slid down his back with the blood. Of course, I couldn’t see and was choking on the blood, as it was running in my mouth. They couldn’t seem to be able to stop it. They then led me to my corner and still couldn’t stop it. From somewhere a doctor showed up and put something cold and sticky on it and the blood stopped running. It must have looked like a slaughterhouse. As for who won, I assumed I did, as a butt is illegal. At the hospital, they stitched it up. They had a young, good-looking guy and were finishing him up. He had stitches all over his face real bad. The blacks and whites were segregated then. I was told he was coming from a movie to his barracks through the black section and they jumped him and really worked him over. We left later but were told the whites drove armored cars through the area and when they would see someone they would jump off and stick him in the rear end with a bayonet. Maybe true, maybe not, but things like that didn’t get put up in the papers. [Camp Van Dorn and its civilian environs were the sites of significant interracial tensions during the WWII years involving African-American troops stationed in a segregated section of the Camp.  Both whites and blacks were noted as aggressors in differing incidents. Those tensions manifested as general harassment, fights, excessive discipline,  assault, and at least one murder of an African-American serviceman. A book that came out in the 1980's, which was later turned into a documentary, which alleged that 1220 African American troops were murdered at Camp Van Dorn by white servicemen in one night. The Army and the local Congressman conducted an investigation after the book came out, and found no evidence of a wholesale slaughter of troops. This is not to say that none of the other incidents occurred; there were numerous witnesses of the other incidences of racism and harassment and they could not be dismissed.] 

That was the end of my fighting in the army as we soon went overseas. After the war, I took up fighting in the various towns in northwestern Ohio. Most all of these fights were main events for me and I did get a few headlines in the papers.

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