Today’s post was written by Christen Brown, Archives Technician in the Special Media Division at the National Archives in College Park, MD.
Desiderio Alberto Arnaz, born March 2, 1917 in Santiago de Cuba, was an actor, musician, and producer best known for his role as Ricky Ricardo on the television sitcom I Love Lucy. But, he also served in the United States Army during World War II, as revealed in his Official Military Personnel File (NAID 40922019).
On April 27, 1943, Arnaz joined the United States Army. When Arnaz was drafted he was not a United States citizen but since he was living in the States he had to register for the draft with the likelihood of being selected for service. Upon his selection, he completed his training, however; he was physically disqualified for overseas service due to hypertension (high blood pressure) and internal derangement of his knee joints. Arnaz sustained a left knee injury during a football game as a civilian and he incurred his right knee injury during an authorized baseball game on May 23, 1943 at Camp Arlington. Later, during Arnaz’ physical examination prior to discharge, calcification was found in both knee joints which suggested he had Pellegrini-Stieda Disease, although it was never confirmed as a diagnosis in his military documentation. Since Arnaz was unfit for battle, he was assigned as a Staff Sergeant to the United Service Organization (USO) at the Birmingham General Army Hospital located in the San Fernando Valley, where he stayed while he served the Army for 2 years and 7 months.
There is a letter in Arnaz’ military files dated July 19, 1943 which states Desiderio A. Arnaz changed his name to Desi Arnaz within the Army, but his name change does not appear to be recognized until October 1, 1943 when Arnaz became a Naturalized United States Citizen in the Superior Court of San Bernardino County, California where his name was officially recognized as Desi Arnaz.
Arnaz’ military documents do not show exactly how he spent serving his time while in the Army but during his time he did earn the Good Conduct Medal, American Theater Ribbon, and the World War II Victory Medal. He also maintained a Military Occupational Specialty as an Entertainer and was later promoted to Entertainment Director.
The Lou Maxon, Inc. Advertising Agency offered Arnaz a contract to organize, direct, and participate in a weekly radio show to be broadcast in the United States and South America. The purpose of the radio show was to strengthen the political and commercial ties between the Latin American countries and the United States. The radio show would also carry on the State Department sponsored radio division of the Office of the Coordinator of Inter-American Affairs to maintain the Good Neighbor Policy. It was believed Arnaz was the best person for the job since he already had experience in show business as well as his Cuban heritage and a deeper understanding of the culture and people of Latin America. Arnaz requested to leave the Army August 29, 1945 but did not receive his official honorable discharge until December 1, 1945.
After the Army, Arnaz went on to form his own band, Desilu Productions, and the well-known and loved television show I Love Lucy that forever changed the way shows were made for and syndicated on television. Desi Arnaz died on December 2, 1986 due to lung cancer at the age of 69.