ARNOLD J. ISBELL, CAPT, USN
Arnold Isbell '21
Date of birth: September 22, 1899
Date of death: March 19, 1945
From the 1921 Lucky Bag:
His wife, Margarita, was listed as next of kin. He was also survived by his sons Don (USMA '55) and younger son, Charlie (USNA '54). (He was previously married to Minnie Couthard; they had no children together.)
Arnold has a memory marker in Iowa.
Arnold J. Isbell, born on 22 September 1899 in Quimby, Iowa, entered the Naval Academy on 24 July 1917 and graduated on 3 June 1920 (a year ahead of schedule due to acceleration of midshipman training during World War I) with class 21A of the Class of 1921. Isbell then served successive tours of duty in Melville (AD-2), Bath (AK-4), and the fast minelayers Ingraham (DM-9) and Burns (DM-11) before beginning flight instruction at the Naval Air Station, Pensacola, Fla., on 30 June 1923. He then briefly served as an instructor there before reporting to Observation Squadron 1, based in the minelayer Aroostook (CM-3) which was then serving as an aircraft tender, in November 1924. In March of the following year, he was transferred to the aviation unit of the battleship Tennessee (BB-43). Following two years of postgraduate work in ordnance back at the Naval Academy between the summers of 1926 and 1928, he received further flight instruction at Washington, D.C., under the supervision of the post graduate school, before going to sea with Torpedo Squadron IB in aircraft carrier Lexington (CV-2).
Isbell then served in the Aviation Ordnance Section of the Bureau of Ordnance (BuOrd) in Washington before reporting to Newport News, Va., on 16 September 1933 to participate in the fitting out of the Navy's first aircraft carrier to be built as such from the keel up, Ranger (CV-4). Following a brief tour of duty in that ship, he served from 6 June 1934 to 9 June 1936 in carrier Saratoga (CV-3) as gunnery officer on the staff of Rear Admiral (later Vice Admiral) Henry V. Butler, Commander, Aircraft, Battle Force.
Isbell subsequently flew as executive officer of Patrol Squadron (VP) 7F based in aircraft tender Wright (AV-1) from 9 June 1936 to 1 June 1937 before commanding one of the five squadrons of the Aviation Training Department at NAS Pensacola, VN-4D8. While at Pensacola, he won the coveted Schiff Trophy, "emblematic of maximum safety in aircraft operation."
In the early summer of 1939, Lt. Comdr. Isbell assumed command of VP-11 (later redesignated VP-54). The German invasion of Poland on 1 September 1939 found VP-54 based at Norfolk, Va.; engaged in biennial maintenance of its dozen PBY-2 flying boats. Eight days later, a detachment of six planes departed Norfolk and arrived at Newport, R.I., their assigned base, that same day. The entire squadron resumed operations on Norfolk on 14 November 1939, relieving VP-53 on the Middle Atlantic Patrol.
During one of the flights his squadron conducted in the initial selection and survey of Army and Navy base sites in Newfoundland in the autumn of 1940, sites obtained in the "destroyers-for-bases" deal of the summer before, Isbell found himself in the path of a hurricane. In an attempt to evade the storm, Isbell skillfully maneuvered his aircraft in the murk until exceptionally strong headwinds forced him to make an emergency night landing on Prince Edward Island. Isbell took off before daybreak, despite fog and violent winds, and reached his destination without mishap. After completing his inspection over uninhabited regions and seacoast areas, Isbell returned to Newfoundland to carry out an aerial survey of Argentia, a place soon to become famous as the site of the "Atlantic Charter" conference. Isbell's expert airmanship and tenacious devotion to completing his mission resulted in his receiving the Air Medal.
Relieved of command of VP-54 on 15 April 1941, Isbell then served successive tours of duty in a staff capacity, first for Commander, Patrol Wing, Support Force (16 April-2 October 1941) as that command's planes escorted North Atlantic convoys; then as chief of staff and aide for Rear Admirals Ernest D. McWhorter and Alva D. Bernhard, Commander, Patrol Wings, Atlantic Fleet (3 October 1941-11 June 1942), before assuming command of NAS, Sitka, Alaska, on 5 June 1942. Promoted to captain during his time in the Aleutians, Isbell then served briefly in BuOrd before assuming command of the escort carrier Card (CVE-11) on 17 April 1943.
For the next year, Card ranged the essential lifeline across the Atlantic to North Africa, earning together with her escorting destroyers, a Presidential Unit Citation under the resourceful "Buster" Isbell, who believed firmly in the potential of the CVE, maintaining that such a ship, together with her escorts, "could most effectively whip the submarine menace, as an independent offensive group rather than as a mere tag, along protector of a single convoy." Isbell used the year he commanded Card wisely to vindicate his belief. As antisubmarine task group commander between 27 July and 9 November 1943, Isbell developed his escort carrier-destroyer unit into a powerful combat force, refining tactics to meet the operational demands imposed by a wily and tenacious foe and wresting the initiative from his hands. Card sought out the enemy undersea craft with relentless determination m a vigorous offensive and struck with a devastating coordinated action that destroyed eight U-boats between 7 August and 31 October 1943.
Detached from Card on 9 March 1944, Isbell-who had been awarded a Legion of Merit for his important work in Card, took his intimate knowledge of combatting U-boats to Washington, where he served in the 10th Fleet, a shipless "fleet" set up to research and develop tactics for antisubmarine warfare. Following this tour of shore duty, which lasted into 1945, Isbell was slated to receive command of a fast carrier. On 26 February 1945, he was ordered to the Pacific for temporary duty in Franklin (CV-13). On 13 March 1945, further orders directed him to relieve Captain Thomas S. Combs as commanding officer of Yorktown (CV-10). However, Captain Isbell perished when a Japanese plane scored two bomb hits that touched off a conflagration in Franklin, the carrier in which he was embarked as a passenger, off Kyushu on 19 March 1945.
I was 12 when he died, but I remember a loved family hero, good looking, smart, and with a great sense of humor.
Arnold as a pudgy tot. He and my mother were born about 20 months apart in Oto, Iowa. I believe that at that time Arnold’s father was with the railroad. Arnold was named after my grandfather’s father, who’s last name was Arnold, and was a Civil War veteran. I don’t believe that either Arnold or my mother knew him. The family moved to Logan, Iowa, and Arnold went to school there. Tales are that he was a ‘good but wild’ kid, and I think everyone was glad when he got into the Academy. He attended in ’17 and graduated in ’20. I believe they were hurrying people through because of WWI.
Arnold loved flying and he was in it early. I remember that he was in charge of a group flying in Alaska. Before that he flew a lot.
Zoe Montague, the niece of Capt. Isbell
Suspect that the picture with FDR is on the occasion of him winning the "Herbert Schiff Trophy, 1938, Emblematic of Maximum Safety in Aircraft Operation."
Distinguished Flying Cross
From Hall of Valor:
(Citation Needed) - SYNOPSIS: Captain Arnold J. Isbell (NSN: 0-56866), United States Navy, was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for extraordinary achievement while participating in aerial flight during World War II.
General Orders: American Battle Monuments Commission
USS Arnold J. Isbell (DD 869) was named for Arnold; the ship was sponsored by his widow.
The Captain Arnold Jay Isbell Trophy is named for Arnold; it is awarded to the squadron that best demonstrates outstanding performance in anti-submarine warfare.