Bell was inspired to serve in the Navy

Published 11:21 am Thursday, May 17, 2018

VALLEY — Our Valley Times-News Veteran of the Week. Wallace Bell, grew up during the World War II era. Keeping up with the events of the day inspired him to want to serve in the military when he came of age.

“I was only eleven years old when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor in 1941,” he said. “From that point on – especially following the D-Day landing by allied forces – I would gather with my family around the radio for the daily updates of the war. I imagined myself being there and fighting with the soldiers as they moved eastward toward Germany. But I realized it would probably be over before I was old enough to join the military.”

Bell was old enough to serve in 1948. He joined the U.S. Navy and was sent to the Naval Training Center in San Diego, Cal. for basic training. “From there, I was assigned to the Navy postal service and sent to Shanghai, China. My primary duties included receiving and processing mail from the U.S. to sailors and their families.”

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The majority of Bell’s time in the service was in China and The Philippines. “I learned to speak some of the native languages,” he said. “It was during my time in China that my commanding officer asked for volunteers to carry out a secret mission. We were told that survival was not guaranteed. I was only a 130-pound sailor but ready for action. I raised my hand.”

This was before the communist takeover of the country. “Our mission was to go behind enemy lines and deliver forms of written communication to U.S. Navy personnel. It was dangerous, but we were able to complete it successfully,” Bell said.

Bell was later transferred to a photography unit with the Navy’s public relations department. “I took both ground and aerial photos, according to assignments from superiors,” he said.

Bell returned to San Diego in 1951. “I was able to fully explore my lifelong fascination with motorcycles,” he said. “After purchasing a 1941 Indian, I joined a riding club known as the Aztecs. I even did a bit of dirt-track racing.”

One night when Bell was out riding alone, a car pulled into his path from a side street. There was an impact and he was sent flying for more than 100 feet. “In was in the days before you had to wear a helmet,” he said.

He suffered a broken leg and multiple other injuries. “The accident took away my sense of smell,” he said.

Bell spent seven months in a military hospital. He was honorably discharged from the Navy in 1953.

“The first thing I did was purchase another motorcycle, and drove it cross-country to Alabama,” he said. “When my fiancé, Dorothy Whatley of Fairfax, found out what I had done, she gave me an ultimatum: ‘It’s either me or the motorcycle.’ Needless to say, my riding days quickly came to an end.”

Just like his passion for military service, Bell’s desire to ride a motorcycle never faded. “Half-jokingly,” he said. “I would tell my children when they were growing up that if I outlived their mother I would get another bike.”

Then, out of the blue, Mrs. Bell stunned him one day by asking if he’d like to have another motorcycle. “If you do, go ahead and get one,” she told him. “That was in 2009, and I was 79 years old!”

Before she could change her mind, Bell went and got a Kawasaki 600 that very day. “I’ve been riding ever since,” Bell said. “I currently have a Can Am Spyder.”

“Though I spent only five years in the military, I am as proud of my service as anyone who made it their career,” Bell said. “I still feel compelled to stand and salute every time I hear the National Anthem, and the mere sight of the American flag fills my heart with honor and patriotism. I love my country and would gladly serve again if I could.”

Bell has a Navy room in his home on Whitesmill Road in Valley. Included is lots of Navy insignia and framed photos of the ship he served on, The USS General A.E. Anderson. He also has copies of photos he took while in the Navy. He misplaced them for a time but was thrilled when he found them again.