I’m in the Seattle area for my Christmas holiday, and I’ve spent part of it combing through old letters, newspaper clippings, and other memorabilia at Arnold’s house for part of my book research. I’m very lucky that my grandmother (Arnold’s mother) saved most of the letters he wrote home during his early college years. In addition to being hilarious in places, they provide a wealth of insight not only into Arnold’s personality but describe some of the details of post-World War II life in the United States. My mother also left behind a terrific scrapbook she kept in high school and early college that is another gold mine of information. In addition, I found many of Arnold’s letters from Vietnam and a letter from a deployment to Incirlik Air Base in Turkey during the time of the Cuban Missile Crisis.
Here’s one of my favorite pictures of Arnold from his childhood. It’s a family photo probably taken on a farm, but no one is sure who took it or how the two boys in the picture got their pilot helmets and goggles. The three women in the photo are Arnold’s mother (in the middle) and her two sisters.
Arnold is the “little pilot” on the left and his cousin Carl is the one on the right. Arnold and Carl are about the same age, and five or six in the picture. Both would go on to become Air Force pilots. In fact, the flying bug seems to have infected the whole family. Arnold’s younger brother, Frank, the infant in his mother’s arms, also became an Air Force pilot, and Carl had two younger brothers not yet born who became civilian pilots.
After yearning to fly for many years, Arnold finally took his first flight in an airplane when he was eight. The exhilaration of that short 15-minute flight with a passing barnstormer instantly hooked Arnold, setting him on an aviation course for the rest of his life.