Decorated WWII Army officer returns to Okinawa
The U.S. Army last week welcomed back to Okinawa a highly decorated Army officer that 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.
The film will air on South Carolina public television in September.
Upon his arrival to Naha City, Bell was incredulous of how much Okinawa has changed since he last saw the island in 1945.
"Well, there's no one shooting at me and there are buildings," said Bell, remarking that it was only sand and dirt when he left nearly seven decades ago. "The build-up on Okinawa is unbelievable."
On March 7, Army personnel on Torii Station hosted a Retreat Ceremony to honor Bell for his service. The guest list was a veritable who's who of distinguished visitors, including Kunio Ishimine, President, Japanese Self Defense Forces Veterans Association; Brig. Gen. Mathew Molloy, USAF Commander, 18th Wing; Alfred Magleby, Consul General, American Consulate General Naha, Japan; Capt. Richard Weathers, Commanding Officer, USN Commander, Fleet Activities Okinawa; and Colonel David DaTata, Chief, Okinawa Area Field Office, U.S. Forces Japan.
Bell was incredibly humbled by the attention and said the accolades should be for the efforts of the 77th Infantry Division and not his own.
With support from Torii Station's public affairs and community relations offices, Bell was able to visit a number of historic locations, including Ishimmi Ridge where he earned the Distinguished Service Cross for his actions during a brutal three-day battle. Although he visited other locations on Okinawa, including Shuri Castle, Peace Memorial Park and the Ernie Pyle Monument on Ie Shima, Bell was adamant about returning to Ishimmi Ridge.
"I want to go back to that ridge. I don't care if I don't see anything else," said Bell.
Former and current U.S. Marines who volunteer with the Battle of Okinawa Historical Society on Camp Kinser were able to determine the present-day location of Ishimmi Ridge and accompanied Bell to the site, which is in a heavily populated residential area of Naha City.
Bell was a young Army officer who led a company of 200 men up the ridge - moving single file under the cover of darkness to get into position. They successfully took the ridge and held it until reinforcements arrived three days later. When the fighting was over, only 22 men came down from the ridge with Bell. He looked forward to the visit all week, but suffered several sleepless nights in anticipation of returning to a place with such significance. When he finally made it back to the top of the ridge, he was overcome with emotion - quietly remembering and shedding tears for all the men he lost during that fight.
"Let's go. I'm not going to think about it anymore," said Bell, after spending more than an hour reliving what had to be some of the most difficult moments of his life.
Earlier in the week, 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.
"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."
On his final full day in Okinawa, Bell was taken to Peace Memorial Park, which lists the names of all people - Okinawan, Japanese, American and Allied Forces - killed during the Battle of Okinawa. Bell was touched to see that such a monument was created to honor everyone who died during the battle.
During his 30-year Army career, Bell also earned a Silver Star and two Bronze Stars.