Honoring One of Our Own
Updated: Apr 20
This Veterans Day
Arne Soderman never intended to join the Navy. He grew up in Wappingers Falls, New York, in a modest home without any military influence. As a result, Arne never gave much thought about the military, even though the Vietnam war was just starting to make the nightly news.
It wasn’t until Arne’s 11th-grade math teacher, Mrs. June Tate, introduced the idea of furthering his education through a military academy. Mrs. Tate saw something special in Arne, and knowing his modest beginnings and sensing the draft was a genuine possibility, she encouraged him to apply. She knew Arne could earn a good living while getting an excellent education, and rather than being drafted as an enlisted member “in the trenches”, he could serve as an officer.
Arne listened to Mrs. Tate’s advice and took the competitive exam. He competed favorably and was accepted into the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland. Arne said the training was grueling, “They basically grind you down to nothing then build you back up in their mold.” Arne graduated from the Naval Academy in 1965.
After graduation, Arne was chosen for the Navy nuclear power program, which required an additional year of schooling and technical training. Not only that, to work on a nuclear submarine, Arne had to interview with the legendary Admiral Hyman Rickover. Rickover was known as the “Father of the Nuclear Navy” and was well known for his infamous interview techniques that involved putting candidates off-guard. For example, when interviewing, Rickover would throw candidates off by seating them in chairs with a shortened leg and at the same time positioning them, so the sunlight streamed through the blinds perfectly to shine straight into their eyes. That way the candidate had to maintain their wits while they were teetering on the chair.
After a lengthy interview process, Rickover accepted Arne into the nuclear program, but not without conditions. First, Arne had to bring his already good grades up and take an additional nuclear physics class. No problem—Arne was willing to put in the hard work.
Arne finished his intense training successfully and was deployed to carry out missions in Vietnam. However, it wasn’t long before Arne’s thirst for knowledge and adventure began tugging at him when airplanes caught his attention. Arne returned from one of his cruises aboard the USS Harry E. Hubbard (DD-748) and decided to take flying lessons at Long Beach Airport in California. His flight instructor, after two lessons, suggested that Arne should learn to fly from the Navy and become a Naval Aviator.
Taking his instructor’s advice, Arne applied and was accepted into the program in 1968 and reported to Pensacola, Florida learning how to fly!
Arne got his wings in 1969 and found himself on the USS Hancock (CVA-19) with his squadron, VA-164, flying combat missions in North and South Vietnam.
Throughout Arne’s time in the military, he was very blessed. The pilot training alone was extremely dangerous. Many men died just in training, let alone the perilous job of flying in combat missions. Arne recounted a time when he was on a bombing mission in North Vietnam. The target was a power plant north of Hanoi. Arne was flying in formation and was on the wing of the lead fighter pilot when the world went white. The lead pilot was hit in the wing by a 37 millimeter anti-aircraft round. The wing is full of fuel, and fortunately and for whatever reason, the bullet passed through the wing without detonating. All the fuel bloomed through the air blinding Arne in a white cloud. The lead pilot immediately pulled out of formation and took his white cloud, allowing Arne to see again. The damaged aircraft flew safely back to the carrier after refueling while in flight.
Keeping calm during tense events is a military must. Keeping calm and accurate in their duty is also a military must. Arne proved over and over his keen ability to do both.
Later Arne was part of a larger mission of 20 aircraft, all outfitted with different weapons to take out the Thanh Hóa Bridge in North Vietnam. Arne’s job was to fly ahead of the strike aircraft with cluster bombs to suppress anti-aircraft fire allowing his fellow pilots to take out the bridge.
When Arne got back to the carrier, he was told by his commander the gun site was completely destroyed, and for his accuracy and proven skill, Arne was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross.
The dangers of flying bomb missions are nothing compared to the sometimes terrifying process of landing an aircraft at night on the flight deck. Arne explained this was the most dangerous and anxiety-ridden part of his career in the Navy. When landing at night, Arne explains, “All I had for guidance were a couple of landing aides, the lights of the ship, and the Landing Signal Officer guiding me on the radio. The visual cues were minimal, and I had to approach the deck at exactly the right angle and at the right speed to hit one of the four arresting wires”. Each plane is equipped with a tailhook to land on the flight deck—an extended hook attached to the plane’s tail. I had to snag the tailhook on one of four arresting wires. These wires stretch across the deck, absorbing the energy of his aircraft traveling 150 miles per hour in only 3 seconds in a 315-foot landing area. That’s quite a stop!
Arne finished his tour in Vietnam and had various assignments including Post Graduate School and flying the A7E off of the USS Midway (CV-41).
One of Arne’s last jobs in the Navy was flight testing jets in Pensacola, Florida. After aircraft reached so many hours, they were brought in to be torn down and rebuilt. After the rework, Arne would test the jets to ensure all was in working order.
One day Arne and his good friend, Jim, were sitting together when the phone rang. Jim answered, and Arne could get a feel for the conversation. It was another mutual friend trying to talk Jim into taking early retirement. It was 1981, and Southwest Airlines was looking for pilots. Jim was too close to retirement from the Navy and couldn’t take the job. Arne, never missing an opportunity, took the call and took advantage of a lucky moment.
Arne left his position, stayed in the Naval Reserves, and flew for Southwest Airlines for 22 years. In total, Arne served for 16 years in active service and eight years in the Reserves.
Throughout Arne’s life, he listened to those around him and took advantage of what he calls “lucky moments.” Arne’s life in the military served him and his country very well. Arne explains that his military service was a rewarding and honorable career with many educational benefits. The military allowed him to do what he loves—Fly.
To Arne and all our Veterans, we cannot thank you enough for your service and sacrifice in both war and peacetime. We are forever grateful.
Arne has been a Munds Park resident since 1991, and lives here with his sweet wife Pat. If you are driving around Munds Park and see a happy couple on their porch enjoying coffee in red robes happily waving at all the people going by, you’re probably saying hi to Arne and Pat!
Happy Veterans Day to our soldiers & their families both past and present.
We owe you our thanks, but more than that, we owe you our freedom.