My Dad was a skilled boxer, and as I was growing up, he taught me a thing or two about the sport. By the time I entered High School, it was common to find me and a few friends from the neighborhood, and classmates from Gardena High, in our backyard sparing in impromptu boxing matches.

During my Junior year of High School, I found a part time job at the Gardena Lumber Yard where I became better acquainted with a high school classmate by the name of Quinton Perkins. I learned that Quinton was part of a boxing stable managed by a local barbershop owner and had been fighting at various arenas around Los Angeles.

Quinton was accustomed to winning most of his matches and, being curious, I invited him over to spar with me and my friends. When I easily beat him at his own game, Quinton invited me to spar with him and his fight mates at the gym. Shortly after I started working out with the fellows, one of the fighters broke a rib and the manager invited me to fight in the injured man’s place.

At 17 years of age I wasn’t old enough to compete on the amateur boxing circuit but, I really wanted to fight, and the manager was greedy--so with my permission, he lied to the Boxing Association about my age and it was off to the fights for me. My first match was at a place called the 69th Street Gym where I managed to knock my opponent out in the first round.

My second fight ended up like the first but the next two, my third and fourth bouts, went four rounds each. I won those last two fights by decision but took a bit of a beating in the process. Particularly in the fourth fight, which was at an arena called Martell's. The mounting wins reflected favorably on my fight record but my new curriculum, in taking a beating, was also being advanced with each fight.

I was accustomed to winning, and no worse for the wear at that, but these matches seemed increasingly harder to win. After the Martell’s bout I couldn’t bite into anything solid for several days. It felt like my jaw was on crooked. I may have had talent, but in the ring I was a naïve. Only later did I discover why my opponents were getting tougher.

Boxing managers were paid on a scale according to the experience of each of their fighters. My manager thought I looked pretty good so he embellished not only my age, but my fight record as well, to reflect experience he deemed more in line with my ability.

The manager made more money on each of my fights but I paid the price by being pitted against older and more experienced fighters. It was a nice compliment, but one that turned out to be painful for me. In the end, I suppose the manager did me a favor since I quit after the fight at Martell’s.

My mother would never have approved of my fighting so I had to keep it a secret from the family. By the time of my last fight, I was beginning to run out of excuses for the small cuts and bruises that kept appearing on my face. After each fight, we were paid a small amount of money, officially called expense reimbursement since it was the amateur circuit, and I used my winnings to augment the family income, partly to assuage my guilt for lying to my mother.

My Dad would never have knowingly accepted money from me, particularly if he knew I earned it prizefighting, so I had to come up with creative ways to slip money into the family budget. Dad bought reclaimed oil by the drum so I would sneak a little oil into the oil barrel and gas into the car's tank, a little at a time. I also would quietly pay for household supplies, all without Dad or Mom ever knowing.

By the time I quit boxing, the school had been contacted to verify my age and I was called in to see Mr. Goulet, the school principal. Mr. Goulet asked if I was fighting professionally. I told him I had fought just a few amateur bouts but that I had since quit. He then asked if I was paid for these bouts. I produced my yellow Amateur Athletic Association card, and I told him I had only received a small amount of reimbursement money. Mr. Goulet then informed me that, regardless how small the amount or what it was for, being paid as an athlete at any time while playing interscholastic sports was not permitted and so I would be stripped of my tennis letter.

This was particularly bad news since my mother was so proud of the fact I had lettered in tennis. I tried to explain to Mr. Goulet, my reason for fighting was to help my family, but my explanation fell on deaf ears. Not only did I end up sore and bruised and out of the fight game but, I also lost the letter I had earned in tennis and was barred from school sports for the balance of the school year.

That was the end of my professional boxing career, though I have continued throughout most of my life to spar in friendly matches, as well as the occasional unplanned and not particularly friendly match. I boxed some in the Army where I had the pleasure of sparing with former Light Heavyweight Champion of the World, Billy Conn.

I always faired pretty well in the ring, so imagine my surprise when I squared off with Billy Conn and discovered I couldn't even touch the man. Billy taught me the difference between a boxer who was pretty good and a real pro. And he was gentleman enough not to cuff my ears, which I soon figured out he could have done at any time if he had taken the notion.

Though I never met him, another boxer also served in the Army who Billy fought against for the Heavyweight title. Billy nearly defeated, but eventually lost to the reigning champ. April of 2006, on the 25th anniversary of that fighter's death, a U.S. Army Honor Guard and members of the Barrow family gathered in Arlington National Cemetery for a wreath laying ceremony honoring Army Technical Sergeant Joe Barrow.

Sergeant Barrow did not qualify for burial in the National Cemetery but President Ronald Reagan waived the requirements for one of America’s national heroes, former World Heavyweight Boxing Champion Joe Louis Barrow, the Brown Bomber.

Louis sank Conn in the 13th round of their scheduled 15 round fight on June 19, 1941. In his dressing room after the fight, Louis acknowledged Conn was much too speedy for him. Louis said, "I couldn't get started against that fast Conn...I knew I was losing the fight when the thirteenth round started".

The only thing I can add to that is, ...I know what you mean Joe, I couldn't get started against him either!

In wrapping up my brief history of boxing, I have to tell you that in addition to Billy Conn and Joe Louis, my friend Quinton Perkins also ended up in the Army during WWII. As it turned out, Quinton's last fight was not in a boxing ring, it was on the field of battle. Quinton’s name is now engraved on the city War Memorial among the others from Gardena who gave their lives in service of their country.

It angers me to see how little respect is shown today for the sacrifices of our soldiers. We owe an eternal debt of gratitude to all our great fighters, both in the boxing ring and out--past and present... Humble thanks to all the men and women who have the courage to step into the ring to defend our freedom!

Stories of Philip A. Mehan - Written by Scott Dawes © 2005-2009