Fred Feary was the grandfather of Stockton St. Mary’s head football coach Tony Franks and his story of being an Olympic medalist and survivor against incredible odds in World War II has similarities to the story of Torrance legend Louis Zamperini. In honor of Veterans everywhere on Veterans Day, we present Fred’s story through a column we wrote last week and published earlier this week in the Stockton Record:
If ESPN’s Chris Berman ever heard the tale of Stockton’s 1932 Olympic boxing bronze medalist, he’d have an easy nickname for him: Fred “Has No” Feary.
You might recall from a recent column after the Olympics were concluded in Rio de Janeiro that a different Stockton High graduate, track and field athlete Eric Krenz, was expected to medal in the 1932 Olympics, but tragically drowned in Lake Tahoe in an accident in 1931.
Stockton High, however, did have a graduate in those 1932 Olympics and it was Feary. He won the U.S. Amateur championship in the heavyweight division at the tender age of 18, then went to Los Angeles and captured a bronze medal. Feary won in the third-place bout against Canada’s George Maughan.
Of course, there is much more to the Fred Feary story than just being in the Olympics. He was a survivor of World War II after being shot through the neck, he was a Stockton police officer for several years, he was a photographer for the Record for many years and his grandson happens to be St. Mary’s head football coach Tony Franks.
“He was my father figure growing up,” said Franks of Feary, who died in 1994 not long after turning 82. “My folks divorced when I was young so I did the usual dad stuff with him, like hunting and fishing.”
As a boxer, both Franks and his mother, Clarita Rogers of Stockton, told of how being in the Olympics stuck with Feary throughout his life.
“He was just an 18-year-old kid from Stockton who suddenly found himself in Los Angeles,” said Franks, whose state No. 15 Rams won their first-round CIF Sac-Joaquin Section Division I playoff game on Thursday over Modesto. “He remembered wearing the colors and lining up to walk inside the Coliseum.”
“He was just so young when that happened,” Rogers said. “I’m looking at a photo of him at the Olympic Village right now. But he didn’t talk that much about it. He was delighted to have a medal, but didn’t go around wearing it.”
When Feary returned to Stockton after the Olympics, he was quick to marry his high school sweetheart, Edith Dixon, who he met when they were in the ninth grade. Clarita, their only child, was born a few years later.
Feary didn’t box as much after that, instead turning his attention toward working for the Stockton Police Department. Then after the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, Feary enlisted in the Marines.
At the battle of Saipan is where Feary was shot through the neck. According to Rogers, only a handful of soldiers in World War II survived such an injury.
“It went from behind one year, came out the other side and because he must have had his other arm in the air struck his arm and then went back into his shoulder,” Rogers said. “When other soldiers found him, they thought he was dead.”
“He was literally in the hold of a ship with other dead bodies when an orderly walked by and he twitched,” Franks said. “It was like, ‘Ah, oh, we’ve got a live one here.’”
Feary eventually recovered, but had to learn to talk again due to the damage in his throat. He returned to Stockton and soon began working again for the police, but as a photographer.
“He always loved taking pictures,” Rogers said. “He has a lot of photos from when he was in the Marines.”
The photos that Feary took for the police then led to a job as a photographer with the Record, which is the job he had until he retired.
“He had a very interesting life,” said Rogers, who still routinely goes to her son’s games at St. Mary’s. “He did not get a whole lot of fanfare for what he did, but that was not the reason for anything he did.”
“It’s a classic story of someone who never gave up,” Franks said. “I’ve never used it to talk to any of my teams, but maybe I should. I certainly hope the good qualities he had of persistence and toughness have rubbed off.”