‘Let Me Go In The Navy,’ Young Arnce Tells Of­fi­cer

SAILOR HAS GREAT LOVE FOR COUN­TRY

McDonald County Press - - VETERANS DAY - Sally Car­roll McDon­ald County Press scar­roll@nwadg.com

No­body can doubt Char­lie Arnce’s love for coun­try.

As a young man, Arnce was de­ter­mined to serve.

He and a friend trav­eled to Kansas City to in­ter­view for the mil­i­tary. The two had fig­ured out they would join as part of the “Buddy Sys­tem” pro­gram the mil­i­tary of­fered.

His friend had a com­plete phys­i­cal but, un­for­tu­nately, didn’t pass be­cause of a heart mur­mur. The mil­i­tary of­fi­cial came back to Arnce and told him that, since his friend wasn’t go­ing to be ac­cepted, Arnce had the op­por­tu­nity to sim­ply go home.

“Let me go in the Navy,” he told the of­fi­cer.

After a dec­o­rated wartime ca­reer serv­ing near Viet­nam, Arnce is grate­ful for his time in the ser­vice. He’s will­ing to share with oth­ers his love for coun­try. Years ago, he spoke with Good­man el­e­men­tary stu­dents, telling them of his time in the mil­i­tary, talk­ing about tur­key hunt­ing and read­ing books to them.

Last year, when one of those kids grad­u­ated from high school, the young man ex­pressed in­ter­est in join­ing the mil­i­tary, Arnce said, smil­ing.

Arnce must have made an im­pres­sion.

A Plan

Arnce wanted to serve his coun­try, be as­signed to a de­stroyer, marry and then have a boy and a girl.

All those things came to pass.

“God did it,” he said. “That was God’s plan for me.”

Arnce, 19½ years old, knew the draft was ap­proach­ing so de­cided to sign up for the Navy.

He was as­signed to the USS Car­pen­ter (DD-825) at Pearl Har­bor in De­cem­ber 1962 and served three years on that de­stroyer. After a trans­fer, he went to San Diego and was as­signed to the USS Richard D. An­der­son — Viet­nam 786.

They took out, then told him they were turn­ing around to go to Viet­nam. That was in Fe­bru­ary 1966.

In the mid­dle of a war zone, the An­der­son had sev­eral mis­sions: take on am­mu­ni­tion from the am­mu­ni­tion ship, take off the empty am­mu­ni­tion and re­turn it to the am­mu­ni­tion ship, and take on food stor­age and fuel. That would be taken off a car­rier, and the wa­ter be­tween a car­rier and de­stroyer was very rough.

“You had to walk side­ways be­cause the ship would rock,” Arnce said.

Wartime meant night­time could be lit up.

“They (the en­emy) couldn’t get out to us too much,” Arnce said. “They would try to come at the ship at night.”

Sailors thought the en­emy was try­ing to plant a bomb, “but we would blow them out of the wa­ter be­fore they could.”

“We shot a lot of white phos­pho­rus and shot a lot of shrap­nel,” Arnce said.

As a young man in a com­bat zone, Arnce wasn’t nec­es­sar­ily scared for his life. “We felt fully trained,” he said.

Night­time was a par­tic­u­larly ac­tive time.

Ship­mates shot star shells at night so the men could see. “When the star shells went off, the fire prob­a­bly tripled,” Arnce said.

When the en­emy tried to ap­proach in fish­ing boats, ship­mates kept fir­ing over them, he said.

“When the shrap­nel hit the wa­ter, it looked like Old Faith­ful.”

Arnce’s main job aboard ship was to work as a ma­chin­ery re­pair­man. With a bench grinder, lathe and sin­gle-spin­dle drill press, Arnce made what­ever was needed.

“I made any­thing for the ship they wanted. I got right on it.”

Arnce had an early in­ter­est in ma­chin­ery re­pair. Be­fore en­ter­ing the mil­i­tary, his dad had a ma­chine shop and, though young Arnce pleaded with his dad to teach him his craft, his dad de­clined. “You can do bet­ter,” his dad told him.

Once on his first ship, Arnce learned the trade through trial and er­ror and asking his su­pe­rior.

“I had to get on the ball or quit,” he said.

By the time he was in the com­bat zone, he had honed his ma­chin­ery re­pair­man skills. He could make brass bush­ings and more.

But it wasn’t just the work that ship­mates found re­ward­ing. Friend­ships made dur­ing wartime be­came the ce­ment for the job.

Chal­lenges ex­pe­ri­enced to­gether bonded the men. Such was the case when ship­mates crossed the in­ter­na­tional date­line and the equa­tor.

Ini­ti­a­tion for any sailor who hadn’t crossed the equa­tor was an all-day af­fair, Arnce said.

Those sailors were re­ferred to as pol­li­wogs. When you were fin­ished with your ma­neu­vers, you be­came a shell­back, he said. Those who crossed the in­ter­na­tional date­line for the first time were ini­ti­ated into The Do­main of the Golden Dragon.

Along with ini­ti­a­tion rites, other rit­u­als and ac­tiv­i­ties bonded the sailors as well.

With 250 guys on a ship, they all had to find a way to get along … and find some recre­ational out­lets.

Ship­mates cooled off by tak­ing a swim. Gun­ners­mates watched for sharks while the oth­ers took a swim.

A shop on board sold cig­a­rettes, candy and stamps, and fea­tured 5-cent Cokes, which were a real treat.

“We had to get along,” Arnce said. “If you didn’t, you didn’t get the job done.”

A Long Time

Com­ing

After a ser­vice ca­reer of four years, one month and three days, Arnce was hon­or­ably dis­charged on Oct. 3, 1966.

In the years that followed,

he would meet Ellen, whom he mar­ried ex­actly six months later. They had two chil­dren, a boy and a girl.

He set­tled into a ma­chin­ery re­pair­man ca­reer, even­tu­ally re­tir­ing after 35 years from Rock­et­dyne through Premier Tur­bines.

Today, he’s ac­tive in the Amer­i­can Le­gion. Their daugh­ter is a re­serve of­fi­cer for the city of Good­man, along with work­ing as a teacher.

Their son served in the mil­i­tary from 1990 to 1994 and now serves as a sergeant in the Na­tional Guard.

His two grand­chil­dren re­spect his time as a sailor but en­joy teas­ing Grandpa about his time on the “boat.”

Arnce is proud of his time in the Navy but didn’t serve to get a pat on the back. But last year, his fam­ily gath­ered for a spe­cial cel­e­bra­tion, hon­or­ing his time in the ser­vice.

Though it was a long time com­ing, Arnce’s of­fi­cial “wel­com­ing home” was a spe­cial cel­e­bra­tion the en­tire fam­ily could en­joy.

The idea re­ceived mo­men­tum when Ellen at­tended an Amer­i­can Le­gion Aux­il­iary con­ven­tion in Jef­fer­son City. Le­gion mem­bers found out her hus­band is a Viet­nam vet­eran and gave her a “Wel­come Home” pin and cer­tifi­cate to give to him.

They sug­gested his fam­ily have a spe­cial get-to­gether, wel­com­ing him home and rec­og­niz­ing his sacrifice for coun­try.

The fam­ily was able to gather to cel­e­brate his ser­vice, Ellen said, ad­ding that it was re­ally won­der­ful for her hus­band to be rec­og­nized and wel­comed home after all these years.

More than 50 years after Arnce enlisted, he is still ea­ger to share with oth­ers his love for coun­try. He feels blessed that the plan for his life worked out — from mil­i­tary ser­vice to hav­ing a fam­ily.

“God had it planned,” Arnce said, “and I thank Him for that.”

COUR­TESY PHOTO

Charles Arnce joined the Navy when he was a young man. He knew the draft was com­ing up and wanted to en­list for the Navy. He and a friend tried to join un­der the “Buddy Pro­gram,” but his buddy failed the phys­i­cal. “Let me go in the Navy,” he told the of­fi­cer at the time.

COUR­TESY PHOTO

Char­lie Arnce enlisted in the U.S. Navy when he was just 19½ years old. He is the sailor who is the sec­ond from left in the back row.

PHOTO BY SALLY CAR­ROLL/MCDON­ALD COUNTY PRESS

Char­lie Arnce was awarded a “Wel­come Home” cer­tifi­cate and pin last year for his time in Viet­nam.

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