In 1968 I joined a group called Vital Voices in America or VIVA. It was a turbulent time in America. Vietnam was raging and I had just lost a good friend. When I joined VIVA they sent me a stainless steel bracelet that I put on and have worn ever since. I began writing to his mom and dad as soon as I put on this special piece of jewelry and was fortunate enough to meet them once in Birmingham. Cmdr. William Tann Arnold became part of my daily life and now 41 years later I still wear the bracelet with pride. This man gave his life to keep me safe and for that I will always be eternally grateful.
This is not just appreciation for Cmdr Arnold though, I am grateful for every single military personnel who has fought and died so that I can live a life free from worry. After all these years I want to see all accounted for and until that day comes I will wear my bracelet with pride.
So, let me tell you a little bit about Cmdr. Arnold. He was 32 years old when he was shot down. He was an only son, brother to three sisters, did two tours of duty in Vietnam and was shot down. He was from West Allis, Wisconsin. I carried his picture around for over 30 years as if he were a part of my family....he wasn't. I never even met him...but he was a good man...and 12 years ago I retired the picture because it was very ratty looking. His face is burned into my memory. Of course...that face is of a 32 year old handsome navy pilot. Today he would be 73. I am sure there would be a huge difference.
On 18 November 1966, then-LCMDR William T. Arnold of Attack Squadron 22 embarked in the aircraft carrier USS CORAL SEA launched as the wingman in a section of A-4Cs to conduct a coastal weather reconnaissance mission. Arnold was flying A-4C Bureau Number 148496. The flight approached the North Vietnamese coast 15 to 20 miles south of Cap Mui Ron. The weather was overcast and was solid up to approximately 7,000 feet. Flying beneath the overcast approximately 7 miles from the coast, the flight leader determined that the cloud base was of sufficient height to effect a bombing maneuver. The flight leader completed his maneuver, staying beneath the overcast, and was turning east when he heard the transmission, "I'm in the clouds, coming down." The leader looked back, but did not see Arnold's aircraft. The flight leader called to Arnold but received no response. He saw no evidence of an ejection nor any debris which would indicate a crash. The Coral Sea conducted search and rescue efforts but without result. The flight leader believed that LCDR Arnold inadvertently entered the cloud deck, became disoriented, and crashed into the ocean while trying to recover. Even so, the possibility existed that LCDR Arnold had ejected from his aircraft and been captured, so he was classed as Missing in Action. He remained in this status until a Presumptive Finding of Death was approved by the Secretary of the Navy on 18 May 1978, almost 12 years after his loss. While the casualty database reflects William T. Arnold's end grade as Lieutenant Commander (O-4) as reported here, his family has advised that he received a final promotion to Commander (O-5). His remains have not been recovered. That last line is what makes my blood run cold. There was never an end. His family was never able to put it to rest. They never knew for sure what happened....only what was speculated. How very sad.
I have been to the Wall in Washington several times over the years. I visit his name every time I go, I touch where it is etched into the marble, I can feel the electricity run through my body, and no matter how hard I try....I find myself crying. Thank you Bill Arnold for giving your life up for me. I love this country and pledge allegiance to it daily because men like you gave me the freedom to do just that. I am truly proud to be an American. How sad it is that others are not.
To Joey, With Love....WINNER!
10 months ago