Ninety-six-year-old Leo Arbaugh begins each morning by calling his daughter to see how she’s doing. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, he enjoyed taking his scooter on Saturdays to the mall and visiting with friends.
Arbaugh’s father was a building contractor who built the home he was born in located one block from where he lives today.
“Even the house I live in was built with my father’s help over 70 years ago,” Arbaugh said. “We lived in the Barboursville city limits with two beagles, a garden, chickens, a milk cow and a hog. The mayor came by one day and told us our hog was not allowed inside the city. We moved it to relative’s property just outside the town line. The odor still drifted into the city, but we were legal.”
For spending money, Arbaugh kept an elderly lady’s flower garden weed free. He also sold freshly picked blackberries for 10 cents a gallon and sassafras roots for 20 cents a gallon — big money for a young boy in the 1930s.
“Neighborhood boys would skinny dip in the Guyandotte River because no one could afford swim suits,” Arbaugh said. “When it snowed we’d hitch rides on cars to the top of the hill and sleigh ride back down. My best Christmas gift was a brown pair of wool gloves and a four-layer cake mom made with raspberry jelly between each layer.”
Arbaugh walked to Barboursville grade school with indoor plumbing and central heating. He walked home for lunch and remembers the day his teacher, Ms. Ester, asked why he was staring at the girl in front of him.
“She has bugs crawling across her shoulders,” he replied. After the teacher saw for herself, the girl was sent home and the entire class was checked for bed bugs. A few days later, the student returned to class bug-free.
Arbaugh remembers when railway box cars left the thriving Barboursville Brick factory loaded full of bricks. He remembers Shy’s 5 and 10 cent store and Wysong Drug Store in Barboursville.
“Wysong Drugs had a pharmacist that everyone just called Doc,” Arbaugh said. “If you’d go in feeling bad, he’d ask you to describe your symptoms, then he’d mix something up that always helped. Beside Wysong Drugs, there was another drug store called Plyburn’s and, of course, we were not without a few bars.”
Barboursville Junior High came and went without much fanfare. High school hit a snag of disagreeing circumstances so great that Arbaugh quit school with a year left.
“I started delivering ice for Mr. L. McCormack in Barboursville less than a week after leaving high school,” Arbaugh said. “In the afternoons, we’d deliver furniture. I stayed there for three years until I heard of a good-paying job painting private airplanes in Baltimore. This lasted a year until I was drafted.”
Arbaugh probably received his military induction process in the old Vanity Fair on 4th Avenue. Next stop was Fort Wolters, Texas, for six to eight weeks of boot camp followed by a delay en route to Fort Ord, California.
“We sailed from California through the Pacific where our first stop was New Zealand. We lived in tents where we fought mosquitoes and trained for jungle survival and warfare,” Arbaugh said. “From there we went to Aitape, New Guinea, to eradicate Japanese forces occupying the island. There are no good memories of war. Trying to sleep with the memory of that day’s killing and the thought of who would die tomorrow made sleep impossible.”
After months in New Guinea, Arbaugh’s combat team enjoyed hot meals and rest while sailing to Luzon, Philippines, for more fighting and sharing their food with hungry children. Finally they arrived at Honshu, Japan, where Sergeant Arbaugh became a forward scout for the men following him through a jungle full of casualties, snipers and air raids.
The story of Arbaugh fighting to survive throughout the Solomon Islands and beyond with the 43rd Infantry division is well documented, and he feels blessed to survive and be able to come home to his wife, Janice, and a growing daughter he saw only in pictures.
“I retired after nearly 39 years at the C&O Shops in Barboursville,” Arbaugh said. “Janice and I were happily married for 56 years. We made several family trips to Florida with our daughter and son before she passed away.”
In closing, Arbaugh wanted to express his sincere appreciation for the professional care he receives at the VA Hospital.