Decorated World War II Army officer returns to Okinawa
TORII STATION, Japan -- Last week, the U.S. Army welcomed back to Okinawa a highly decorated Army officer who fought in the Battle of Okinawa during World War II.
Retired Col. Ted Bell, 93, returned to Okinawa for the first time in more than 67 years, with a documentary film crew that is making a movie about his experiences as a company commander with the 77th Infantry Division. Bell earned the Distinguished Service Cross for his actions during a brutal three-day battle on Ishimmi Ridge. Bell also earned a Silver Star and two Bronze Stars during his 30 years of service. The documentary will air on South Carolina's public television stations in September.
Upon Bell's arrival to Naha City, he expressed surprise at how much Okinawa had changed since he last saw the island in 1945.
"Well, there's no one shooting at me, and there are buildings," Bell said.
Bell remarked that the city was only sand and dirt when he left nearly seven decades ago.
"The build-up on Okinawa is unbelievable," he said.
Army personnel on Torii Station hosted a retreat ceremony March 7, to honor Bell for his service.
Bell said he felt incredibly humbled by the attention, but noted the accolades should be for the efforts of the 77th Infantry Division and not his own.
The distinguished visitors to attend the ceremony included Kunio Ishimine, president of the Japanese Self Defense Forces Veterans Association; Air Force Brig. Gen. Mathew Molloy, commander of the 18th Wing; Alfred Magleby, consul general for American Consulate General Naha, Japan; Navy Capt. Richard Weathers, commanding officer of Fleet Activities Okinawa; and Col. David DaTata, chief of the Okinawa Area Field Office, U.S. Forces Japan.
Bell toured a number of historic locations during his visit, including Shuri Castle, Peace Memorial Park and the Ernie Pyle Monument on Ie Shima; however, Bell was adamant about returning to Ishimmi Ridge.
"I want to go back to that ridge," Bell said. "I don't care if I don't see anything else."
Bell, as a young Army officer, led a company of 200 Soldiers up the ridge -- moving single file, he recounted -- under the cover of darkness to get into position.
Bell said his unit successfully took the ridge and held it until reinforcements arrived three days later; however when the fighting was over, only 22 men came down from the ridge with him.
Bell said he has looked forward to the visit all week, but suffered several sleepless nights in anticipation of returning to a place with such significance.
Bell was visibly overcome with emotion when he finally made it back to the top of Ishimmi Ridge as he quietly shed tears.
"Let's go; I'm not going to think about it anymore," Bell said after spending more than an hour reliving memories from his past.
Bell made the short ferry ride to Ie Shima and paid homage to famed Army reporter Ernie Pyle. Bell was one of the last people to see Pyle, who had driven by Bell and his men just moments before he was killed by a sniper's bullet, Bell said.
"He did such a great job covering the war in Europe, and it's sad he died so soon after arriving to cover the war in the Pacific," said Bell. "It was a huge loss -- he was a Soldier's writer."
Bell visited Peace Memorial Park on his final full day in Okinawa. Peace Memorial Park lists the names of all the Okinawan, Japanese, American and Allied Forces who were killed during the Battle of Okinawa. Bell said he was touched to see that a monument was created to honor everyone who died during the battle.