Monday, July 23, 2018

My Dad Meets Alfredo Apostoli, Ex-Middleweight Boxing Champion, on Saipan

 Probably my dad‘s best day on Saipan, where he was stationed as a soldier, came in 1945 when he got to pal around for a while with Fred Apostoli, the former middleweight boxing champion of the world. The thrill of meeting the former champ is apparent in pictures taken of them together, a satisfied look on my dad’s boyish face and his arm around the famous man’s muscular shoulders. 


Fred Apostoli and Coy Durning, @April, 1945

The thrill was real because Private First Class Coy Wayne Durning had been a boxing fan for as long as he could remember, way before he had been drafted into the army in September 1943 at the age of eighteen. Born in Cass Arkansas on April Fool’s Day, 1925, he and his large family (four brothers and five sisters) had lived there for a few years after his birth, then moved to Denning, another small place in Franklin County, before they settled on the outskirts of Fayetteville, a city where boxing was a popular spectator sport. 
 
Coy Durning in Saipan, age 20
He had dropped out of school after the seventh grade, and in early 1943 had begun work as a baker’s helper at the Shipley Baking Company. This occupational choice turned out to be a good one for a young man not eager for combat. After he finished six weeks of basic training, he was assigned to the 273rd Quartermaster Bakery Company, keeping him off the front lines except for a few days during the battle for Saipan.  

On April 4, 1944, four days after his nineteenth birthday, he boarded a ship in San Francisco crammed with soldiers heading to the Pacific War Theater where the fight against the Japanese was heating up. He would remain in the Pacific area for twenty-two months, returning home in late February 1946, five months after VJ Day.

He and the other 231 soldiers in the 273rd Bakery Company spent the rest of April, May, and early June in Hawaii training for their new secret mission. The company was attached to the Marine Corps, which made an assault on Saipan on June 15th. The bakery company waded ashore, under fire, ten days later. No company member was killed in the landing, but one, Joseph Tischinski, was hit by shrapnel on June 27th and died three days later. The fierce and deadly fighting lasted until July 9th. The battle annihilated a fanatical force of about 29,000 Japanese soldiers, with nearly 24,000 killed in battle and 5,000 who killed themselves when loss of the island became certain. U.S. forces numbered about 70,000 men, and it suffered 13,790 casualties, including 3,426 killed or missing.
 
Bud Bronson, Coy Durning, and Charlie Baber on guard in Saipan

The company began baking before the combat ended, and when it was over, its men worked three shifts, 24 hours a day to provide the marines, soldiers, seabees, and airmen on the island their daily bread. The Island became a staging area for the planes bombing Japan and supporting combat in nearby islands. The population of military personnel during the rest of the war was about 80,000 and they all needed to be fed.

Even after Saipan was under U.S. control, it was for many months a dangerous place because a small Japanese-led guerilla force was hiding in the island’s jungle and still conducting raids. Also, the Japanese periodically sent planes to bomb and strafe the island. Although those dangers were real,they likely bothered the bakers less than the island’s heat and mosquitoes. Their job required them to work long hours each day tending their hot ovens in this tropical climate. It was sweaty and grueling work, but the bakers didn’t complain much, knowing that the men they were feeding were putting lives on the line with every flight and every new battle.
 
Destroyed Sugar Plant on Saipan, details written on the
back of the photo were censored
The men of the 273rd lived in big tents, which on the steamy island were not much cooler than the tents where the bread, rolls, and pies were baked, and they each worked closely with a few other members of a platoon that operated its own ovens. As natural when people live and work closely together, sharing fear, hardships, and boredom, many became buddies, and my dad had several on Saipan. The pictures he sent back home show a few of them: Bud Bronson, Charlie Baber, Homer King, Tom Zolbe, Bill Scheppa, Thomas Taylor, Jay Brian, Pete Demeter, Joe Bennis, Don Larsen, and Marvin Williams.
 
Earl (Bud) Bronson
Based on pictures taken in the first part of 1945 that he mailed back home, it appears that my dad’s best buddies were Bud Bronson, Charlie Baber, and Homer King. Bronson was a handsome young man with implausibly puffed up hair who had the healthy look of a California surfer. He was with my dad when he met Apostali. In contrast to blondish robust Bronson, Baber was thin, with a droopy look, like he had just emerged from hours in a coal mine. In one picture he is an unkempt sad sack type of soldier, but another shows him smiling, sharing a bunch of bananas with his friends.  
 
Charlie Baber

Baber is holdig the bunch of bananas,, Coy Durning
is behind the bananas and Marvin Willians is behind
Baber's left shoulder

Homer King was a stout Texan with a round face and thick hair. He came to visit my dad in 1954 when I was in the second grade. I remember him well because when I was riding around in the car with him and my dad, he insisted that I sip a beer. 
 
Coy Durning and Homer King, Tom Taylor is in the background

My dad’s pictures with Apostoli were taken sometime from late March to the middle of June, 1945. Apostoli had come to Saipan (and other places in the Mariana Islands) with a troupe of athletes, mainly famous baseball players, to entertain the soldiers there. He had fought some exhibition matches in March, then when the other athletes left, he stayed to help with the military boxing programs in the islands. (My dad was not impressed with the exhibition match. He recalled, “They just danced around and leaned against each other for three rounds.”)
 
Clipping in the Journal-Herald announcing exhibition tour in the Pacific, February 5, 1945

Apostoli was not only famous at the time, but popular. He was famous for several epic fights held in Madison Square Garden in which he fought for the middle weight boxing championship in 1937, won it in 1938, and lost it in 1939. His fights were, typically, extended brawls because Alfredo Apostoli was a gritty, hard training, never-back-down fighter, a descendant of Italian immigrants who had had a rough childhood in San Francisco, several years of which were spent in a Catholic orphanage. He had learned to box at a San Francisco YMCA and the city’s Olympic Club, supporting himself as an elevator operator in a posh hotel, earning him the nicknames “The Boxing Bellhop” and “The fighting bellhop of San Francisco.” He had great success as an amateur boxing, winning the Golden Gloves middleweight championship in 1933, then had turned pro in 1934.

Source: http://www.maxboxing.com/news/other-boxing-news/forgotten-champions-fred-apostoli
Apostoli was popular with troops because he had volunteered to leave a safe position in the Navy (promoting physical training) to go into combat, and he had proven his bravery as a gunnery officer on a battleship in 1943. He had commanded a 40-mm gun on the USS Columbia, a light cruiser, earning a bronze star for his actions during multiple engagements with the enemy. Beyond his gunnery work, when his ship was in port, Apostoli was tireless in coaching Navy boxers and entertaining troops by fighting in exhibition matches. Also, it did not hurt his popularity that in late 1943, he married a comely professional golfer from San Francisco who was having some success on the lady’s tour. 
 
This Associated Press picture ran in
many newspapers on Dec. 29, 1943

At the end of 1943, Ring magazine – the bible of the boxing world – named Apostoli the 1943 Boxer of the Year for his contributions to the war effort. (Later, he was posthumously elected to the World Boxing Hall of Fame and the International Boxing Hall of Fame.) By the start of 1945, Apostoli had been assigned a post in Honolulu to train boxers, organize boxing matches, and fight exhibition matches. From there he made the March trip to the Marianas, and one Spring day the swarthy, broad-shouldered man was driving in a jeep around Saipan to meet soldiers there, and he happened upon Bronson and my dad. He shook their hands, told them a few stories and listened to theirs, posed for pictures with them, and was on his way. He left the navy in July, resuming civilian life in San Francisco.

When my dad returned to Fayetteville in late February, 1946, he went back to work at Shipley Baking company. Its plant was on Dickson street, which was located across the street from the D-Lux, an eatery where he had met fifteen-year-old waitress Bernice Couch in 1943, before he had been drafted into the army. He had kept in touch with her during his time in the army, sending her many pictures, including the ones showing him with Apostoli. She had been impressed with them and particularly liked a photo showing him shirtless with three buddies. She had passed It on to a sister or close friend after writing on the back, “The one with his shirt off is him. Cute ain’t he.” The written response: “Nice looking.”


Note written on back of the photograph above

Eighteen-year-old Bernice married the “cute” twenty-two-year-old former soldier in August, 1946, even though she did not care much for his passion for the sport of boxing. During that month, Apostoli won his first professional fight since 1942, beating Pedro Jimenez by a TKO. In the last five months of 1946, Apostoli fought seven boxing matches, all in California, and won them. In 1947, he had seven more professional fights, winning six. His last professional boxing match was on December 1, 1948. After winning that fight, he retired from boxing at the age of 35 with a record of 61 wins (31 by knockout), 10 losses (4 by knockout) and 1 draw. After quiting boxing, he tried a few ventures in San Francisco, including a restaurant, then joined an ad agency as a sales manager. He was 60 years old when he died suddenly in November, 1973.
Bernice Couch, 1946

My dad followed Apostoli’s revived boxing career, listening to his matches when they were broadcast. He was disappointed by Apostoli’s retirement even though he knew he was washed up by that time. He remained a fan of boxing throughout his life. He would take me on Friday nights, before I entered elementary school, to stand in front of a building on East Center Street, a half block from the Washington County Court House, to watch a television in the window of the electric company that was tuned to the weekly fights. We and a few other fight fans would stand there in the dark to watch the televised action. Later, when we had our own television set, boxing was “can’t miss” fare.  He especially enjoyed watching middleweight boxing matches though he said he never saw a middle weight fighter who could hold a candle to Alfredo Apostoli.


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More pictures from Saipan

Photos with Apostoli and Bronson







Other Photos with Bronson, Baber, and King

Bronson with rifle in foxhole

Baber with rifle

Baber, Bronson, Unidentified, Durning, Don Larson 

Pete Demiter, Baber, Durning, Bill Schappa
"Taken on March 25, 1945"

Bronson

King, Bronson and Durning at the Tropicana Theater were soldiers
were entertained

Other Buddies

Durning, Marvin Williams and Alvin Chapman

Durning and Unidentified

Tom Zolbe and Bronson

Unidentified and Durning

Unidentified, Eldridge, and Durning


Arroyo and Durning
Jimmy Crouch and Durning

Thomas Taylor and John Brian

Durning and Unknown

Baber, Joe Bennis, and Durning in the back of his tent

Durning, Baber, King, Pete Demiter, and Laduke

Note:  Some of the description is based on an interview of Carl Vusich, a fellow soldier in the 273rd Baker Company, See the interview at this link:  http://www.memory.loc.gov/diglib/vhp/story/loc.natlib.afc2001001.10130/

Also for a general description of the operation of Bakery Companies in the Pacific War Theater, see this link: http://tothosewhoserved.org/usa/ts/usatsq03/chapter09.html

Monday, June 25, 2018

The Little League Star Who Left Fayetteville


Every so often the topic of playing Little League baseball during the good old days (the last half of the ‘50’s) pops up on Facebook, stimulated by the post of a team picture or the mention of a name. It is of interest, of course, only to folks who were on one of the Fayetteville teams in those years or who know someone who was.

In talking about the good old Little League days, the conversation usually turns to recollections of some of the memorable boys we played against. There was Justin Daniel, the man among children, who hit home runs not only over the fence, but also over the road behind the fence, endangering the windows of a distance apartment building. His fastball, thrown from a mound only 46 feet from the plate, lived in the nightmares of more than a few of us who had to bat against him and feared for our lives. Then there was Lloyd Wolf, a short, freckled, thick left-hand hitter famous for regularly hitting balls into the City Park swimming pool behind the right-field fence. Like him, Charlie Jordan, a raw country southpaw with a mighty swing, also deposited quite a few balls into the water. (These boys must have made the adults who ran the league cringe; two new baseballs were allotted to each game, and they were no good when soaked.)

Among the pantheon of remarkable players from 1956 to 1959 was a boy named Richard Quackenbush, who impressed with both his strong arm and his hitting power. When his name arises and his athletic ability is discussed, there inevitably follows a statement like, “I wondered what happened with him.” We don’t know because he moved away from Fayetteville with him family before the 1959 season, when he would have been twelve years old (at the time, Little League players were between the ages or 8 and 12.) When he left, most of us lost touch with him, given our youth and the comparatively primitive avenues of communications at the time. 

Picture in the 1967 Oregon State University Yearbook
Curious about where Richard and his family moved and what he did after he got there, I decided to try to see what information I could track down about him. The two pieces of information that I had were his age (born, likely, in 1947) and the someone’s memory that the Quackenbushes had moved to the Pacific Northwest. 

With a little research on Ancestry.com and Newspapers.com, I located Richard (born August 12, 1947) in Salem, Oregon. Fortunately, the Salem newspaper, the Capital Journal, is available on Newspapers.com; most of the information about him comes from that newspaper.

Richard and his family moved from Fayetteville to Salem because his father, a career army officer, was from there and wanted to live there after his retirement. Lt. Col. Roger W. Quackenbush served in the army for 27 years, beginning during World War II, and earned two silver stars and two bronze stars for valor.

Richard played for the North Salem High School Vikings basketball, football, and baseball teams. His name was regularly in the paper for exploits in those sports, especially baseball. For the football team, he played end, and in a 1964 action shot published in the local paper, he shows up as number 80. In another newspaper picture published in 1984, he is playing on the Viking’s basketball team.

 
Picture caption: North Salem's senior fullback Dave Young (30) crashes over from the one yard line for the final Viking touchdown in the closing minutes of Friday night's North Salem - Grants Pass game at Bennett Field. North's Rich Quackenbush (80) is in the background 


Picture caption: Study in finger exercises is executed by Dave Olson (46) of the South Salem Saxons and Bud Allen (33) of North Salem during last night;s District 8 A-1 finale at South Saxon. North's Rich Quackenbush pokes a paw over Olsen's ? as the combatants battle for a rebound. (I think Quackenbush is the middle person in the picture)

He, of course, excelled in high school baseball and in the summer baseball leagues. He played third base and occasionally pitched. His heroics over the years are described in many different newspaper articles. For example, one article describes a grand slam home run he hit to win a high school game. Another tells of a no hitter he pitched, his team winning 20 – 0. 



After graduating from high school in 1965, Richard attended Oregon State University and played baseball on its team as a third basemen The newspaper article in the Corvallis Gazette, dated August 2, 1965, that announced he would play OSU baseball noted, “Quackenbush has a cannon for an arm drawing ohs from the crowd every time he cuts loose” (it is not stated if he received a baseball scholarship).


At OSU, Richard majored in business and technology. Having taken ROTC, he was commissioned as a armory officer in December, 1969 after his graduation, then returned to OSU in 1973 to study for an advanced degree in criminology. In 1975, he was married at a wedding in Briarcliff Manor, New York. An article describing the wedding said the couple was settling in Ossining, N.Y. 

At some point after that, he returned to Salem and, it seems, taught special education there for many years. A 1996 picture shows him as a special education teacher in the Development Learning Center of Whiteacre Middle School in Keizer, Oregon, a small town just north of Salem.




In 2003, the local newspaper reported he had made a hole in one at a nearby golf course.

  
This glimpse into the life of the former Fayetteville Little Leaguer, though incomplete, is enough to make us regret that he and his family did not stay around so that we could have played with him on different junior high and high school teams. Also the information reassures us that Richard has had a good life after leaving the city, full of accomplishments and successes. Of course to most of us in Fayetteville who knew him -- or knew of him -- Richard Quackenbush will always in our memories be a young boy in a Goff-McNair uniform throwing hard strikes and hitting long homers.  


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For more on the Fayetteville Little League in the late 1950s, go to this link:  http://www.eclecticatbest.com/2016/01/playing-in-little-leagues-mcilroy-bank.html 

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Viva Vigo's Public Art!


Public art is often like Muzak: it exists but you hardly notice. It’s bland, easy to ignore, and forgettable. Personally, I prefer public art that demands attention because it is startling, provocative, or even shocking. It also helps if such art exhibits some beauty even if it is an enigmatic sort.

Gobsmacking public art in the United States is found mostly in larger coastal and university cities where a good portion on the citizenry is open minded and not offended by things that are “different.”  Medium and smaller cities are less likely to spend money on, or give their imprimatur to, unusual art that would challenge, maybe even offend, local citizens who would decry spending THEIR TAX DOLLARS! on any art that did not include a cross; depict Jesus, a saint, or a hero; or contain an accurate representation of a pleasant aspect of reality. While, most public art is bought with private funds, its location in public areas nonetheless gives each citizen the right to complain.  
 
Henry Moore's statute in downtown Little Rock, 1978
When I was living in Little Rock in the 1970s, a controversy arose over a sculpture bought by a quasi-public organization and placed in a very public location. It was 1978, and the Metrocenter Development District was trying to revitalize the downtown. It got authorization to create a pedestrian zone and to place an important piece of art at its center, Main and Capitol Streets. Following the advice of advising experts, it bought (with funds coming from a property tax on businesses in the district) a large abstract sculpture by the renown Henry Moore. It was titled, “Large Standing Figure: Knife Edge.” The cost was $185,000. For more on the installation of the Henry Moore sculpture in Little Rock see these links: http://www.encyclopediaofarkansas.net/encyclopedia/entry-detail.aspx?search=1&entryID=2131 and https://littlerocklove.wordpress.com/2012/08/10/a-silent-sentinal/

hullabaloo followed, with a flow of complaints about the sculpture; some people complained that it did not look like anything. “What is it?” they would ask. Also some folks complained about its cost, ridiculing the idiots who made the decision to spend a vast amount of money on such trash, even though general taxpayers did not pitch in a penny. Others suggested the art was, at best, a symbol of the folly of over-educated liberals and, and worst, of the decline and fall of civilization. 

When the pedestrian zone was abolished in 1999, the sculpture was moved a couple of blocks to an empty patch in front of a bank. In April of this year, the city of Little Rock acquired it in return for a piece of downtown land. The city will move it to the renovated Arkansas Art Center. The assessed value of the sculpture is about $5 million.   


 
"Iron Horse," in exile on a farm near Watkinsville, GA
I encountered another example of scorned public art when I was living in Athens, Georgia. One day I was driving on a rural road south of Watkinsville, which is a short drive from Athens, when a colleague in the car yelled at me to look to the left. There in a corn field, about 150 yards from the road, was a large stylized statue of a horse (named Iron Horse, or Pegasus without Wings). My colleague then told me the story of how in 1954 the sculpture had been installed on the University of Georgia campus, but many students hated it. After it had been vandalized a few times, the head of the art school had it secretly loaded on a truck one night and taken it to the farm of a man who was happy to host it on his land. The statue, owned by UGA, is still there, but now the university also owns the land that it uses as an experimental farm.  
 
A view of Vigo from the waterfront
Fortunately, despite resistance to it, Gobsmacking public art can be found diverse places throughout the world, including some medium and smaller cities scattered throughout Europe. I was reminded of that when I traveled to Vigo, a city of about 300,000 people located on the Atlantic coast of Spain. I knew also nothing about the city before I arrived there in May, and chose it mainly because it was a convenient stop after a long train trip through the mountains from Burgos.

I quickly started enjoying my visit to the city, in large part due to views of its mountainous residential areas sliding down to the beautiful waterfront, but also because of its public art. Much of the waterfront is a working port with cranes and warehouses, but after walking down the hill from my hotel, I saw the beginning of a long park and walked toward it. As I got closer, I spotted something that caused me to blurt, “What the ….” It was a sculpture of a swimmer taking laps in the concrete. It definitely came from the School of Gobsmacking Art.  
 
First glimpse of "The Swimmer'"

"The Swimmer" by Franciso Leiro


Walking down further the promenade along the waterfront, it did not take me long to get to another strange site. It was a statue of a man, Jules Verne, that seemed quite conventional until you noticed that he was sitting on a huge squid. Unconventional and surprising, I was delighted to see it. The statue subject is Jules Verne, whose book Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, was set in Vigo Bay. If you want to know about the squid, view this link https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xhyuey4xU3Q
 
Statue of Jules Verne stilling on a squid by Vigo Bay
Walking a few more minutes on the promenade, I came to a plaza in front of a waterfront shopping center that is adjacent to the city’s port, where a gigantic cruise ship was moored. As passengers departed from the ship and walked onto the plaza, they had a surprise in front of them: a large sculpture of the head of a woman (or maybe its a man) whose face has smacked the ground. I thought its name should be “faceplant,” but it turns out to be “Leap.” It was created by Francisco Leiro, a Galician born in 1945. He is the artist who sculpted the Swimmer that I saw earlier. The faceplant piece certainly attracted the attention of the disembarking passengers. After first examining the sculpture myself, I found a nearby place to sit to watch the reactions of people when they first walked by it.
 
"The Leap" by Francisco Leiro


View of "The Leap" from the back

Going up the hill from the port area, through a nicely maintained Old City that gives a taste of Vigo as it looked a century ago, I came to the most bizarre of the city’s public art. It located in a small square next to one of the city’s busiest streets. It is also the creation of Leiro, his most audacious. This sculpture is mounted on high double columns. Its name is “Merman.” The name explains the scales on the man’s chest, the conventional face, and the strange body. For an interesting discussion of the statute, go to this link: https://littlerocklove.wordpress.com/2012/08/10/a-silent-sentinal/ The "merman" sculpture is another piece of Vigo’s art that will be hard to forget. It definitely would not be a hit in Little Rock or Athens, Ga.


 
"Merman" by Francisco Leiro




I have to say that Vigo’s public art certainly enlivened my strolls around the city. While I was most attracted to the Gobsmacking public art, I also enjoyed some of the more conventional art, such as a pair of statues near the shoreline facing each other. One depicted a fisherman returning from the sea carrying some fish, the other his family awaiting his return. These sculptures are touching in a familiar way.
 
Fisherman

Fisherman's family looks for him
With its numerous and diverse pieces of art scattered throughout the city, thanks is owed to Vigo for creating a stimulating experience for strollers. Viva Vigo and its taste in public art!