Velarde, Jose

Joe Velarde began fencing at the age of thirteen at Seward Park High School and competed in New York City’s Public School Athletic League from 1936-39.

He was a sophomore and co-captain of Professor Joseph Smith’s Brooklyn College Fencing Team when Pearl Harbor was attacked on December 7, 1941. Joe enlisted in the Army Air Corps and served from 1942-45 in the European Theatre of Operations, flying 60 bombing missions as a B-25 Armorer-Gunner.

When World War II ended in 1945, Joe joined Maestro Julio (Pop) Martinez Castello’s national championship teams at New York University. In 1946-47, co-captained by Velarde, NYU won both the Eastern and National Collegiate Three-Weapon Team Championships.

VELARDEatCOLUMBIA.jpgAfter completing a Master of Arts Degree in Education at NYU, Joe accepted a seasonal appointment as fencing coach of the U. S. Military Academy, West Point, New York, (1947-49). His team shared First Place with Rutgers University in the 1949 NCAA Three-Weapon Team Championship.

Velarde then accepted a fulltime faculty appointment and head coaching position at Columbia University in New York City (1949-52). During this period, his teams won the 1951 Eastern Intercollegiate Athletic Conference Championship, as well as the 1951 and 1952 NCAA Three Weapon Team Championships.  In the summer of 1952, as an Air Force Reserve Officer and Intelligence Language Specialist, he was recalled to active military duty for the duration of the Korean Crisis. Joe became one of the earliest USAF officers to specialize in Special Operations and Counterinsurgency and elected to remain throughout the “Cold War” as a career Regular Officer until his medical disability retirement from active duty in 1971.

In addition to his military duties while stationed in Europe during the years 1956-59, Joe coached a U. S. Armed Forces team in the 1957 Britannia Shield Games in London, placing 3rd in a six-nation round-robin 3-weapon tourney.  He also coached the Joint U. S. Armed Forces fencing teams in the
1958 and 1959 NATO-sponsored CISM Games (Conseil Internationale du Sports
Militaire) in Luxembourg and West Germany, placing 4th each time in a twelve-nation round-robin 3-weapon tournament. While assigned to the US Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, CO, (1961-65) as an associate professor of foreign languages and area studies, Velarde also volunteered as Officer-in-Charge of Fencing.

Joe is a retired Air Force lieutenant colonel and a disabled Vietnam veteran. In addition to his 60 World War II combat missions, his “Cold War”
commissioned service includes intelligence, psyops, and special operations assignments in the Caribbean, Central and South America, the Middle East and the jungles of Washington, D.C.  For his service as chief of military-civic action programs in Vietnam (1969-70), Velarde was recognized with the presidential award of the U.S. Legion of Merit and a Special Freedom Foundation Award, adding to his 21 other commendations. His quarter-century of active military service was highlighted by several special assignments with the Organization of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and with key elements of the National Security network.

For 25 years after Joe’s disability retirement from active military duty, he dedicated his efforts as an activist, advocate and organizer toward enhancing the quality of life and work of migrant farm workers, immigrants, refugees and other “working poor,” who comprise some six million disenfranchised members of California’s population. In 1990-91 he served as editor of The Education of Adult Migrant Farmworkers. published by the US Department of Education. In November, 1992, he developed a national issues policy paper, “America’s Farmworkers and Their Quality of Life,” at the behest of then President-elect Bill Clinton’s Transition Team.

Born in Louisiana of Cuban parents, he is married to Carol Ann Greenwood, an active  civil rights and social justice advocate, with whom he shares a blended, loving family of 5 adult children and 14 grandchildren. Carol received the Earl Raab JPAC Award in 2001 for her outstanding political advocacy on behalf of the Jewish Community of the State of California.

Joe’s major contribution to the sport of Fencing is widely considered by many to be the public actions that he took while coaching at Columbia University in November of 1949 at competition venues of the Amateur Fencers League of America (AFLA). His adamant refusal to accede to efforts to segregate his fencers ultimately led to the end of discriminatory practices against persons of color and brought about racial integration throughout American Fencing.

In the Spring of 2002, almost 50 years to the day, Columbia University’s Alumni Fencing Committee acknowledged Velarde’s work, by honoring him at the annual Fencing Team Dinner and presenting Joe with a statuette of a bronze lion, inscribed as follows:

“Joe Velarde
Head Coach 1949-1952
Progenitor of the Golden Age of Columbia Fencing.”

Among those Velarde credits with having contributed important strengths and values to his personal life and professional development over many years, are his former fencing coaches: Emanuel Ehrlich, Maestro Antonino Greco, Professor Joe Smith, and Maestro Julio (Pop) Martinez Castello, plus the following members of the United States Fencing Hall of Fame Honor Roll:

Albert Axelrod
Irwin F. Bernstein
Dr. Daniel Bukantz
Hugo M. Castello
James M. Castello
Michael D’Asaro
Jose R. deCapriles
Miguel A. deCapriles
Irving DeKoff
Andre Deladrier
Maxwell Garret
Ralph M. Goldstein
Edward Lucia
James Montague
James A. Murray, Jr.
Rene Pinchart
Giorgio L. Santelli
Charles R. Schmitter
Stephen B. Sobel
Nicholas Toth
George V. Worth

Introduction of Joe Velarde to the USFA Hall of Fame – 7/6/09
By Steve SobelUnfortunately, Joe Velarde, who was my coach and mentor, is not well enough to travel to Grapevine Texas to be here tonight. It gives me great pleasure to represent Joe and inform those of you who did not have the opportunity to get to know him, why he is such a worthy candidate for induction into the USFA Fencing Hall of Fame.  My thanks to Kurt Aichele, USFA Executive Director, for arranging to have the ceremonies video taped so Joe can experience the excitement of being inducted into the Hall of Fame from the comforts of home.Joe is a most deserving candidate for induction for many reasons.  His record of accomplishments speaks for itself.  He was not only a great coach of fencing, he was great mentor for his students not only teaching fencing, but lessons for life.  Joe is a war hero with a proud military career in the service of our country.  Finally, and most important, Joe personally eliminated racial discrimination in fencing in 1949, 60 years ago.

Joe is the only coach in the history of fencing to win NCAA team championships for two different colleges. His team at West Point won the NCAA team championship in 1949, which at that time was the only NCAA championships won by the USMA cadets in any sport.  After Joe became Columbia coach in 1950 his team won the NCAA team championship in 1951 and 1952, with Bob Nielson winning the NCAA foil championships in 1951 & 1952, and Danny Chafetz the epee championship in 1952.  All three Columbia fencers at the NCAA championships were selected first team All America; in 1951  (Nielson, Chafetz and Krajcir) and in 1952 (Nielson, Chafetz and a new boy on the block, me).  The year before Joe came to Columbia the team record was 2 victories and 10 defeats.  In his three years at Columbia the team record was 27 victories and 11 defeats, raising the winning record from .167 to .711.  It is no wonder that to this day Joe is known at Columbia as the progenitor of the modern golden age of fencing at Columbia.

Joe was a great mentor to me.  My first challenge at Columbia was not winning a bout on the strip, but passing the physical as a freshman.  Columbia required all athletes to pass a physical exam to be eligible to compete in intercollegiate athletics.  For most athletes this was routine, but I failed.  I had been hit in the eye with a baseball in my junior year of high school which impaired vision in one eye.  Although I argued with the doctor that I was undefeated in my senior year of high school as team captain, and fencing was a safe sport, he decided that it was too dangerous for me to fence.  Joe scheduled a meeting with the Doctor.  He explained that foil and epee were thrusting weapons where touches were scored with the point only, but sabre was a cutting weapon with touches scored by the side of the blade.  He demonstrated a thrust with the foil and epee, and a cut with the sabre on the mask.  He told the doctor he was aware of the doctor’s concern about safety and had taken that into consideration.  Since sabre scores touches with cuts from the side of the blade to the mask while foil and epee score touches with the point, I would only be permitted to fence sabre which was safer.  The doctor passed me and left.

I looked at Joe in total disbelief, saying that what Joe told the doctor made no sense to me.   I was fencing sabre because it was my weapon, not because it was safer, and sabre was also a thrusting weapon since touches could be scored with the point as well.  Joe smiled and replied, “You want to be a lawyer? Let me give you your first law lesson right now.  What you said to the doctor made perfect sense to you, but you failed.  What I said to the doctor made no sense to you, but you passed.  When you argue cases before a judge, jury, or in this case a doctor, what makes sense to you is not important.  You must find arguments that make sense to the person who will make a decision in your case.”

Joe was a sport psychologist in 1952 before sport psychology was recognized as a science.  Columbia’s first meet was a home meet on a Saturday afternoon against the University of Pennsylvania, coached by Lajos Csiszar, a great sabre coach known as the maestro.  On Friday night, as usual, I went to Salle Santelli for my Friday evening lesson with Georgio Santelli, and to practice with the Olympic fencers at the club – George Worth, Tybor Nylias, and Al Kwartler.  When I arrived, the Penn team was practicing.  Joe, a coach at that club, told me that I didn’t look very good and should not fence.  I replied that I felt fine, but he insisted.  When I started to go home to rest, he said, “I didn’t tell you to go home.  I want you to watch the Penn team fence, but I don’t want them to watch you.  On Saturday afternoon the first bout of the meet was my bout against Bob Parmacek, their top sabre fencer.  I won 5-0, the only time I ever beat him 5-0 in the three years we fenced against each other regularly.  The sabre team won 9-0 and Columbia won the meet.  At the end of the meet Lajos Csiszar, couldn’t believe what he saw, and when he congratulated Joe on the Columbia victory, he asked, “What kind of sabre do you teach?”  Joe didn’t know how to answer, but was never at a loss for words.  He replied, “I teach winning sabre.”

Joe had a distinguished military career.   Joe was co-captain of the Brooklyn College fencing team on December 7, 1941 when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor.  Joe left college to enlist in the Army Air Corp.  During WW 2 Joe flew 60 combat missions over Nazi Germany as the gunner in a B-52 bomber.  Joe, whose full name is Servando Jose Velarde, was fluent in Spanish, his native language.  After coaching three years at Columbia he received a visit from Air Force Intelligence and was informed that he was urgently needed for a special top secret mission to Central America.  Joe left Columbia to once again serve his country, and retired from military service a few years later at the rank of Lt. Col.  Joe’s is wearing his flight jacket in the picture in the program.

During the Korean crisis I went into the Air Force as a Judge Advocate. One morning the sergeant in my office told me that the Base Commander called and wanted to see me. I had no idea why he wanted to see me, or what I had done wrong.   The Base Commander was a former All America football player in college.  When I arrived in his office he said that he did not know I was a fencer until he received orders from the Pentagon to make me available to fence in the international military championships (CISM).  I wondered how the Pentagon knew that I was a fencer.  I found out when I arrived in Wiesbaden, Germany and was met at the airport by the coach of the US fencing team, Major Velarde.

Joe is famous for ending racial discrimination in fencing.  In the fall of 1949, Joe entered a Columbia foil team in an AFLA foil team event at a prominent NY Club.  There were four fencers on the team who arrived with Joe.  One black member of the team was not permitted to fence.  He offered to go home quietly and let the other three fencers compete for Columbia but Joe said. “I am the coach and I decide who fences for Columbia.  I make that decision based on one criteria only – who has the best chance of winning.  If he doesn’t fence, the team doesn‘t fence”, and he withdrew the team.  Ordinarily, nobody would know or care that Columbia didn’t fence in an AFLA competition, but Joe went public.  He called every newspaper in NYC to inform them that Columbia would not enter fencing teams in any AFLA competition since the AFLA condones and supports a policy of racial discrimination.  In the middle of the football season when fencing news didn’t make the fine print of the sports section, the Columbia announcement became front page headlines, not in the sports section, in the news section of all the Sunday papers.

Joe had a busy Monday morning.  When he was called to a meeting with the Columbia College Dean, he thought he was being fired before the season even started, but much to his delight, Columbia fully supported his position.  Then Miguel de Capriles, Dean of NYU Law School and AFLA President called him to a meeting.  Miguel told Joe that these things take time and must occur gradually, and Joe was ahead of his time pushing too hard too fast.  Joe replied that he flew 60 combat missions against the Nazis to defend the basic principles of equal opportunity in our Constitution that this country stands for.  He said, “I am not ahead of my time, pushing too hard too fast, the AFLA is behind the time dragging its feet and moving too slow.  The Columbia position is final and not negotiable.  So long as the AFLA condones and supports a policy of racial discrimination, Columbia teams and fencers will not compete in AFLA competitions.”   He then walked out of the meeting.  A few hours later the AFLA responded by issuing  a press release that it would not sanction fencing competitions at venues that did not permit all AFLA members in good standing to compete, regardless of race.

To understand the full significance of this monumental accomplishment, you have to realize how different America was in 1949, 60 years ago.  1949 was 5 years before the U.S. Supreme Court held that it was unconstitutional to require black students to attend different schools than white students.  1949 was 30 years before Congress passed into law the Amateur Sports Act which required NGBs not to discriminate as a condition of USOC membership and recognition, and it was 35 years before Peter Westbrook won the bronze medal in the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles.  In retrospect, Miguel de Capriles was right – Joe Velarde was ahead of his time, which is why it is fitting and proper to officially recognize all he has done for fencing, by his induction into the USFA Hall of Fame.  Since it would be awkward for me to present an award and receive it, I would like to invite George Kolumbatovich, Columbia fencing coach, to the podium, to accept this prestigious plaque on behalf of Joe Velarde, in honor of his induction into the USFA Fencing Hall of Fame.   Thank You.