UPPER MILFORD TOWNSHIP HISTORICAL SOCIETY
When Capt. Vern Arndt arrived at the Upper Milford Township Historical Society May 25 to present a speech on his experiences in Vietnam in honor of Memorial Day, he knew he’d be revisiting his past. However, there was one person he didn’t expect to see. His old friend, Col. Russ Hanthorn, had secretly flown from California to see his old friend. Hanthorn was Arndt’s commanding officer when Arndt served on the USS Independence in the early 1960s.
“He never knew it! He never knew it!” John Fegley, vice president of the Upper Milford Historical Society and a Navy veteran, said with glee. “He hasn’t seen him for 35, maybe 40 years.”
Hanthorn contacted the historical Society to set up the surprise.
Arndt and Hanthorn had talked online; however, this was the first time they’d seen each other in person since their days in the service.
Before Arndt presented his speech, his old friend appeared from behind a curtain – a delightful surprise to start the evening, which also served as a celebration for area veterans. Arndt then recounted his Marine Corps experiences for an audience made up of old friends, family, veterans and historical society members.
Originally from Vera Cruz, Arndt attended Emmaus High School and Muhlenberg College before enlisting in the Marine Corps in 1963, and spent 13 weeks of “island holiday” – basic training – at Parris Island in South Carolina.
“I did very well at Parris Island. I won every award a recruit could possibly win,” Arndt said. Notably, Arndt won the American Spirit of Honor Medal and earned his own choice of duty. Against the advice of his drill instructor at the time, Arndt chose sea duty to travel the world.
After sailing on the USS Independence for two years – including stops in Hong Kong, Cannes and five months of combat flight operations in the Gulf of Tonkin – Arndt went through training at officer candidate school and the basic school in Quantico, Va. from mid-1966 to late March of 1967 before reporting to Vietnam in May 1967.
In Vietnam, Arndt served two seven month tours of duty. He initially served as a first platoon commander of the infantry, where he endured trap infested jungles, typhoons and battles against North Vietnamese forces. Over the course of his career as a platoon leader, eight men from his company were lost.
Arndt then applied to serve as aerial observer and was selected, serving two “hops” – three hour flights – daily. “You flew around in a small plane, looked for airstrikes [and] called in artillery in support of ground operations,” Arndt said. Arndt logged a total 430 combat flight hours, earned eight air medals and survived a crash landing.
In July 1968, Arndt returned to the United States where he trained soldiers at Camp Pendleton to go into Vietnam. Arndt left the service in October 1969 after six years of active duty and in November of that year was promoted to captain while in the reserves.
“It’s kind of like your dad is Forrest Gump in a way, sliding in and out of interesting things,” his son Christopher Arndt said.
Currently residing in Jim Thorpe, Arndt remains proud of his military service, frequently attending reunions for veterans and keeping in touch with his old friends from the service.
“Those are the guys you talk to, the ones who you did the most with,” Thomas Domogala, a fellow veteran who went through OCS with Arndt, said.