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VFW Magazine May 2017 : Page 15

OPPONENTS TO THE MAT BY KARI WILLIAMS in 1914 — and was undefeated at the end of 1915. But war put his wrestling career on hold. He was inducted into the Army Dec. 11, 1917, at 29 years old while living in Anita, Iowa, with his wife. Caddock’s induction into the Army occurred at Camp Dodge in Des Moines, Iowa, with Headquarters Troop, 88th Infantry Division. Prior to enlisting, he joined a civilian training camp in May 1917. While in training at Camp Dodge, Caddock, a private, “gained some time off to wrestle several times, as the Army recognized the public relations value of having the world heavyweight champi-on in its ranks,” according to Caddock: Walnut’s Wrestling Wonder , written by Mike Chapman. Caddock’s bonus application from the state of Iowa confirms Chapman’s account, noting that Caddock received “civilian pay” while in the service because he “had a few matches while at Camp Dodge.” The 88th Infantry Division, which initially consisted of draftees from Minnesota, Iowa, Illinois and the Dakotas, arrived in Europe in time to par-ticipate in the Meuse-Argonne Offensive. In September 1918, the 88th Infantry Division moved to support the 29th American Division, a tactic that “contrib-uted, not indirectly, to the winning of the important Meuse-Argonne Offensive,” according to The 88th Division in the World War of 1914-1918 . After deploying to France, the 88th Infantry Division “continued to train troops that again were reassigned to other divisions or miscellaneous organizations, a total of nearly 50,000 men in total,” according to Jerry Schmidt, a research volunteer with the National World War I Museum in Kansas City, Mo. Prior to his unit’s August 1918 depar-ture for France, Caddock scored vic-tories over professional wrestlers Ed “Strangler” Lewis and Wladek Zbyszko. Once in the trenches, Caddock “suf-fered some degree of lung damage in a mustard gas attack, though the pre-cise extent of the injury is not known,” Chapman wrote. “But his patriotic action attracted considerable attention back in the United States, similar to what occurred nine decades later when National Football League star Pat Tillman gave up a lucrative career in sports to serve in Afghanistan, eventually losing his life,” Chapman wrote. With World War I brewing, any Olympic aspirations Caddock had “were obliterated with the cancellation of the 1916 Games,” according to Caddock: From World War I to present-day conicts, service members made their marks in careers beyond the military. Here we explore those who did so in the grappling world. Walnut’s Wrestling Wonder. Shortly thereafter, Caddock transi-tioned to the professional ranks — but that world was a far cry from the present-day multimillion-dollar conglomerate of WWE. Matches could last up to three hours, “with considerable time spent on the mat working for a joint-lock submis-sion or a pin hold,” Chapman wrote. Regardless, Caddock’s success fol-lowed him to the professional realm, as he was “in constant demand,” accord-ing to Chapman, and traveled the nation, gracing the front pages of sports sections along the way. His induction into the Army also prompted front-page coverage. When Caddock was discharged May 28, 1919, he competed — unwillingly — in the Allied Expeditionary Games after WWI’s Nov. 11, 1918, armistice, accord-ing to Chapman. Caddock returned to the ring after serving his country, fac-ing Nebraska’s Joe Stecher, Gus Kervaris and others. But he opted out of the wres-tling game in 1922, despite “the lure of big money.” “The long trips and constant travel-ing were wearing hard on Earl, who was now 33 years of age,” Chapman wrote. “Not only had he suffered some degree of lung damage, but he was more inter-ested in being home in Walnut than trav-eling the country to wrestle.” LEFT: Earl Caddock served during World War I with the 88th Infantry Division out of Camp Dodge in Des Moines, Iowa. His wrestling career, which began prior to his time in the service, ended with a record of 82-7-2 and he only was defeated a er returning from war. MAY 2017 • WWW.VFW.ORG • 15

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