Jack Sterling M. Arnett
On May 15, 2010, more than 65 years after his bomber was shot down off the coast of Palau, the remains of Jack S. (Sterling) M. Arnett were interred near Friendly, West Virginia, in Tyler County, where his mother had grown up. Despite the fact that the U.S. Rosters of World War II Dead, 1939-1945, listed his remains as “nonrecoverable,” his mother, who lived to be nearly 100 years old, always held the hope that he would be returned. But for that to happen, two remarkable achievements in technology had to take place.
The first was that the plane had to be located, a feat accomplished by the Bent Prop Project. Writing in GQ magazine (May 2008), Wil S. Hylton provides a detailed account of the effort to locate the downed B-24. [ http://www.gq.com/news-politics/big-issues/200805/world-war-i-american-soldiers-burial-missing-in-action-palau-1944 ] Hylton explains how the Palauan climate, land and sea, contributed to the extraordinary preservation of the airmen’s remains. The second remarkable feat required that these remains be identified, and this was achieved for Jack by using the DNA of his brother Howard.
Army Air Corps Second Lieutenant Jack S. M. Arnett was born in 1919, in Marion County, West Virginia, to B. B. and Dessie Ash Arnett. Jack came of age in Charleston, where his father was a vice president and treasurer of Eskew, Smith, and Cannon from 1918 to 1950. Participating in the General Course, Jack graduated from Charleston High School with the June class of 1936. The Arnett family included two other sons—Howard Marvin and Warren Grant.
All three of the Arnett sons would serve during World War II. Warren, a graduate of what is now Carnegie-Mellon University, would go to the European theater, where he entertained as a member of a USO troupe. After the war, he returned to New York and a career in acting and management in the budding years of television. A move to Florida—his parents would relocate there in their retirement—brought about a change in vocation, and Warren became well known as an interior designer. A graduate of West Virginia Wesleyan College and retired Naval commander, Howard would go on to succeed his father at Eskew, Smith, and Cannon and later would also retire to Florida.
Carolyn Arnett Rocchio, a cousin, was twelve years old when Jack was shot down and remembers him well, having grown up “two backyards away from his family.” In an interview, she recalled that the Arnett brothers were highly intelligent and Jack was one of the youngest members in his class to graduate. Further describing him as “quiet, but brilliant,” Ms. Rocchio noted that he would often challenge his instructors and was usually right. Carroll Leon Ash, who has preserved memorabilia about his cousin Jack, remembers seeing him at summer gatherings at the family farm in Tyler County.
In 1940, 2LT Arnett graduated from Alabama Polytechnic Institute (now Auburn University). [http://www.auburn.edu] He had been employed by Owens-Illinois Glass Company in Charleston prior to his enlistment in the Army Air Corps. He was married to Dollie Evans Arnett, who resided in Charleston. Family history indicates that Dollie remarried and had children.
|Jack had been in the service less than two years and was the pilot of a B-24 Liberator when his plane was shot down on September 1, 1944, off the coast of Palau. For a long time, he was listed as missing or buried at sea, and his name was inscribed on the Tablets of the Missing at the Manila American Cemetery. For his service in World War II, Arnett received the Air Medal and the Purple Heart.|
In 2004, after a ten-year search, divers from the Bent Prop Project found Jack Arnett’s plane, and a team of Navy Seals was sent in to recover his remains and those of seven other crewmen. [http://www.bentprop.org] On April 29, 2010, the plane’s crew was honored at an Arlington National Cemetery ceremony, where those whose remains could not be identified were interred, and their story was featured on NBC Nightly News on May 5, 2010.
|2LT Arnett’s remains, however, were cremated in Florida in the fall of 2009, and a portion of his ashes buried in the Emmanuel Episcopal Church Garden in Orlando alongside those of his brother Warren. Howard Marvin had always assured his mother that he would bring Jack home. Just over six weeks later, Howard Marvin passed away, and his ashes were placed alongside those of his brothers. The rest of Jack’s ashes are interred beside the graves of his parents. As the Bent Prop Project states: “Jack grew up in West Virginia, and in a small cemetery on a hill overlooking the tiny Ohio-River village of Friendly, West Virginia, there are three headstones: those of Jack’s father and mother, and one for Jack that was placed there in 1946, long before either of his parents passed away.” Even though his parents could not have known that Jack’s remains would eventually be found, it seems that their actions in preparation for his burial foreshadowed a time they would lie in peace together and the family could finally reach closure.|
[Note: In addition to the NBC Nightly News segment mentioned above, summaries of the services in Friendly, West Virginia, and in Orlando, as well as slide shows and videos can be found at the Bent Prop website. A book by Wil S. Hylton is forthcoming.]
Information and pictures for this article were furnished by Jack Arnett’s cousins, Carolyn Arnett Rocchio and Carroll Leon Ash. Article by Patricia Richards McClure
West Virginia Archives and History welcomes any additional information that can be provided about these veterans, including photographs, family names, letters and other relevant personal history. For more information contact Constance Baston at (304) 558-0230.
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