Westerville News & Public Opinion

From Congress to State Street, honors arrive 70 years later for Arn

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More than 60 years after his service in World War II, Westerville's Bob Arn was informed in May that he would be receiving the Congressional Gold Medal this summer, a feat he never could have imagined achieving when he first went to war.

The Westerville native and long-time pilot flew with the Civilian Air Patrol in the 1940s. The CAP was a civilian department charged with scouring the Gulf of Mexico from the sky in an attempt to find German submarines approaching the coast.

The entire CAP will be receiving the award, but Arn, 91, is one of the last surviving members of a group that was largely older men during the World War II effort. When he joined, Arn was merely a freshman at Otterbein University.

"It all started very innocently prior to World War II," Arn said, remembering his humble beginnings.

Had it not been for a freak accident, Arn may never have received the award at all.

Just two weeks before he was set to join the U.S. Navy, where he had enlisted after going through Civilian Pilot Training, Arn was driving downtown with some friends, when a car accident left him with a broken neck.

"I thought, 'Boy, there goes my chances in the Navy,' " Arn said.

The neck brace meant that Arn couldn't fulfill his duties with the Navy, temporarily crushing his spirits.

But when the CAP made an "urgent" call for pilots several weeks later, Arn took off his brace, decided he could move his head without pain and signed up.

Despite the injury, Arn said his qualifications were enough to immediately admit him into the program, and while most of the CAP pilots were older men, recruiters were thrilled to have the younger Arn involved. Arn had a plethora of escapades while with the CAP, including meeting movie star Clark Gable, who he befriended and went skeet shooting with multiple times. He said he always always was soundly beaten by the "crack shot" Gable.

Arn eventually joined the U.S. Army Air Forces, where he mainly flew transports in a key area of the Himalayan Mountains dubbed "The Hump."

Even with several medals and honors hanging on his wall, including the Distinguished Flying Cross and several other important designations, Arn said that even in his flying days, he was never one for the spotlight.

"Very seldom did I ever have to stand at attention and receive an award," he said. "I was usually out on a mission.

"You thought you were just doing what you were supposed to be doing. We were never interested in the glamour or notoriety or anything like that."

When he was first informed that the members of the CAP would be receiving the Congressional Gold Medal, Arn said he was still skeptical because of government red tape and the slow-moving nature of such awards. But when he got the call in May, he said he was stunned that it would finally be happening.

"I didn't expect it to happen," he said. "I thought I'd die before that ever came in."

While he still hasn't been told the exact date, Arn and other Ohio recipients will be honored at the Ohio Statehouse's Lincoln Room sometime this summer.

Arn still lives in Westerville, where he also will be honored locally this summer -- serving as the grand marshal of the Rotary Club of Westerville's Independence Day Parade.

And even during the parade, Arn says he's looking forward to seeing his great-granddaughters, who will ride along with him, waving to the crowd. He won't be worrying about his own accolades.

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