Monday, November 5, 2007

Wrestling heroes

Tom Shanahan, a writer for the Voice of San Diego was once interviewing University of Minnesota wrestling coach J Robinson and asked him about his military service (Robinson served as an Army Ranger in Viet Nam). Shanahan said, “Army Ranger, that’s like a Navy SEAL, right?” Robinson glared at him and said, “Yeah, but tougher.”

We often speak of athletes as heroes because of their accomplishments in competition. I am as guilty of this as anyone. I frequently cite Dan Gable as one of my “heroes” (see my myspace profile). Next Sunday we honor America’s military veterans. Many wrestlers have been among them.

The National Wrestling Hall of Fame and Museum has honored several veterans for their service to America. Representative Carl Albert, Senator John Chaffee, Michael Collins, Dr. Kenneth Faust, General Ronald Fogleman, Admiral James Holloway, General Charles Krulak, Major General Kenneth Leuer, Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, General Norman Schwartzkopf and George Washington are among the Outstanding Americans enshrined in the Hall. All served in the armed forces – most of them in combat.

The Distinguished Members list of veterans is even longer:

Buddy Arndt Dick Hutton Alan Rice
Wayne Baughman Lloyd Keaser Port Robertson
Glen Brand Bill Koll J Robinson
Dick DiBatista Gary Kurdelmeier Gray Simons
George Dole Gerry Leeman Doc Speidel
Ross Flood Guy Lookabaugh Jack VanBebber
Sprig Gardner Joe McDaniel Richard Voliva
Greg Gibson Allie Morrison William Weick
Larry Hayes Harold Nichols among others.
Josiah Henson Grady Peninger

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2007 National Wrestling Hall of Fame Distinguished Member Inductee
Master Sgt Greg Gibson USMC (retired)

For more biographical information on the above be sure to visit

They are not alone. Greg “Pappy” Boyington (aka Greg Hallenbeck) won a Pacific middleweight wrestling title for The University of Washington. After graduation, Boyington worked for Boeing before enlisting in the Marine Corps. At the outbreak of WWII he volunteered to go to China and fight with the legendary Flying Tigers. After the bombing of Pearl Harbor, Boyington returned to service as a Marine fighter pilot.

In 1943 he had a desk job in the South Pacific theater when the call went out to form a new fighter squadron. “Pappy” convinced his superiors that he was just the man to form and lead the squadron. Thus, the infamous “Black Sheep Squadron” (originally called “Boyington’s Bastards) was born. Boyington shot down 28 Japanese aircraft in his tours in China, Burma and the South Pacific – a WWII Marine Corps record. On the day of his 28th kill, Boyington was shot down and captured. He spent 20 months in a Japanese prison camp and was frequently tortured. Although officially listed as “missing in action” most of the nation believed him to be deceased. When his camp was liberated in August 1945 it was as if he had risen from the dead. For his actions Greg Boyington was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor.

One of his friends called Tommy Noonan, “…the best wrestler Hunter College ever had.” Marine Lance Corporal Thomas Noonan Jr. Graduated from Hunter in 1966 with a degree in physical education. In 1967 he enlisted in the Marine Corps Reserve and was subsequently deployed to Viet Nam. L/Cpl Noonan was killed in action against the enemy on February 5th, 1969. For his valor in that action, L/Cpl Noonan was posthumously awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor. His citation is below.

For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty while serving as a fire team leader with Company G, in operations against the enemy in Quang Tri Province. Company G was directed to move from a position which they had been holding southeast of the Vandergrift Combat Base to an alternate location. As the marines commenced a slow and difficult descent down the side of the hill made extremely slippery by the heavy rains, the leading element came under a heavy fire from a North Vietnamese Army unit occupying well concealed positions in the rocky terrain. 4 men were wounded, and repeated attempts to recover them failed because of the intense hostile fire. L/Cpl. Noonan moved from his position of relative security and, maneuvering down the treacherous slope to a location near the injured men, took cover behind some rocks. Shouting words of encouragement to the wounded men to restore their confidence, he dashed across the hazardous terrain and commenced dragging the most seriously wounded man away from the fire-swept area. Although wounded and knocked to the ground by an enemy round, L/Cpl. Noonan recovered rapidly and resumed dragging the man toward the marginal security of a rock. He was, however, mortally wounded before he could reach his destination. His heroic actions inspired his fellow marines to such aggressiveness that they initiated a spirited assault which forced the enemy soldiers to withdraw. L/Cpl. Noonan's indomitable courage, inspiring initiative, and selfless devotion to duty upheld the highest traditions of the Marine Corps and the U.S. Naval Service. He gallantly gave his life for his country.

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Lance Corporal Thomas Noonan Jr.

Marine PFC Christopher Adlesperger, Lance Corporal Erick Hodges and Lance Corporal Ryan Sunnerville were friends. All three had wrestled in high school and had formed a particularly close bond. L/Cpl Hodges was killed in an ambush in Fallujah. PFC Adlesperger, in an effort to recover Hodges’ body and protect wounded comrades (among them L/Cpl Sunnerville), engaged the enemy forces and single-handedly fought off a superior force. When the action was over, although wounded himself, PFC Adlesperger refused evacuation until Hodges’ body was recovered. For his gallantry, PFC Adlesperger was promoted to Lance Corporal and awarded the Navy Cross. He has also been nominated for the Congressional Medal Honor. Sadly, if it is awarded, it will be done so posthumously. Lance Corporal Adlespergaer was killed in action in Fallujah a few months later.
For a complete account of his actions go to

For the next several months we will be discussing and honoring our favorite wrestlers and coaches. For the next week, let’s thank and honor those who have stood up for their beliefs by serving their country.
By the way, here’s Sgt Arthur Brown Jr. in Korea in 1951. Thanks Dad, I miss you.

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