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By admin | January 21st, 2018

A Tribute to Major Mawk Arnold USMC (Ret) 1924-2018

Retired Major Mawk Arnold (center) is joined by lst Marine Division Snuffies, retired Captains Russ Thurman (left) and Dale Dye, during a visit to the Denig Memorial at the Marine Corps Museum during the 2016 annual conference. (Photo by former Captain Debbie Thurman)

Retired Major Mawk Arnold (center) is joined by lst Marine Division Snuffies, retired Captains Russ Thurman (left) and Dale Dye, during a visit to the Denig Memorial at the Marine Corps Museum during the 2016 annual conference. (Photo by former Captain Debbie Thurman)

(Editor’s note: An additional obit was published on http://www.gulfcoastnewstoday.com)

By Capt. Dale Dye USMC (Ret)

It’s indisputable that I would not have survived my service in Vietnam if it hadn’t been for a rugged, rawboned mustang officer who enlisted in the Marine Corps nearly a year before I was born. In fact, none of the seriously twisted bull-goose loonies that served as Combat Correspondents in the 1st Marine Division under Captain Mawk Arnold would have lived through their combat tours — much less avoided serious brig time — without the guidance, patience and protection of the man who was then and continues to be our Skipper. 

Mawk Arnold USMC (Ret) 1924-2018

Mawk Arnold USMC (Ret) 1924-2018 (Photo courtesy of Bob Bowen)

Mordecai R. Arnold, out of Texas via Alabama and practically all points east and west where Marines have planted boondockers, is my hero, but the noun fails to convey what he really means to those of us who served with The Skipper. There aren’t enough terms in a thesaurus to cover the depth of gratitude, emulation, admiration and devotion we feel for the gentle giant in whose shadow we spent the most seminal times of our lives. For the double handful of us Marine Corps combat correspondents who made it through the crucible of frenetic combat operations in northern I Corps circa 1967-69, only one term fits when we talk about The Skipper: love. We loved The Skipper unashamedly and unabashedly and we’ll gleefully rip the lungs right out of any macho sonofabitch that wants to challenge that emotion. We learned that from The Skipper who often threatened to do something similar — if less violently — to anyone who messed with his wayward boys in or out of combat. 

Nominally and according to the table of organization, Mawk Arnold was the 1st MarDiv informational services officer, or ISO. That meant he was responsible to the commanding general for all things having to do with press, public relations and media coverage of division units engaged in combat or combat support. He filled that billet and performed those duties with a professional bearing, quiet competence and friendly aplomb that made him one of the most popular and well-regarded officers on the command staff. But he was a hell of a lot more than some glad-handing, trumped-up flak for the Marine Corps. To ensure that those hard-pressed, hard-nosed and hard-fighting Marines out in the rifle battalions got some well-deserved recognition, Mawk deployed a gaggle of misfits and miscreants who were tasked with covering the combat action, then writing stories about it that the civilian media considered too minor, mundane or plebian for their attention. 

It was those guys — his beloved Combat Correspondents who called themselves the Snuffies — who occupied most of Mawk’s time and frequently challenged his creative talents in making excuses for their behavior to the stiff-necks who didn’t believe a bunch of low-life enlisted men should be running all over battlefields out of control and demonstrably out of their minds. It helped that his little band of hustlers and rebels claimed more decorations for heroism, Purple Hearts for wounds, and generic trigger-time all over the combat zone than any other small unit in the division, but Mawk still spent a lot of time on the carpet explaining away our excesses and trumpeting our successes. It takes a fair bit of brilliant tap-dancing to explain why his guys should not be immediately jailed for such things as creating a fake war souvenir swap-shop to bilk unsuspecting rear-echelon troops; running a PR and marketing scheme for a notorious local whorehouse; staging drunken, naked protests against the President’s war policies on the roof of a hooch; swindling the Navy out of a truck in a rigged poker game; transporting hookers on helicopters using bogus press passes; or any number of other outrages, but Mawk was always up to the task. He was our mentor, our mother hen and our impenetrable flak jacket in or out of combat. 

What’s really convoluted and another bit of high weirdness itself is how Mawk Arnold came to such a pass in Vietnam from his early days in the Marine Corps as a radar technician during World War II. Here is that story: 

Mordecai Arnold was born in Tyler, Texas, in November 1924 and moved with his family to Fairhope, Ala., in 1931. He had a fairly normal childhood for the time, growing up hunting and fishing in the backwoods, and was a good elementary school student. And somewhere along in here — no one knows for sure exactly where or how — his biblical first name was morphed from Mordecai to Mawk. We suspect it was the result of too much schoolyard harassment culminating in fistfights, but he became Mawk Arnold for better or worse in wartime America. 

He managed to graduate from something called the Marietta Johnson School of Organic Education in Fairhope in June 1943, after which he promptly and patriotically joined the U.S. Marine Corps then engaged in major combat operations in the South Pacific. The Marines didn’t get a whole lot of well-educated types joining the enlisted ranks in those days, so Mawk was singled out for technical training. He graduated as a private first class from boot camp at Parris Island, S.C., and then was assigned to radar repair school at Camp Lejeune, N.C. 

He mastered the intricacies of the then-infant technology and found himself wearing staff sergeant chevrons when he next reported to Marine Air Warning Squadron 13 at the Cherry Point, N.C., Marine Corps Air Station, where pilots and aircrews were being trained and then pumped out to the Pacific to fight the Japanese. It didn’t take long for Mawk to join the convoys heading overseas and his next duty station was the recently recaptured island of Guam in the Marianas. From Guam, he was sent to Peleliu, the scene of one of the Corps’ bloodiest World War II battles, and which was still in the mop-up stages when he arrived. Mawk served with Accurate One, Air Warning Squadron 1 and was still in the Palau Islands when the war ended. Like a lot of other guys stranded in the Pacific, he wound up on a short-list of Marines who were sent to China for occupation duty involved with keeping Mao Tse Tung’s rampaging communist forces from claiming all the lucrative spoils of war in and around Peking. 

Mawk finally made it back stateside in 1945 and took a discharge from active duty to enroll at Troy State Teachers College (now Troy University) in his home state of Alabama. He maintained a link to the Corps he’d grown to respect by joining a local Marine Reserve unit and hit the books. He also hit the romantic speed bump so familiar to returning servicemen and married Alice Morrison, a fellow student who would be his partner for 42 years before her death from pancreatic cancer in 1991. He graduated from Troy State in August 1950 with a degree that qualified him to teach music in public schools, but there was a little police action brewing in Korea and duty called. The Corps was on its way back to war and had a pressing need for qualified radar technicians including Staff Sergeant Mawk Arnold, who was now the proud father of daughter Cindy. 

Mawk, Alice and Cindy packed their 1940 Buick Special and headed for Camp Lejeune, but their stay didn’t last long. After receiving another set of orders, the Arnolds jumped back in the Buick and hit the road for the Marine Corps Recruit Depot in San Diego, where Mawk was slated for a stiff regimen of radar schools designed to upgrade his skills. He had received orders to report to Korea and had already sent Alice and Cindy sent back to Fairhope to stay with family when an armistice was declared and the replacement pipeline stopped pumping. A revised set of orders sent Mawk back to Camp Lejeune, where he went to work as a radar technician keeping the gear working and the aircrews oriented in the peacetime skies. He was very good at doing that and teaching others to do it. During his time in this assignment he jumped two more ranks and was a master sergeant in 1955 when orders arrived sending him to duty as a radar instructor with a Marine Reserve detachment in Atlanta. 

And it was in Atlanta that his flirting relationship with journalism and public affairs started. He found himself with extra work as public information NCO for the reserve unit when the Marine regularly assigned those duties was transferred. Mawk was personable, outgoing and articulate — a perfect fit. He enjoyed dealing with press and writing up little news releases letting the local community know what their Marines were doing with all those tax dollars. Then in 1960, Mawk got sent overseas again, this time to Marine Air Station Futenma in Okinawa, Japan, where his previous experience netted him double duty as radar instructor and public affairs NCO for Marine Aircraft Group 16. 

By this time, Marla and Rachel had joined the ranks of the Arnold clan, now obviously in the Marine Corps to stay. Mawk had applied for advancement to the commissioned ranks each time the opportunity presented itself during the previous five years and he finally made the cut in 1961. As a 37-year-old senior NCO, he reported to Marine Corps Base Quantico, Va., to attend the warrant officer course. He promptly earned the nickname “Pappy” for his mentoring of Marines some eight to ten years his junior. 

Pappy Arnold graduated at the top of his class and was promptly ordered back to Okinawa to become an avionics officer with MAG 16. Fortunately for all of us, the air group had plenty of avionics officers but was badly in need of a public information officer. It was the beginning of a spectacular career via a left turn from technician on the road to a bunch of top-flight and very unusual assignments. Mawk read the writing on the walls and applied for a change of specialty to make him a full-time information officer. Given his expensive and extensive technical training in avionics, this required a special letter written to the Commandant of the Marine Corps. But Mawk dazzled the command with his reasoning and they bought into the deal. He was on orders to Memphis, Tenn., as an avionics officer when the word came down from on high: He was to report to Camp Lejeune and start learning how to do this public affairs thing from the pros at that duty station. 

He learned it very well and got his application for appointment for a commission as a limited duty officer in the public affairs field approved. He woke up one morning to find himself a 41-year-old second lieutenant. When Alice checked into the Camp Lejeune Naval Hospital to give birth to Kevin, she told the doctors that her husband was indeed that old guy wearing the gold bars of a much younger officer and it was simply because Mawk was “a slow learner.” Polishing his public information skills at Camp Lejeune, Mawk made steady progress on the promotion lists and was a captain when he got orders for the Far East Network radio and TV command serving American forces stationed throughout Japan. Mawk and Alice moved with their four children to Misawa air base in far northern Japan where he served the U.S. Air Force command as officer-in-charge of the radio and TV outlet. 

It was about this time that the war in Vietnam began to heat up considerably. Marines were flooding into Southeast Asia and Mawk felt that his relatively sanguine duties in Japan were not the best use of his talents. If Marines were at war, that’s where Mawk Arnold needed to be. He talked it over with Alice and decided to cut his Japan assignment short by volunteering for combat duty. 

He reported for duty to the 1st Marine Division in Danang in 1967 and inherited one of the wildest, most-unruly bands of brigands ever to wear the Marine Corps uniform. And that didn’t bother Captain Mawk Arnold one bit. He took a look at the talent pool, poured over the record of achievements and decorations; saw the tremendous effect these lunatics had on troop morale and decided he could tolerate whatever they did in the name of telling the Marine Corps story. 

He kept us from going to jail, he encouraged us when times were hard — and they usually were. He bragged about our bush-time and stood proudly at our shoulders when we were decorated or commended for combat actions. He buoyed our sagging spirits and served as head cheerleader when we needed a pat on the back. He was the first and last man we saw when we were med-evaced or finally sent home, bloody but unbowed. He’s the reason so many of us volunteered to stay in Vietnam for extended tours of duty. We would have done that for no other man. That’s what he did, and if you need reminding of how much it meant to all of us, kindly re-read the first four paragraphs of this screed. 

The Skipper is gone now, dead of a heart attack at 94; survived in Fairhope, Alabama by his children and current gregarious and gorgeous wife, yet another Alice, who cheerfully played Mom to his Dad for all of us. He finally snapped a farewell salute to this world after 34 years of active service to his Corps and country, and many more years serving those he loved. And no one who knew him will deny that included us Snuffies of his old outfit in Vietnam. So our beloved Skipper reports for duty in the Great Beyond and we’ll miss him dearly for the rest of our own lives that can never measure up to his. We’ll gather to remember him and likely claim that we took care of Mawk in his later days just as lovingly and completely as he took care of us in Vietnam, but that’s an illusion. Mawk Arnold will always be responsible for us — in more ways than we can ever count or credit.

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