‘Let Me Go In The Navy,’ Young Arnce Tells Officer
SAILOR HAS GREAT LOVE FOR COUNTRY
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.
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
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.”
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.
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.
Charlie Arnce was awarded a “Welcome Home” certificate and pin last year for his time in Vietnam.