Neton’s Then and Now: Arnold F. Beckett and PT 154 — Part 1

James Neton
James Neton

The memory of a man 72 long years after his death still has a telling impact on his family and our local history. Arnold F. Beckett died in the South Pacific during World War II, and his story is an example of how the individual, even in the midst of grim modern warfare, truly makes the difference in our world.

Beckett was born in Craig in 1921 and graduated from Craig High School in 1939. Originally part of Company A of the 157th regiment of the Colorado National Guard — see my previous article on Craig’s Company A — he was released from duty due to a heart murmur. So, he found work at the Texas Refinery as a lab assistant. But when the USA entered World War II, Beckett was determined to do his part. He volunteered for the U.S. Navy in April 1942. After a second exam, no heart murmur was detected and Beckett was cleared for duty. During training he earned a rating of torpedoman’s mate, second class.

In late 1942 and early 1943, Guadalcanal Island was the scene of a ferocious battle for control of Henderson Airfield, the all-important airstrip. As part of Motor Torpedo Squadron 9 aboard PT 154, Beckett was sent directly into the furies of war around the island against the fanatical Japanese.

According to the Craig Empire-Courier, Beckett arrived in the South Pacific in January 1943. He and his mates on PT 154 were ordered to cut the Japanese supply route nicknamed the “Tokyo Express.” While prowling the Solomon Islands, Beckett was credited with sinking four Japanese supply vessels with direct hits. PT 154’s Skipper also received an accommodation for purposely drawing Japanese planes away from an American supply convoy, putting the boat and her crew at imminent risk.

The USA hung on at Guadalcanal and next targeted Bougainville to the northeast. With US air superiority, the Japanese moved their supply runs to the dark of night. On the bright, moonlit night of Nov. 14, 1943, PT 154 patrolled just south of Shortland Island. Suddenly, at 12:15 a.m., a Japanese shore battery of guns fired on PT 154 and struck her near the helm and again in the aft. Beckett was knocked unconscious by the first blast. PT 155 raced in to help, and the wounded were hurried back to the nearest base on Mono Island. Beckett never recovered and died at 2 p.m., and he was buried on the island in a New Zealand cemetery.

As for PT 154? The urgency of war was at hand. She was brought in for repairs, refitted, assigned replacement sailors for the dead and wounded, and by Dec. 13, one day short of a month from Beckett’s death the little boat was back out on the waters of the Solomon Islands hunting for Japanese ships.

As for Arnold Beckett? In 1945 his body was transferred to an American Cemetery in New Guinea. In 1948, he finally made the long trip back to Craig. Even though Arnold Beckett’s journey was at an end, this is where his story continues.

In the following column next week, Beckett will come alive for all of us as we learn about a man who is still very much alive in the hearts and memory of his family, and, hopefully, once again in the memory of Craig.

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