COLUMBIA, SC — Retired Col. Ted Bell, who became The Citadel’s most-decorated World War II veteran for his leadership in the Pacific theater, died Thursday morning at 94.
Sixty-nine years ago on the island of Okinawa, a then 25-year-old Bell led Easy Company of the 77th Infantry Division to the top of Ishimmi Ridge, providing a vantage point that would give the United States a clear path for its planned invasion of Japan.
On May 17, 1945, the day of his wedding anniversary, Bell set off with over 200 men, single file, under cover of darkness, to the top of that ridge. Their orders: To hold it at all costs.
Three days later, 22 men returned to base with him.
Bell received the second-highest decoration for valor in combat, the Distinguished Service Cross. But those closest to him said it was not in his nature to seek recognition.
“He was somewhat embarrassed, because he lived and they died,” said Bell’s son, Ted Bell Jr. “He didn’t go seeking attention; it was more thrust upon him.”
Bell’s heroics at Ishimmi Ridge were never widely publicized until a little more than a year ago when ETV Endowment and The State Media Co. partnered to film the documentary “Man and Moment: Ted Bell and The Ridge.” The documentary followed Bell as he returned to the ridge for the first time since leaving Okinawa those many years ago.
“South Carolina has lost a great man. One of a kind,” said Columbia filmmaker Wade Sellers, who directed the film that was produced by State reporter Jeff Wilkinson. “He was reserved about his experiences during World War II and it was a humbling experience to not only have him share those experiences with us, but to travel to the spot where he fought his greatest battle.”
Ted Bell Jr. said his father often spoke to him about the importance of family and, eventually, parenthood.
“He was always setting a good example. He told me to be a good father to my three daughters,” Bell Jr. said. “That was the most important thing in my life.”
Bell also received two Bronze Stars and the Silver Star for his company’s campaigns in Guam and the Philippines. He remained in the army until 1972 when he retired as a full Colonel.
A triangular monument surrounded by a circular pool now stands on the ridge at Okinawa that was once littered with bodies and dug out with tunnels and trenches. As his father sat in his wheelchair during the filming of last year’s documentary – staring into the clear, blue water – Bell Jr. witnessed what he says is the most memorable moment he’s experienced between the two of them.
“He (the elder Bell) said, ‘But it’s over now. I’m not going to think about it anymore.’”
Funeral services have not been finalized but will be conducted at Arlington National Cemetery where the cremated remains of Bell and his wife of 71 years, Mary Bell, will be sent in a few months. Mary Bell died on May 1.
Reach Buscemi at (803) 771-8442.