Iowa Chronicles of the World War

by Marcus L. Hansen

Edited by Benjamin F. Shambaugh


Athletic Work at Camp Dodge



... Camp Dodge was fortunate in having in its ranks several men who from their position in the world of professional sport would be an attraction of unusual drawing powers in any community. Mike Gibbons, champion lightweight boxer, reported for military service in October. His brother "Tommy" was also in camp. Earl Caddock, world's champion wrestler, and others, such as "Strangler" (Ed) Lewis, Charles McKinley, Paul Steele, and Peter Roach, "well known to mat and ring fans", answered to roll call at Camp Dodge. Upon two occasions during the winter of 1917 -1918 troupes composed of several of these stars toured Iowa and surrounding States putting on athletic exhibitions. The proceeds, less expenses, went to swell the athletic fund. The most successful of these exhibitions was the athletic carnival which was held in the Coliseum in Des Moines when the Gibbons brothers met in a six round sparring contest in which they sought rather to demonstrate to the audience the different blows than to do any damage to each other. Music furnished by a Camp Dodge band was provided between the several acts.

... When Mike Gibbons reported at camp he was immediately appointed "boxing instructor". Four men from each compnay were chosen to receive instruction from him, and they in turn revealed the mysteries of the are to their companies. In order to arouse interest in the sport and to develop championship material by a process of elimination, weekly boxing and wrestling tournaments were held in the Knights of Columbus Auditorium where the champion "took on" any who dared to compete with him and representatives of companies or regiments fought for the honor of their organization. No boxer knew who his opponent would be until a few minutes before he entered the ring; but in spite of this there were always enough contestants to provide a full program every Thursday night.

... Though wrestling did not receive the same emphasis, instruction was offered under the title of "Self Defense". Earl Caddock arrived in December, 1917, and was assigned to Headquarters Troop as cantonment wrestling instructor, being assisted by Sergeant Paul Prehn who later won the middle weight wrestling championship in the inter-allied games. Secretary Louis Ardouin of the Young Men's Christian Association, who was also a wrestling star, aided them in teaching hand to hand fighting and on Sunday afternoons conducted swimming classes for the soldiers in the tank of the Association building in Des Moines.  

... The arrival of regiments from overseas brought new opportunities. There were men who had lost an arm or a leg on the battlefields of France, men who were crippled by disease or accident and those whose muscles were "bound" and useless due to long inaction. "Physical reconstruction" was their need. In February, 1919, the Association athletic staff was invited to cooperate  with the educational officer in the supervision of the exercises, and so successful were they in this endeavor that they were recognized as official members of the reconstruction staff, gradually obtaining  almost complete direction of the entire work.

    There were two distinct aspects of the process of reconstruction --- apparatus work and games. But the games, giving as much exercise as the apparatus and arousing more enthusiasm and interest, were by far the more popular. For those who were gradually recovering their strength bowling balls and basketballs of varying weights were provided. The throwing of darts and ping pong were prescribed for those who were seeking the restoration of strength and skill in a powerless arm. The stump of a mutilated arm was hardened and the unused muscles exercised by batting a light punching bag or volley ball. Almost five hundred cases were handled during the months from February to May, 1919, daily treatment lasting from fifteen minutes to an hour. The effectiveness of these exercises in restoring the depressed spirits of the wounded soldiers is indicated by the statement of Mr. Bozenhard that he "almost had to drive them out of the gym rooms and grounds when their period was over, they enjoyed the fun so much."

      That the return of the Eighty-eighth from its experiences in France did not bring a greater number of disabled to the Base Hospital was due to the excellent condition in which it had departed almost a year before. When in April, 1919, it was reviewed by General Pershing the division was congratulated not only on its "military precision" and "soldierly bearing" but upon its "excellent physical appearance" as well. Many hardships had been endured in camp and field, but the vigor of the soldiers was unimpaired. A sound physical foundation had been built at Camp Dodge and to the process the welfare organizations had contributed not a little.


-source: Iowa Chronicles of the World War, Edited by Benjamin F. Shambaugh. WELFARE WORK In IOWA, by Marcus L. Hansen.  Published at Iowa City in 1921 by The State Historical Society of Iowa. Page 96-97, 102-103, 107-109.