Veterans Day: Arrington cooks up legacy
Last updated 11/9/2021 at 9:55pm
J.B. Arrington only chews on the end of his cigar these days, but the 96-year-old McLewis native is still smoking.
He's up all night smoking briskets for JB's Barbecue, the Pinehurst eatery he founded in 1972 and has run ever since.
But running a restaurant is just one of many chapters in his life. Like Orange County's other dozen or so living World War II veterans, he's deep into the Book of Life.
Thursday, November 11, is Veterans Day, an occasion to celebrate the bravery and sacrifices made by the members of our armed forces.
"Freedom is not free," Orange County Judge John Gothia said at Tuesday's Commissioners Court when he read a resolution saluting the 100th birthday of Pearl Harbor survivor Cedric Stout of Bridge City.
Stout is one of three 100-year-old WWII veterans calling the county home, the others being Ray Fontenot and Ed Hyatt.
Arrington grew up in Orange during the Depression and helped his family hustle for every dollar and bite they'd eat, only to give much of it to those who were needier.
After graduating from Orange High School at 15, he helped build Orange's Riverside and Navy Additions and welded in the shipyard until he was old enough to enlist in the Navy.
He was hand-picked to go to the Navy's communication training.
Arrington spent a lot of his three-year Navy stint teaching others the skills to communicate from ship to shore and ship to ship.
He sailed in both the Atlantic Ocean, hunting German submarines in fast PT boats, and the Pacific, where he learned a night-vision technique and used it against the Japanese.
While he managed to steer his vessel out of the paths of two Japanese torpedoes, Arrington says his biggest scare came when he and crewmates were dumping defective depth charges overboard and sinking them to the ocean's bottom.
He recalls someone decided to dump an entire case at once, and the crate of explosives didn't sink, but floated off the rear end of the boat.
The twin propellers created a suction that drew the depth charges under the ship.
"It was only a few seconds actually, but all my past lives, all my current lives and all my future lives flashed right in front of me," Arrington said.
"No one on that ship said anything for about the next four minutes. Then one guy said, 'It didn't scare me.'
"A bunch of us threw him overboard."
Arrington had a lot of skills before he ever got to the Navy.
He grew up not far from the Old Orange Baptist Church, and now he's the first person worshipers see on Sundays.
"I'm the greeter," he said.
He said he smoked "all my life," getting a first taste while helped his grandfather, "Uncle Joe" Arrington, plant, pick and process tobacco in the 1930s.
After the war, Arrington continued his education at Lamar Junior College and the University of Houston.
"I started off in mechanical engineering, and then they started an agricultural department," he recalled.
That led to a job at the Port City Stockyard in Houston, where he helped ship thousands of King Ranch cattle and horses overseas.
In 1949, he married his wife Mary K. Jones.
"We've been married for 72 years," Arrington says. "We've been happily married for two years.
"She asked me, 'What was the happiest two years, J.B.?' I said, 'When I was hunting and fishing.
"Then I asked her, 'What was your happiest two years? She said, 'When you were hunting and fishing.'"
J.B. went for more schooling at Sam Houston State, commuting 160 miles from Houston to Huntsville three days a week while working 12-hour days at the stockyard.
Then he took his first teaching job as an ag teacher at Navarro College in Corsicana.
"What I was making at the stockyard, I took a job at Navarro College for half what I was making," he said. "I guess it was in my blood."
Three years in Corsicana and Arrington jumped at the chance to return to his hometown. He was the ag teacher at Orange Stark High for 19 years. He also taught butchery, welding and fence-building.
In 1972, Arrington opened JB's Barbecue, expecting it to be a part-time venture.
"I was going to McNeese, working on my doctorate," Arrington said. "But I couldn't get my residence (for in-state tuition) and this (the restaurant) was going good, so I just give it up."
Over a 5 a.m cup of coffee Tuesday morning, Arrington explained the two days of work that went into each of the briskets he smoked, mentioning that he sometimes came into his place as early as 2 a.m. to be sure his house specialty was cooked just right.
But the specialty of any house Arrington is in is Arrington, 96 and going strong.
"I've had some accolades, but my purpose in teaching was to teach a student to be a good, useful citizen. And, hopefully, a Christian."