by Sgt. Barry E. Prowell USA Ret.

22 Squad Company A, 2/8 4th Infantry
Vietnam 68-69

The group of twenty five men and escorts moved rather slowly. This was to be expected because there were only twenty three legs and forty nine arms among the men. It was December of 1971 and Las Vegas was running at top speed. The men in the group were guests of Ceasers Palace for four days. The trip had been arranged by the New York Amputee Chapter of the Disabled American Veterans. Normally the men were patients of military hospitals in Pennsylvania and Maryland. I was a member of that group and the trip was very memorable for me.

One evening we went to see the comedian Buddy Hackett. As usual we stayed on after the crowd was ushered out of the show room. We sat waiting for Buddy Hackett to come out and meet us personally. Since I was one of the few who had two legs, I usually arose from the table, greeted the entertainer and then introduced everyone. The entertainers were most gracious to us and seemed genuinely happy to meet us. However, the speeches and pep talks get redundant after awhile.

As I was sitting at the table, I noticed the showroom manager approaching us accompanied by a black man in his sixties whom I did not recognize. I stood up and when they were within about ten feet of us they paused and the showroom manager explained someone wanted to meet us. He then said, "Gentlemen, this is Joe Louis, former Heavyweight Champion of the World."

Joe Louis had already retired by the time I was a toddler but was often introduced as a guest on the old "Friday Night Fights" that my grandfather used to watch. I was never much of a boxing fan but I certainly knew Joe Louis defended his title an unequaled twenty five times during his career. I pictured him as a man of few emotions and steel nerves.

Joe Louis walked up to me and I began to raise my hand to greet him. I never got it more than half way up. Joe quickened his pace and threw his arms around me and held me in a bear hug. He held me like a father holds a long lost son. He held me for what seemed like forever. Believe me, when Joe Louis gives a bear hug you begin to feel maybe your chances are better with a real bear. When he released me I looked into his eyes expecting to see something like raw determination, or pride, or some other macho manifestation.

Instead, in his eyes I saw rivers of tears flowing from wells of love and compassion. I don't remember us saying a word to each other but, I remember the feeling. The feeling was that this mans heart was open and he loved and felt for us . He then moved around the tables hugging all the men. I reflected on what had just happened and learned a lesson in life that remains with me till today. There is more strength in a humble loving heart than steel nerves and a fast punch. The measure of a champion is not how many people he knocked down. It is how many he lifted up.

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Web Page Created 8 Dec 1999
1997 Barry Prowell