Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Joe Louis and Arlington National Cemetery

Recently, I had to the opportunity to visit Arlington National Cemetery while visiting our nation's capital for work. Arlington is the final resting place for thousands of military veterans ranging from the American Civil War to modern times. The cemetery is also the final resting place to one of the greatest heavyweight boxers of all-time and veteran, Joe Louis.

While many of you are aware of Joe's legendary boxing career, some of you may not be aware that Joe served our nation during World War II in the United States Army. Louis, held the World Heavyweight Title from 1937 to 1949, served in the Army from 1942 to 1945. While in the Army, Joe primarily fought exhibition bouts to raise the morale of his fellow troops. As a member of the Special Services Division, Louis entertained troops in the United States and Europe. He was promoted to Technical Sergeant prior to leaving the service, and was awarded the Legion of Merit, an award reserved for meritorious military service, for his contributions to increasing the morale of troops during the war effort.

Following his military service, Louis returned to the ring to fight and defeat Billy Conn, Tom Mauriello, and Jersey Joe Walcott (twice). During this time, Louis found himself significantly in debt to the IRS. His retirement from the ring in 1949, was reversed a little over a year later when he was forced to return to the ring to pay off growing tax debt and penalties. He then fought a series of opponents including Ezzard Charles, Lee Savold, Jimmy Bivins, and Rocky Marciano. Louis suffered defeats to both Charles and Marciano before hanging up the gloves for good in 1951, following his TKO loss to Marciano.

Louis continued to suffer from financial problems following his retirement from boxing, which would haunt him until his death. The man who had been so generous with his money and time was forced to work a series of odd jobs, which included appearances on television shows, professional wrestling, and work as a greeter in a Las Vegas hotel. Louis also received financial support from his past rival for the World Heavyweight Title, Max Schmeling, and mobster, Frank Lucas.

Louis died of cardiac arrest on April 12, 1981 in Paradise, Nevada. President Ronald Reagan waived the eligibility rules for burial to allow him to be interned at Arlington National Cemetery. Supporters and friends of the Hall of Fame fighter, including Max Schmeling, paid for his funeral expenses. There he was buried with full military honors on April 21st.

If you visit Arlington, you can find the grave of the great, Joe Louis at section 7A, grave 177 in the cemetery.


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