Bob Arnold became a Navy man just like his dad. His father served aboard the USS Langley, American’s first aircraft carrier, before World War II.
It was 1946 when Bob signed up at 17 to go to sea. His mother took him to the recruiter’s office and signed him in because he was under 18 years old.
“I went to boot camp at Bainbridge, Md. After boot camp I was sent to New Port, RI and went aboard my ship, the USS Massey (DD-778), a destroyer. I started out in the fire room as a fireman,” the 82-year-old former swabbie, who lives in Holiday Park, North Port, Fla. said.
“My two years in the service got better and better.
“One morning the chief had us fall out for muster. He wanted someone who would volunteer to take the place of the log room clerk who was getting out. After he asked a second day for a volunteer I went to see the guy who had the job and asked him about the position.
“He worked out of a little room, no bigger than a closet, with a desk, chair, file cabinet and typewriter. The clerk told me, ‘I have liberty every day we’re in port because I fill out the liberty cards and I don’t pull watch.’
“That sounded pretty good to me. When the chief asked for a volunteer the third day I stepped forward. After I took the job the other guys in the fire room chided me. They said I was sitting on my butt all day being clerk.
“I wasn’t asked if I could type when I took the clerk’s job. I was a two finger typist, but they didn’t care as long as I could get some words on the reports I had to fill out,” Arnold recalled.”
Most of the time he was aboard the Massey the ship was cruising the Atlantic and Pacific on goodwill tours.
“At times we would accompany an aircraft carrier on one of these tours. On occasion we sailed with the carrier USS Leyte. When we needed fuel we’d pull up beside the carrier and refuel. it was amazing to watch,” he said.
“When the carrier would launch its planes we’d sometimes act as the rescue vessel. If a pilot had to ditch his airplane someone from the Massey would go over the side and rescue the pilot,” he recalled. We’d get them on deck and send the pilots back to the carrier on a line that ran between our destroyer and the flattop.
“On our first big cruise we went across the Atlantic to Italy. I didn’t smoke, but when I went on liberty I Scotch taped two packs of cigarettes to my legs under my bell bottom pants to sell on the black-market. It’s the way we earned extra spending money while on leave,” Arnold said.
“When I got ashore I would exchange my packs of cigarettes for cash from a bunch of boys who were waiting with Italian money to pay us,” he said. “These kids were sharp. If you weren’t careful they would grab the money out of your hand and run.
“Liberty was fun. I saw a lot of sights. I saw a lot of things I don’t even remember now because it was a long time ago, ” he said. “The locals treated the Navy men very well. They knew we all had cigarettes to sell.”
One time when the Massey was in dry dock in the Brooklyn Navy Yard, Arnold was walking pass a battleship and ran into a friend from home.
“I have a picture of myself and a neighbor friend of mine who I ran into while I was in port. I was walking down the dock past a battleship. I was in awe at its size. Our destroyer was like a rowboat compared to that battleship,” he said.
“I looked up and saw this fellow on the battleship looking down it me. It was ‘Stinky’ Lamb from my hometown of Agawa, Mass. He hollered at me and I hollered back. We made plans to meet on shore the next day.
“After a couple of drinks we walked by a tattoo parlor and we both decided to go in. I got a tattoo on my left shoulder of a heart and anchor with the word “MOM” inscribed on the heart,” Arnold said proudly as he rolled up his sleeve to show me.
“I don’t know, but I think ‘Stinky’ might have gotten his nickname inscribed on his arm. I guess that’s how most young sailors get their tattoos,” he said.
The Massey went to sea again and sailed for the Panama Canal and into the Pacific. We took another good will tour to Chili and Peru.
“This was a big experience for a country boy from a little New England country town who had never seen much of the world before he enlisted,” Arnold said.
“Back in the States in those days servicemen were treated very good by civilians. I’d belly up to a bar with my uniform on and order a beer and someone in the bar would pay for it,” Arnold said. “It was a good time to be a sailor.”
But two years of Navy life was all the he wanted. Ruth, his girlfriend of three years, was waiting for him when he got home.
“I was 14 years old when I first met her. We had been going together for three years when I went in the Navy. Here it is 62 years later and I’m still with her,” he said with a smile.
After he got out of the Navy in December 1947 he went to work as the manager of an ice cream store.
“Friendly Ice Cream chain in New England that was very popular. Two brothers opened their first store across the street from my home. That’s who I went to work for when I got out of the service,” Arnold said. “I worked for them as manager of one of their stores, for about seven years.”
“Then I opened my own ice cream store. We ended up with four stores before Ruth and I retired and moved to Florida.”
Two of his three children operate his ice cream stores today.
Some 30 years ago they purchased a mobile home in Holiday Park as a place to come each year for a couple of weeks during the winter. Seven years ago they retired and moved to North Port for good.
The couple’s three sons, Bob, Tom and Peter and their extended families all live up north. The Arnolds make an annual pilgrimage to Massachusetts to see relatives.
Name: Robert Barnes Arnold
D.O.B: 25 Jan. 1929
Hometown: Agawa, Mass.
Current: North Port, Fla.
Entered Service: 28 Jan. 1946
Discharged: 1 Nov. 1947
Rank: Fireman 1st Class
Unit: USS Massey (DD-778)
Commendations: World War II Victory Medal
This story first appeared in the Charlotte Sun newspaper on Thursday, June 23, 2011 and is republished with permission.
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