Flight of Faith

Name: Chuck Arnold

Current Status: Alumni

Graduation Year: 1954

Charles “Chuck” Arnold (’54) had already experienced some of life’s big milestones when he arrived at then-Pacific Bible Seminary.  He was born in 1921 on a farm in Berthold, North Dakota, and said that unlike some children, he was always eager for summer to end, because school was easier than farm work.  One of twelve siblings, he performed so well in school that he skipped third grade.

His family moved to Oregon in 1938, the year he graduated from high school.  Arnold fought forest fires, cut railroad ties in a sawmill, picked potatoes in Idaho, and worked as a logger – often working with one or more of his brothers – earning money to help his parents build a house. He joined the U. S. Navy in 1942 and, after receiving his wings and considerable training with Oregon’s Civil Pilot Training program, he went to the U.S. Naval Flight Training Station in Norman, Oklahoma.  The evening after completing that training, he met a waitress when he and his buddies went to a diner for ice cream.  He and Mildred Sutton fell in love and were married in 1944, two weeks before Arnold’s squadron embarked upon its mission in the Pacific Theater of World War II.

He was the official photographer of his squadron, but that duty was in addition to piloting in battle, and his stories are worthy of a movie script, including his descriptions of the terrifying process of taking off from and landing on an aircraft carrier in an “FM2-Wildcat”; a dogfight with a Japanese “Zero” fighter jet; and flying missions from a nearby crippled ship while its pilots recovered from a Kamikaze attack.

He earned the Air Medal for Meritorious Achievement five times and received the Distinguished Flying Cross in 1945. Arnold did not take lightly the repercussions of his heroic work.

“Even after years of training, it was never easy to go into combat, knowing people would die,” he recalled. 

Some war veterans struggle with the idea of having relationships with the citizens of enemy countries, but forgiveness is part of Arnold’s faith, as evidenced by the long friendship that he and Mildred had with a couple, both Japanese nationals, who attended church with the Arnolds when they were working in the United States.

“I always thought that the fight was between the countries’ leaders,” he explained.  “The rest of us were just doing our jobs.”

Among his stories, there is one, in particular, that paints a clear picture of the faith that flew with him throughout his war-time experiences.

Shortly after the war, in 1945, the Arnolds were visiting with his family, when his mother said to him, “There was a day that you were having a lot of trouble flying, so I prayed hard – I could see you in my mind, in a burning plane.”

A few weeks after her prayer experience, she received a letter, in which Arnold told the story of a harrowing flight over the China Sea, when his plane was on fire. 

 “It was June 14 when I had that vision,” she told him, during their conversation after the war.  “When was your plane on fire?”

“It was June 15,” he replied, meaning that it was the same day, because of the international date line time difference.  “I was ready to stall the plane and bail out with my parachute, when the smoke disappeared.”

The same faith that flew with Arnold throughout his wartime missions led him to serve as the minister of a small church in Oklahoma while he attended Southwestern State University and then led him to California.  He and Mildred became longtime members of First Christian Church Huntington Beach (FCCHB) and they met the Pastor, Dr. James Hurst, who was also President of Pacific Bible Seminary.  Hurst encouraged Arnold to earn a degree from the institution, which opened the door to a lifetime as an educator.

Arnold taught a Bible School class at FCCHB for 31 years, taught school in Long Beach for seven years and served as principal in the Ocean View School District for 19 years.  He and Mildred raised their sons, Ron and Lynn, who are now retired educators. After his retirement, he earned his credentials to sell real estate and trade stocks and bonds. 

He found great joy in teaching and, for years after he retired, former students would drive by his home and offer him status reports on their lives.  He remembers one student who was determined to be a ball player but was making little effort at academics.

“I told him, ‘you are too smart for this,’” Arnold said.  “He wasn’t very happy with me, but he stopped by a few years later to let me know that playing ball didn’t work out, but he was a successful pharmacist!”

Perhaps Arnold’s success in marriage, family, military, and his other careers is linked to the simple consistency of his faith.

“I trusted God a lot – you know, even before we go on a trip, I ask for safety,” he explained.  “Flying a plane in wartime was just the same.”