Legacies of World War II: Mel Arnold — Navy electrician
“I registered for the draft while lying in a hospital bed,” said Melvin ‘Mel’ Arnold of Fort Wayne. Born in 1925, Arnold was required by law to register for the military draft when he turned age 18. After graduating from Huntertown High School in April 1943, he prepared to do so a few weeks later, but an episode of ill health interrupted his plans. Three days before his birthday, Arnold had an appendix attack.
He underwent an operation in Lutheran hospital to have it removed and received a five-month deferment. He finally was inducted into the Navy in early 1944.
After passing his physical exam and completing basic training at Great Lakes Naval Training Center, Arnold was sent to electrician’s school in St Louis, MO. “We stayed in an old naval armory along the Mississippi River,” he said.
Arnold’s next stop was San Francisco’s Treasure Island where he was assigned to the USS Bingham (APA-225). “It was an attack transport vessel used to take troops into beaches during invasions,” he said. The ship had 14 landing craft, sonar and radar.
Although the Bingham was not designed to fight, it had 20-mm anti-aircraft and 40-mm guns, along with a 5-inch cannon. It could haul 1,200-1,500 people and had an operating room and two doctors assigned to it. “We had Army and Marines on board but the Navy was in charge of the ship,” he said.
Arnold’s duties as an electrician included working in the engine room. “I was one of 10 electricians,” he said. “We were part of the engineering group which included about 45 people.”
In January of 1945, the Bingham left San Francisco for the Pacific and troops practiced maneuvers at Pearl Harbor. On Easter Sunday, the ship left Pearl Harbor for an invasion on Japanese troops at the island of Okinawa. “Most people aboard our ship didn’t know where Okinawa was,” he said. The island, 350 miles south of Japan, was to be taken and used as the major air force and troop base for the planned invasion of Japan.
It took a week for the ship to arrive. The invasion had begun several days earlier and continued. “Every night we were at general quarters (battle stations),” said Arnold.
Thankfully, the ship was never attacked by kamikazes. Still, it was a vehement fight. During the 82-day-long battle, approximately 95,000 Japanese troops and 12,510 Americans were killed.
The Bingham stayed in the area, unloading supplies and transporting troops. After Allied troops secured the island, the Bingham stayed close until the war was over in August of 1945.
Lacking sufficient points to be discharged, Arnold was re-assigned to a light cruiser. He continued working in the engine room until June 1946 when he was discharged at the rank of Electrician Mate 2nd Class.
Back in Fort Wayne, Arnold attended International Business College on the GI bill and worked for an accounting firm. Later, he founded Inland Chemical Corporation and other businesses. He married in 1948 and he and his wife Ruth became parents to three children.
Arnold has never doubted the war’s necessity. “After the surrender by Japan, our ship transported some of the first freed groups of American POWs who had been held by the Japanese,” he said. “The atrocities those men went through was terrible. They ate moldy bread and were not shown humane treatment as established by the Geneva Convention. The death rate of American POWs held by the Japanese was six times higher than that experienced by American POWs in Germany.”
Nor does he doubt the wisdom of Harry S. Truman’s decision to drop the atomic bombs. “Today, many people feel it was terrible, and it was. But if it had not happened, the casualties from our invasion of Japan would have been worse. I don’t think people have any idea of what would have happened if we had invaded Japan.”