Background Image

VFW Magazine June/July 2017 : Page 14

PART TWO OF A TWO-PART SERIES* IT’S A PINNING COMBINATION War veterans take opponents to the mat in amateur and professional wrestling. In part two of this two-part series, we continue to look at amateur and professional wrestlers who served their country. BY KARI WILLIAMS W hile the differences between professional and amateur wrestling are many, their respec-tive connections to the military provide a common bond. The armed forces have “met on the mat” since 1976 to determine which branch is most dominant in the wres-tling realm, according to Glory Beyond the Sport: Wrestling and the Military by Roger Moore. “Army won that first tournament and has won 21 overall titles,” Moore wrote. “The title in 2008 was the Cadets’ seventh straight dating back to 2002. The Marines, the last team to win besides Army and the only other team besides Army to win a title, owns 11 armed forces titles. USMC won nine straight from 1978-87.” World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE), a publicly traded sports-enter-tainment company, supports the mili-tary through its Tribute to the Troops shows, which began in 2002 and have been broadcast from the United States, Iraq and Afghanistan. The company also offers active service members free tick-ets to its events, and received the USO of Metropolitan Washington’s Legacy of Hope award in 2004, recognizing WWE’s support of the military. Other entertainment organizations, such as Armed Forces Entertainment, present professional wrestling shows to deployed troops. And some of those wrestlers once served as well. In this two-part series, we highlight individuals who have served in wars ranging from World War I to Iraq and Afghanistan. Chris Melendez is an Iraq War veteran who wrestles professionally. He lost his le leg in 2006 with 23 days remaining on his deployment. Upon his return to the U.S., he pursued a career in professional wrestling, landing an opportunity with Total Nonstop Action Wrestling. 1991 PERSIAN GULF WAR: DOMINIC PUDWILL GORIE Dominic Pudwill Gorie served in the Navy during the 1991 Persian Gulf War and eventually became an astronaut for NASA. The skills instilled in him as a wrestler aided his aeronautical journey, ultimately leading to his inclusion in the 2017 National Wrestling Hall of Fame. “To be included in that group of wres-tling superstars and coaches was, to me, just an unbelievable honor that I still haven’t quite come to grips with,” Gorie said in March. “The only way I can truly *The first part of this series appeared in the May 2017 issue. PHOTO COURTESY OF CHRIS MELENDEZ 14 • VFW • JUNE/JULY 2017

Helmets to Headlocks

KARI WILLIAMS

IT’S A PINNING COMBINATION

PART TWO OF A TWO-PART SERIES

War veterans take opponents to the mat in amateur and professional wrestling. In part two of this two-part series, we continue to look at amateur and professional wrestlers who served their country.

While the differences between professional and amateur wrestling are many, their respective connections to the military provide a common bond.

The armed forces have “met on the mat” since 1976 to determine which branch is most dominant in the wrestling realm, according to Glory Beyond the Sport: Wrestling and the Military by Roger Moore.

“Army won that first tournament and has won 21 overall titles,” Moore wrote. “The title in 2008 was the Cadets’ seventh straight dating back to 2002. The Marines, the last team to win besides Army and the only other team besides Army to win a title, owns 11 armed forces titles. USMC won nine straight from 1978-87.”

World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE), a publicly traded sports-entertainment company, supports the military through its Tribute to the Troops shows, which began in 2002 and have been broadcast from the United States, Iraq and Afghanistan. The company also offers active service members free tickets to its events, and received the USO of Metropolitan Washington’s Legacy of Hope award in 2004, recognizing WWE’s support of the military.

Other entertainment organizations, such as Armed Forces Entertainment, present professional wrestling shows to deployed troops. And some of those wrestlers once served as well. In this two-part series, we highlight individuals who have served in wars ranging from World War I to Iraq and Afghanistan.

1991 PERSIAN GULF WAR: DOMINIC PUDWILL GORIE

Dominic Pudwill Gorie served in the Navy during the 1991 Persian Gulf War and eventually became an astronaut for NASA. The skills instilled in him as a wrestler aided his aeronautical journey, ultimately leading to his inclusion in the 2017 National Wrestling Hall of Fame.

“To be included in that group of wrestling superstars and coaches was, to me, just an unbelievable honor that I still haven’t quite come to grips with,” Gorie said in March. “The only way I can truly put my arms around it is to try to make it clear that why I’m there is because I had this special opportunity to fly in space and also have the wrestling background, and I think that’s fairly unique.”

Gorie received the Outstanding American award, which recognizes wrestlers who went on to success in other fields, in Stillwater, Okla., this month.

Designated as a naval aviator in 1981 and retired as a captain in 2005, Gorie served on board the USS Theodore Roosevelt with the Strike Fighter Squadron 87, flying F-18s. His work during the Gulf War, also known as Operation Desert Storm, was “almost exclusively strike missions,” he said.

Gorie participated in 38 combat missions during Desert Storm, and said there “was certainly a transition” in the early missions, where 20 to 30 airplanes might be involved.

“As we went on further, we got into smaller strike packages with only, maybe, four airplanes, even two airplanes, when you didn’t need all that other support,” Gorie said. “There was a definite change in the expected threat.”

Through his service, Gorie earned the Navy Commendation Medal with Combat “V” and Distinguished Flying Cross with Combat “V,” among other honors.

His interest in the Navy spawned from a lifelong desire to fly. He also suggested that his father, who flew B-47s in the Air Force and died in a plane crash when Gorie was six years old, might have instilled “some deeper emotional connection” to the craft.

But his wrestling involvement began in junior high while living in Miami, Fla., and continued at the United States Naval Academy.

“I never thought that I was good enough to compete at that kind of Division I level, but still went out for the team,” said Gorie, who noted that the “hard part” of wrestling was the time and “commitment to losing weight.”

“To try to lose weight and study in an academic environment like that was pretty tough,” Gorie said. “So, I sort of prioritized school over that. But [they] had a great wrestling program and the coach there, Coach [Ed] Peery at the time, was incredible. The team there was a great program to be a part of. It was hard to pass up, and then when I got the opportunity to compete some at that level, that was wonderful.”

level, that was wonderful.” His Navy career also afforded him the opportunity to work for NASA — another opportunity in his life that was “too good to pass up,” having grown up “mesmerized” by the Apollo program (the third U.S. human spaceflight program).

“That was never something that I really seriously thought would be a possibility,” Gorie said. “It was a dream, but a wayout there kind of dream.”

In 1992, Gorie was sent to U.S. Space Command, followed by selection as an astronaut candidate two years later. He spent nearly 50 days in space and served as a spacecraft communicator for a number of flights, retiring from NASA in 2010.

The lessons learned in wrestling were “directly applicable” to his duties in the Navy and with NASA, according to Gorie.

“When faced with challenges and dreams that you want to try to reach, wrestling gives you the tools for that,” Gorie said. “I can’t imagine a more better- suited sport to prepare you for life’s challenges than wrestling.”

IRAQ WAR: CHRIS MELENDEZ

When Iraq War veteran Chris Melendez returned to Iraq in 2016 for the first time in nearly 10 years, it was a cathartic experience. The single-leg amputee joined four fellow professional wrestlers (Melina, Scotty 2 Hotty, Ken Anderson and “Hurricane” Shane Helms) to entertain troops in Kuwait and Baghdad, Iraq, as part of an Armed Forces Entertainment tour.

Melendez, who served between 2005 and 2007 as an infantryman with B Co. 3rd Bn., 67th Armor, 4th BCT, 4th Inf. Div., attached to 1st Bn., 506th Inf., 101st Abn. Div., in Baghdad, said they landed at Baghdad International Airport on the “same exact flightline” as his first trip.

“I saw the same exact thing,” said Melendez, who noted that others were concerned about his return to Iraq. “It’s amazing how much a smell can trigger memories.”

He wasn’t worried, though, and said after the trip that he could “almost physically feel a weight lifted.” “I felt like the last 10 years I’ve been carrying around a bag of bricks,” said Melendez, who lost his left leg with only 23 days remaining on his deployment.

He was wounded in Sadr City, a suburb of Baghdad, on Sept. 29, 2006. Melendez was showing the relieving unit around Sadr City when his unit was struck by an explosively formed penetrator (EFP). Besides his leg, he nearly lost an arm and had a bone graph in his hip, among other wounds.

“It was rough,” Melendez said of his rehabilitation. “It wasn’t easy. I’m not going to downplay it to sound macho.” The single-leg amputee watched his weight drop from 230 pounds at the time of being wounded to 143 pounds on a 6’2” frame. While he knew he could handle the physical aspects of rehabilitation, it was the mental and emotional toll of being separated from his unit that Melendez said he struggled with most. “I remember sitting up at night, specifically crying for that reason,” Melendez said.

But 40 days after being wounded, he was walking on a prosthetic. Eight months later, he was back home. And six years after that, he stepped into a professional wrestling ring to fulfill his second dream.

Melendez began training in Brooklyn, N.Y., and later was connected with Team 3D Academy — a wrestling school in Kissimmee, Fla., run by multitime tag team champions The Dudley Boyz (also known as Team 3D), Bubba Ray and D-Von. “I dropped everything I was doing and moved right down to Florida… It was basically basic training all over again,” Melendez said.

Melendez debuted in Total Nonstop Action (TNA) Wrestling in 2014 in his hometown (New York City), with his father and future wife in attendance.

“Walking down the ramp and seeing him there, it was kind of hard to hold the tears back,” Melendez said.

During his time with the company, Melendez was involved in a storyline with Eric Young, in which the two wrestlers faced off in a stipulation match that put Melendez’s prosthetic leg on the line. Melendez lost the match and gave Young his prosthetic on television.

Melendez said that situation caused an “uproar” and prompted people to say he was degrading himself and veterans. While people are “quick to call professional wrestling fake,” according to Melendez, they were acting like he “legitimately” made a major offense. Melendez said removing his prosthetic in public could “set an example” and help children whose fathers might be missing an arm or a leg be less afraid.

“It was all in good nature and, I think, to shine light on a negative situation instead of hiding and being upset,” Melendez said. Melendez parted ways with TNA in June 2016 and said he did so because he was “starting to get lost in the shuffle.” “I’m far too passionate about my career to become stagnant at this point,” Melendez said.

He is currently “riding the indie wave” — working with independently owned wrestling companies — and still keeps in touch with Bubba Ray and D-Von, while also helping wrestlers who are just starting in the business.

1991 PERSIAN GULF WAR: DOMINIC PUDWILL GORIE

Dominic Pudwill Gorie served in the Navy during the 1991 Persian Gulf War and eventually became an astronaut for NASA. The skills instilled in him as a wrestler aided his aeronautical journey, ultimately leading to his inclusion in the 2017 National Wrestling Hall of Fame.

“To be included in that group of wrestling superstars and coaches was, to me, just an unbelievable honor that I still haven’t quite come to grips with,” Gorie said in March. “The only way I can truly put my arms around it is to try to make it clear that why I’m there is because I had this special opportunity to fly in space and also have the wrestling background, and I think that’s fairly unique.”

Gorie received the Outstanding American award, which recognizes wrestlers who went on to success in other fields, in Stillwater, Okla., this month.

Designated as a naval aviator in 1981 and retired as a captain in 2005, Gorie served on board the USS Theodore Roosevelt with the Strike Fighter Squadron 87, flying F-18s. His work during the Gulf War, also known as Operation Desert Storm, was “almost exclusively strike missions,” he said.

Gorie participated in 38 combat missions during Desert Storm, and said there “was certainly a transition” in the early missions, where 20 to 30 airplanes might be involved.

“As we went on further, we got into smaller strike packages with only, maybe, four airplanes, even two airplanes, when you didn’t need all that other support,” Gorie said. “There was a definite change in the expected threat.”

Through his service, Gorie earned the Navy Commendation Medal with Combat “V” and Distinguished Flying Cross with Combat “V,” among other honors.

His interest in the Navy spawned from a lifelong desire to fly. He also suggested that his father, who flew B-47s in the Air Force and died in a plane crash when Gorie was six years old, might have installed “some deeper emotional connection” to the craft.

But his wrestling involvement began in junior high while living in Miami, Fla., and continued at the United States Naval Academy.

“I never thought that I was good enough to compete at that kind of Division I level, but still went out for the team,” said Gorie, who noted that the “hard part” of wrestling was the time and “commitment to losing weight.”

“To try to lose weight and study in an academic environment like that was pretty tough,” Gorie said. “So, I sort of prioritized school over that. But [they] had a great wrestling program and the coach there, Coach [Ed] Peery at the time, was incredible. The team there was a great program to be a part of. It was hard to pass up, and then when I got the opportunity to compete some at that level, that was wonderful.”

level, that was wonderful.” His Navy career also afforded him the opportunity to work for NASA — another opportunity in his life that was “too good to pass up,” having grown up “mesmerized” by the Apollo program (the third U.S. human spaceflight program).

“That was never something that I really seriously thought would be a possibility,” Gorie said. “It was a dream, but a wayout there kind of dream.”

In 1992, Gorie was sent to U.S. Space Command, followed by selection as an astronaut candidate two years later. He spent nearly 50 days in space and served as a spacecraft communicator for a number of flights, retiring from NASA in 2010.

The lessons learned in wrestling were “directly applicable” to his duties in the Navy and with NASA, according to Gorie.

“When faced with challenges and dreams that you want to try to reach, wrestling gives you the tools for that,” Gorie said. “I can’t imagine a more better- suited sport to prepare you for life’s challenges than wrestling.”

IRAQ WAR: CHRIS MELENDEZ

When Iraq War veteran Chris Melendez returned to Iraq in 2016 for the first time in nearly 10 years, it was a cathartic experience. The single-leg amputee joined four fellow professional wrestlers (Melina, Scotty 2 Hotty, Ken Anderson and “Hurricane” Shane Helms) to entertain troops in Kuwait and Baghdad, Iraq, as part of an Armed Forces Entertainment tour.

Melendez, who served between 2005 and 2007 as an infantryman with B Co. 3rd Bn., 67th Armor, 4th BCT, 4th Inf. Div., attached to 1st Bn., 506th Inf., 101st Abn. Div., in Baghdad, said they landed at Baghdad International Airport on the “same exact flightline” as his first trip.

“I saw the same exact thing,” said Melendez, who noted that others were concerned about his return to Iraq. “It’s amazing how much a smell can trigger memories.”

He wasn’t worried, though, and said after the trip that he could “almost physically feel a weight lifted.” “I felt like the last 10 years I’ve been carrying around a bag of bricks,” said Melendez, who lost his left leg with only 23 days remaining on his deployment.

He was wounded in Sadr City, a suburb of Baghdad, on Sept. 29, 2006. Melendez was showing the relieving unit around Sadr City when his unit was struck by an explosively formed penetrator (EFP). Besides his leg, he nearly lost an arm and had a bone graph in his hip, among other wounds.

“It was rough,” Melendez said of his rehabilitation. “It wasn’t easy. I’m not going to downplay it to sound macho.” The single-leg amputee watched his weight drop from 230 pounds at the time of being wounded to 143 pounds on a 6’2” frame. While he knew he could handle the physical aspects of rehabilitation, it was the mental and emotional toll of being separated from his unit that Melendez said he struggled with most. “I remember sitting up at night, specifically crying for that reason,” Melendez said.

But 40 days after being wounded, he was walking on a prosthetic. Eight months later, he was back home. And six years after that, he stepped into a professional wrestling ring to fulfill his second dream.

Melendez began training in Brooklyn, N.Y., and later was connected with Team 3D Academy — a wrestling school in Kissimmee, Fla., run by multitime tag team champions The Dudley Boyz (also known as Team 3D), Bubba Ray and D-Von. “I dropped everything I was doing and moved right down to Florida… It was basically basic training all over again,” Melendez said.

Melendez debuted in Total Nonstop Action (TNA) Wrestling in 2014 in his hometown (New York City), with his father and future wife in attendance.

“Walking down the ramp and seeing him there, it was kind of hard to hold the tears back,” Melendez said.

During his time with the company, Melendez was involved in a storyline with Eric Young, in which the two wrestlers faced off in a stipulation match that put Melendez’s prosthetic leg on the line. Melendez lost the match and gave Young his prosthetic on television.

Melendez said that situation caused an “uproar” and prompted people to say he was degrading himself and veterans. While people are “quick to call professional wrestling fake,” according to Melendez, they were acting like he “legitimately” made a major offense. Melendez said removing his prosthetic in public could “set an example” and help children whose fathers might be missing an arm or a leg be less afraid.

“It was all in good nature and, I think, to shine light on a negative situation instead of hiding and being upset,” Melendez said. Melendez parted ways with TNA in June 2016 and said he did so because he was “starting to get lost in the shuffle.” “I’m far too passionate about my career to become stagnant at this point,” Melendez said.

He is currently “riding the indie wave” — working with independently owned wrestling companies — and still keeps in touch with Bubba Ray and D-Von, while also helping wrestlers who are just starting in the business.

1991 PERSIAN GULF WAR VET EARNS OLYMPIC, WORLD MEDALIST STATUS

Greg Gibson, who served as a corrections specialist in Saudi Arabia in 1990 and is a VFW member at large, earned a silver medal in Greco-Roman wrestling at the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles. He also can lay claim to a gold medal in sombo wrestling and a bronze in freestyle while on the 1982 U.S. World Team, among a plethora of accomplishments throughout his career.

He enlisted in the Marines in 1978 and retired in 2003 as a master sergeant. He is a member of the National Wrestling Hall of Fame and Museum as a distinguished member (class of 2007).

PAST VFW CHIEF LACED UP THE BOOTS

VFW members, including former Commander-in-Chief John Hamilton (2012-13), also have waged war between ropes.

Hamilton, who served in the Vietnam War from March to September 1969 with 1st Plt., E Co., 2nd Bn., 1st Marine Regt., 1st Marine Div., began his wrestling career in 1974 under the moniker “Johnny Montana.”

Hamilton said, in March, that the wrestling schedule provided “the opportunity to spend time with my VFW comrades and to do volunteer work at the VFW.” He joined the organization in 1973.

Hamilton later manifested into “Doctor Death,” donning a mask and channeling his military service to create the namesake.

“I remembered my sweatshirt I had in ’Nam,” Hamilton told VFW magazine in 1988. “I had a tombstone on the back of it and had my name and serial number on it, and it said, ‘Born July 4, ’50. Died?’ I had it put on my cape, and that’s how Doctor Death came about.”

However, Hamilton, who also served as VFW’s adjutant general from 2013-16, was not the only wrestler to use the name. Steve Williams, who died in 2009, and Paul Lincoln, a wrestler and promoter in the UK who died in 2011, wrestled under the moniker.

“It taught me to suck it up and keep going,” Hamilton said.

A three-time Purple Heart recipient, Hamilton received the following honors for his veterans service: Florida Young Veteran of the Year, 1981; named one of America’s Outstanding Vietnam Veterans in 1979 by President Jimmy Carter; Chapel of Four Chaplains Legion of Honor, 1987.

Read the full article at http://digitaledition.qwinc.com/article/Helmets+to+Headlocks/2780230/405443/article.html.

Previous Page  Next Page


Publication List
Using a screen reader? Click Here