Training For  Boxing Reporter Three Years in the Eye of a Hurricane Esteban Erik Stipnieks



When Luis Yanez fought Joseph Rios I faced the fact my conscience developed in Denton in terms of boxing safety I would rather make enemies then compromise what I know to be right.  I can only build so much consensus.  Behind it all is compassion and sometimes my terseness gets in the way.  In terms of humor double meaning and sometimes enjoying the absurdity of boxing when it is not fatal I had training that I feel is God ordained.  For three years I was in the eye of historical hurricane along with my parents then again in many respects hurricane was a long time forming.  Sometimes a sardonic chuckle is needed even in heavy serious times.

I guess you can it spring 1967 when improbability drive shifted from my Uncle Gints Stipnieks whose harrowing tales you will read about later to his baby brother a man young enough to be his son Maris Stipnieks.  Gints had recently reunited with the love his life the marriage would continue to shortly before a Leija Battah Cinco De Mayo card at Cowboys Dance hall.  Romeo and Juliet of slave labor/refugee camps in Nazi Germany had found themselves single in Australia.  Latvian love is strong.  From summer 1951 till the mid sixties my father had gone from part of post World War II refugee crisis child who got off the boat in New York City to baby boomer.  The refugee crisis post World War II largely remains forgotten today.  If you forget his first years of life and the fact he had family in the USSR His story well so typical of the Vietnam era helicopter pilot army warrant officer.  Being the spoilt baby boy parents drop off car at the point in training where Warrant officer Candidates could have them and well one week pass.  Denton in the sixties home of North Texas State University and Texas Woman's University ( not yet known as I would call it in high school as Two Women United) While the husband of Natalie Maines wrote Traveling Soldier their are several women who lived in Denton at the time that could have told similar stories even if they were college students.  Enter Nortena Anita Ester Tamez from Alice Texas.  She got her teaching certification math teacher in three years when Denton ISD was officially desegregated turbulent year of 1967.  Anita being a tough produce of Alice Texas had a practical side no marriage till after you survive your tour.   

The tour in Vietnam showed that the torch had been passed from half brother old enough to be daddy to....with the Gladiator assault helicopter company a Green Beret gave him a Browning 9mm.  The gift was a token of trust with real practical value if SOG recon team or SF team had to walk a helicopter pilot after being shot down a Browning 9mm is far more useful than a six shot .38.  This was followed by proxies fighting a proxy war an OH-6 crew chief same age and same birth country and circumstance as pilot except instead of Latvian a Romanian was involved tragically this Casper Spec 5 Richard Wade Joles has his name on the Vietnam wall.  Finally a chance encounter with Chuck Yeager who might have fired ordinance or had his airplane streak over the head of eldest half brother Gints!  Maris could have delayed his tour but he wanted older brother Sergeant Agris out of Vietnam and with the family near NORTH STAR MALL!  Sullivan rule.  St Josephs Church Alice Texas (I would have loved to seen it) one of the princesses of Alice Paint and Body married the Latvian.   

In 1973 my mothers career as a teacher in Austin shifted to the administrative track and my father returned to the ranks of military pilots Austin Army Aviation support facility.  In late 1974 while preparing to move to New Braunfels and before a house on three lots purchased in tandem with dad next one lot down from Sisters house....well lets just say I was born September 1975 in Austin! 

New Braunfels Texas while resembling (as I would find out much much much much later) superficially Smiltene Latvia,  had its cold war secret.  My late grandfather Alexandris Stipnieks found out much to his consternation his happily ever house was across the street from an American Intelligence analyst who got a his PHd in Aerospace engineering from a German University in the mid 1930s!  Anita would later remark of her mother in law while Latvians hated one group of people and one person far more than Nazis and Hitler well being called a Nazi was certainly NOT a term of endearment.  Gints eldest might have shouted (partially rough translation) "First the red bastards then the gray bastards" gray being the color associated with the Nazi occupation of Latvia.  Selective deafness even by Gestapo 44-45 since well the Latvians did not run out of Red bastards to shoot.  Thirty years later five thousand nautical miles away from World War II well ok it was still pretty close to happily ever after despite the Gray bastard working for the US government who across the street.  Agris Stipnieks would inherit the house in 1979.

The two are equally crazy what happened at Sunset Station Spring of this year with Cancino's infamous gesturing to fans of Javier Rodriguez and a retired army NCO writing the Soviet Union while living across the street from a spook.  Cancino's antics threatened a riot and my late Uncle Agris writing family probably generated some concern. 

After Valeria Flores fought Lucy Contererras I referenced the Brauntex Theatre ( I drove by it) pulling up several pieces from Robert Earl Keen's Front Porch Song "This old porch is just an old palace walking main street of Texas it ain't even seen or heard the day of GnR in exciss with a 62 poster that's almost faded out and a screen without a picture since Giant came to town" well that Old Palace walking a main street of Texas was where from six to just shy of my preteen I lived the great and no so great C movie moments of the Cold War seeing War Games, 2010 The year We Make Contact, Spies Like Us, Rocky 4 and the movie White Nights.  (Clips and trailers of the movies are on you tube and they aside from Rocky 4 are worth a look.  In a Texas institutions whose demise is depicted by Larry McMutry in the movie the Last Picture Show I saw a movie that depicted the pain of one set of grand parents.  In the car parked by the Old MoPac depot my mother told my sister how Austra Stipnieks and Alexandris Stipnieks would have echoed the line I will always be a Russian but never be a Soviet!  Oh yes Spies Like Us great fun.

I had met Gints and Lija after my grandfathers death in 1979 (I found his body) in spring of 1984 they ate Bar-b-cue celebrating my first communion with the first hispanic Opa of the Wurstfest association my late Tio Joe.  He and my Tia Irma integrated the neighborhood on the hill in new Braunfels.  Naturally mi wela Guadalupe Martinez cooked flour tortillas, beans and rice to go along with brisket, sausage.  A couple years later I would hear about the spy across the street spring 1986.  My Uncle Agris would tell of seeing a man die as the arm burned off him from an allied fire bomb.  I would hear the story 1985ish on the the front porch.  At the time I heard the story I was about the age the retired NCO saw it as child in either Dresden or Wurzburg Germany (I never got the precise date) but the family was most likely in Wurzburg 1945 during the allied fire bombing of the city.    

(Photo by Clint Lively)

When this photo was taken their was still some legit fear about the world wending in 40 minutes with a massive nuclear exchange their were two German nations East and West and the idea of the Berlin wall coming down seemed absolutely crazy.  Latvian independence seemed a far off pipe dream if ever.  This is a photo of me between 6th and 7th grade.  For Laity Lodge Youth Camp I would not return as a camper till well things changed.  I can say this photo represents a thorn I would carry for a time that lead me ultimately shall I say home.

My mothers father was an epileptic, between 5 between Bernando Tamez and Gaudalupe and several other foster a couple others.  Mi madre has a PhD in education but suffice to say well umm my sister was more than happy to spend a school year away as an exchange student 1988-1989 in Denmark.  December 1988 was well since I was at Winston School San Antonio the only time we could afford to fly to Europe to pay a visit.  KLM fly drive vacation.   Single flight out of IAH to Schiphol.  I will admit to a smug safe feeling even after we heard about Pan Am Flight 103 between Mannheim and Munich on the autobahn (we flew after on KLM) my cousin had related how my Uncle Agris did not like take too kindly to her sister brining home a mug bearing Stalin's image from a school trip to East Germany.  My Uncle Agris (born Smiltene Latvia 1935) had married a German woman and the two shared a common perspective of American bombing doing World War II as children.....(Duck, run endure) Then then retired Sgt Major (Reagan supporter) did describe a mans death to me by American fire bombing brutally.  I by this time had heard about child hood prank he played (he was age 10 when WWII ended) during the war with hand crank generator some copper wire and metal funnel in the men's latrine.  "Your grandfather almost killed me that night"   As for his reaction to a coffee mug bearing Stalin's image.  Stalins body count in Latvia was a quick 40,000 innocent civilians and 100,000 to Gulag.  The mug to him was offensive as coffee cup bearing Hitlers image to jew.  I was 24 hours away from the real suprisres Well the surprises really hit in Berchtesgarten when my father rattled off child hood memories first from a train as we went near alpine stream then on Koenigsee and coming back to Berchtesgaten.  Their had been a DP camp there! ( yahoo search DP albums key words Latvian DP camps Germany) you will see photos.   Put more precisely halfway around the world from New Braunfels was a land connected to me.   Coming back to the USA we might have flown in the same airplane that took us including my sister my grandmothers remains to continent of Europe a little more than six years early.  Funny thing was since we did go through my fathers birth place (Wurzburg) their were some additional questions for him by an emigration officer female.  Ok boxing fans a punch line is coming up next two paragraphs.  I was being trained to be a boxing reporter and I did not now it.

I read Richard Martinez's column in the Express News and in that time period my father comes back home telling my mother that Colonel Schultz asked him if he wanted to participate in the Texas contingent competing for slots on the US Helicopter team that would compete in Chantilly France September 1989.  Now I seriously doubt Colonel Schultz knew that my dads eldest half brother actually fired on Soviet Tanks rolling into Riga while their Uncle was an inmate at Aushwitz.  More of that WWII gore later on.   Had you told us in February 1989 what the world would look like December 1989 we would have suspected your house had many roaches in your casa and I am not talking about the six legged variety. 

Photo taken by me at Ft Rucker Alabama March 1989 at precision Hover event (this guy did not make the team)

Long story short he made the team and well lets just leave to your imagination what happened between a child on the autism spectrum who wanted to see his dog and realized he would spend a summer without his father and the woman who went from the barrio of Alice Texas to become then the administrator of secondary education NBISD as she decided to divert to see some of Mississippi Gulf Coast taking more drive time on the way home.  

For us it was a remarkably boring typical Army Aviator and family July 4th weekend vacation on the Red Neck Riviera of Florida.  The catch was while my father had been training as a part of the US Precision Helicopter team since June well while we did the deep sea fishing on a large group boat the swimming in the Gulf halfway around the world the Warsaw Pact well Gorbachave was permitting to commit suicide.  The kicker is the team arrived on the European Continent at Chivruex AB and some of the train ups just shy of the event might have over flown where Gints had been held as POW the Stalin had the USA and Brits as allies.  How do you like that Mrs. Emigration officer who thought a nordic man visiting his birth place was suspicious.  He by this time was wearing a white Satin jacket with the letters USA. 

At about the time of Competition well East Germany was developing a rather severe problem.  It involved people with Hungary really opening ties up to west all the intellectuals who saw communism for what it was were well using Hungary as a ticket to West Germany.  Meanwhile team USA swept the Soviets taking the first seven places at the FAI helicopter championships Chantilly 1989.  I  only later informed the photographer of this photo of one of the Soviet Helicopters (I do not think the photographer knew the back story) involved of our German vacation previous on where my father spent his early life as a DP. 

By the time this photo was taken the Berlin wall had lost all its significance early November is considered the date of Berlin Wall falling.  Normally I would have been offended by absence of bikini b-roll on Hard Copy but seeing a crowd on the Berlin Wall with hammers not getting mowed by by machine gun fire from a East German border card to the tune of John Mellencamp "When the Walls Come Tumbling down" was really cool considering for the previous 7 years the idea of nuclear exchange ending the world in 40 minutes was a thought not far removed.   

Readers left author, center ed Jones, Brazilian exchange student Robert Mueller airport December 1989 after well err umm just a small event in history.  (Photo Auroa Richards Stipnieks)  

Naturally being in 8th grade I did not quite grasp the significance of a Latvian DP who was a Vietnam Vet participating in the last USA v USSR competition before the world really changed.  The Berlin wall a symbol cross it and die.  It was neat seeing the map change.  It appeared spring of 1990 Gorbys bet on sacrificing the Warsaw pact to save the USSR would work which meant the family was still oppressed.  Midnight Oil also released this ditty which I watched in enjoyed in addition to watching bikini clad babes on head banger video a la Beavis and Butthead I did not know that the song hit far closer than I dared imagine.  The Social Studies learned in Mrs Parras sixth grade social studies class New Braunfels Middle School us undone by the time I read Kerouac in Roger Barr's English class. 

The Gulf war sucked attention out of the room while things for family still in Latvia was getting worse and well while Gorbachave had eased travel restrictions it only enabled Latvians how bad they were off compared to the diaspora that survived and lived on.  For life as an army brat well dad was quite busy as Desert shield hit into high gear and people were being sent overseas.  Well the angry formerly bullies self rightous aspie had returned to New Braunfels high school and did well enough academically to hide the chaos inside that on May 1 1991 lead him back to Echo Valley and more importantly to Christ.  God within a year would put him with several others in a place called Denton Bible but well a couple major world events had to follow.  For what it is worth Diane Tilly was riding with my car on that trip to Echo Valley.  As program crew June 10, 1993 I heard what happened at Clear Creek. 

I was 15 between freshman and sophomore years in high school.  At that age Gints, Biruta and Lija were living the horrors caught between two genocidal maniacs.  I had earned a trip to visit family in Australia.   The flight from Sydney to Canberra was in the same make model and possibly even series number of airplane that carried my family and my grandmother Austras ashes from Stockholm to Visby!  Linjeflyg and Anestt operated the Fokker F.28 and operated the same versions of the Fokker F.28.  I do not have the series number of either the Bromma to Visby flight or Sydney to Canberra flight which had the equipment change.  I am growing to the point to see less and less by chance so it was almost fitting that weather and airline issues conspired to have me the Fokker.  Gints kind of got things started when he told me of his choice as Australia accepted him as an emigrant.  Midnight Oil's Blue Sky Mine became FAR LESS abstract very quickly.  That had been one of two choices he was given to work in Australia when he first arrived.  He chose the lumber camps instead.  This happened strangely enough in the same living room that my father in 1986 had looked through books for name and a picture of an American Colonel he had to use as reference to begin flight training.  Never mind the fact that during the Vietnam War some NVA did go through flight school.  Gints related how his Oscars had removed the Swatzika and replaced it with a Latvian flag on a Latvian national holiday.   Oscars was not the ideal age for military service so he got the trip to Aushwitz.  Gints also informed me that well family from Latvia had in fact near nervous break downs in Australian shopping centers.  Gints also told of while he was my age (he was born 1927) having to walk past a pile of dead bodies (failed uprising) on the way to school in Nazi occupied Poland.  Oh yes if he did not go that route the Nazis would shoot him and throw his body on the pile.  This bad situation beat a certain death sentence if Stalin and the red army got a hold of you.  His eldest sister lost her child and husband during the war.  H W Bush's silence after Latvia declared itself independent (again) was deafening.  Hearing about near starvation, slave labor, running for your life is very different when Aunt's and Uncles tell you  Alberts Levics sardonic humor which he shared in Kanberas Latviesu Saime pecdsemit Gadi 1947-1997 was also mirrored in my Uncle.  At times pastors show man's depravity and people who you would think as scum of the earth rise to help others.  I recall meeting Alberts that July.  My Uncle compiled the book.  It is still dissonant in the American mind to say we were aligned with a a genocidal maniac during WWII.  Then again Adolf made the choice for the US and Stalin made the decision for my family.  Desert Storm meant many poor Iraqis serving a dictator very much like Stalin got buried to death.  With the ex pat community in Canberra there now old men who had earned decorations from opposing forces during WWII.  I will admit to being embarrassed when Gints patted a 38mm anti tank gun captured by the Aussies in North Africa at the Australian war memorial recalling how he fired one like it at Soviet tanks rolling into Riga. Probably looking back the moment of odd ball prophecy was Gints watching Boris Yeltsin get sworn made reference to the heavy  Russian czarist imagery.   The prophecy was not quite as fore shadowing as shocking a line said in boxing gym 1 week before Oscar Diaz's final fight here in San Antonio.  Czarist Russia was emerging.  I did not know mi madre was on her way to becoming Denton ISD's first Latina assistant superintendent.  I was not too happy to hear I would be a in car doing to Denton after spending more than 24 hours in the air from Canberra.

This photo has the image of two people who ultimately traded places so to speak.  We were teammates me back row center the other person desires privacy.  That persons elementary school friends I would come to know as a Bronco after well a not so small event in history.  That not so small event occurred within a month of this photo being taken.  I am back row center.  I had grown up a boxing fan in San Antonio. 

 Their is much written about the failed Soviet Coup in which Boris Yeltsin emerged as and the Baltic States spun off.  My father was flying a lot but it hardly war time footing dooms day watching missions.  My mother was getting swallowed by one of the many controversial moments of Denton 1991-1992 school year.  August 20-21 1991.  I remember watching a Channel 1 Broadcast in Unicorn land in which two of them got the first media Visas issued to Estonia.  I had written an oratory saying the USA should be more vocal in its support of Latvian independence for speech and debate 1991-1992 school year August 21st or 22nd after a cross-country workout it was balled up and slammed into Mrs Balmanno's waste paper basket at New Braunfels high school with glee.  Never mind that the adult me would look back and regret primary source eye witness history winding up in the Comal County dump but well half my family was finally free!  

I have covered boxing now for 11 years locally in San Antonio.  I will admit to sobbing like a baby at Joe Souza's funeral mainly because Agris died AFTER August 21 1991 all my fathers siblings and his fellow Latvian sister in law all lived past that date.  So to all those who served in the Cold War their was the solace of knowing an uncle lived long enough to see a wrong righted.  That May mourn taps the bugle cry of my Uncles adopted homeland yet he had lived long enough to know Latvia was a free nation.  Joe Souza served during the Cold War.  The tears of a man whose family was liberated by Joe well flowed.   I hope Sue Fox shares this link on her when you see a boxer from Latvia this is a thread of their history.   



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