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39th Bomb Group (VH)
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Captain Thomas A. Bell
Airplane Commander
Thomas Angus Bell was born November 1, 1916 in Spangle, WA. He knew he would be a pilot when he saw his first airplane, a mail plane, at age 3. His family moved back to Oak Park/Maywood, IL by auto (!) when he was around 12 years old. He graduated from Proviso High School in 1935. He attended Austin Junior College at night so he could work for Sears Roebuck days. This enabled him to pay for flying lessons unknown to his mother. He was a licensed pilot when he was drafted June 17, 1941, just for a year (he thought). At Ft. Lewis, WA, in 1942, he applied for aviation cadet training. He was accepted and sent to Santa Ana, CA.

The Army Air Corps was desperate for flight instructors. He was one of 100 cadets, already licensed pilots that were singled out for special flight instructor's training in September 1942 at Mather AAF, CA. They had primary, basic, advanced, and instructor's training and finished in five months. He was commissioned March 3, 1943,Class 43-A-1. While at Mather, he met Shirley. They were married on May 22, 1943.

His first assignment was at Chico AAF, a basic-flight training base. In good weather (most of the time in California) he might fly with seven cadets a day. He had the highest standards for his students to attain. After 15 months, he was transferred to Marana, AZ (another basic base), but after two months, he went to Roswell AAF, NM for 4-engine transition in B-17s. After completing B-17 training, he was sent to Lincoln, NE, joining hundreds of officers and airmen waiting to be assigned to B-29 training bases. It was in Lincoln that he grew his trademark mustache. Here also, he and his wife met very dear friends, Dr./Col. Lew Hoffman and wife, Debbie.

With Shirley and Taffy (his cocker spaniel) tagging along, he arrived in October 1944 at Smoky Hill AAF, Salina, Kansas. There, his crew was formed and he was promoted to 1st Lieutenant. Air crew: Tom Bell, AC; Dick Harrison, pilot; Joe Callaghan, Nav.; Elmer Jones, Radar; Dick Baldridge, Bombardier; George Beaver, Flight Engineer; David Schulman, Radio Opr; John Essing, CFC; David Potters, L gunner; Ralph Johnson, R gunner; and Thomas F. Smith, tail gunner. Ground crew: S/Sg1 Edward Lally, Crew Chief; Sgt. Wally J. Bodner; Sgt. Anthony Mangiaracina; Cpl. Jack Donathan; and PFC Angelo Repucci. During that winter, crews were rotated to Cuba for tropical atmosphere.

He and his crew picked up their B-29 at Herington, KS. In March 1945, Shirley and Taffy headed to Sacramento with Debbie Hoffman for company. They decided to stop at the Grand Canyon overnight -- the same day he flew P10 down the canyon. The greatest picture of Tom was taken then; he was smiling and doing what he loved.

The crews gathered at Mather AAF for several days before rotating to Guam. Because of the diligent, hardworking ground and air crew P10 was a great B-29, performing exceptionally well. After arriving at North Field, Guam, Tom wrote the Johnson Wax Co. and received a case of wax. He actually had his crews out there with him waxing P10 to gain more performance from this great B-29. On June 26, 1945, P10 and crew flew the longest mission of WW II, 4,650 miles in 23 hours to do reconnaissance of Hokaido. The story appeared in stateside newspaper. Tom felt his ground crew were due special credit for this flight. The A-bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki forced the Japanese to surrender which left flight crews, ground crews and support personnel with nothing to do.

P10 with Tom as AC and George Beaver as engineer, was chosen to fly to Mather to pick up hobby kits - Yes; hobby kits! - for the troops back on Guam. Other personnel were chosen to make up the remaining crew and passengers. Upon arrival at Mather they were told they had too many "points" and weren't allowed to fly back to Guam. Tom received his promotion to Capt. at this time.

After 3 ½ months at Smyrna, TN, six months at McClellan, James Michael was born on July 5, 1946. In August 1946, he was assigned to Tinker AAB as chief of the flight test section. He loved it there. He flew everything; even performing aerobatics in the P-80 at air shows in the vicinity.

In 1947, the Army Air Corps became a separate service as the USAF. Tom's ranks were made permanent in the regular USAF on the first round chosen. His assigned number was FR10459.

He was next assigned to a troop carrier squadron at Borinquen, later Ramey Field, in Puerto Rico, and later at Albrook in the CZ. From Albrook, he flew C-54s down the west coast of South America and across the Andes (such great mountains!) to Uraguay. They were not allowed to go into Argentina. The missions were to transport embassy personnel and supplies. Albrook ops never knew where they were. If there was mechanical trouble, they had to rely on Panagra, a South American branch of Pan American Airlines.

The Berlin Airlift caught up with Tom in October 1948 and he was assigned to Fassberg in the British zone of West Germany. He never forgot all the brussels sprouts the Brits cooked. This move left Shirley, James Michael (aged 2+) and the car to get home to Sacramento. He had to fly a C-54 to Brooks, AFB and took Taffy to stay with friends at Randolph AFB where Shirley picked him up.

He arrived home in Sacramento in June of 1949 when the airlift ended. One night we went to the movies at Mather AFB. Behind us sat Leo Lewis and his crew. Needless to say, there was a lot of reminiscing later at the Officer's Club.

His next assignment was to Carswell AFB and B-36s. His first ride in a B-36 should have been written up for posterity or a movie plot. When the four jet engines were added to the six recip pushers, the B-36 really performed. David was born August 12, 1950 at Carswell AFB.

Tom and his crew were among the first to go to survival school near Pike's Peak. Guess who he met and shook hands with: General Curtis LeMay who was checking on conditions there. During this tour of six years at Carswell, he was always an instructor pilot - B-36s and T-33. He taught General "Three Finger" Jack Ryan to fly the T-33 and guess again, who was told to mind his manners while training with Tom in the T-33! Tom was also involved in the B-36 feather weight program. He was on one of these lengthy flights - 32-36 hours -- when Thomas Scott Bell was born on May 28, 1953 at CAFB Hosp.

In August 1955, he was sent to Staff & Command School at Maxwell AFB. One weekend while there we went to Ft. Walton Beach, FL to visit with Ace Edwards (Crew 8) and Eve. Ace was at Tyndall AFB. His next assignment was to RAF Mildenhall Air Base group, in USAF ops. Our trip over to England was on an old WW II troop carrier ship. En route, the Queen Elizabeth passed us!

We lived in new RAF quarters at Mildenhall. The USAF shared the base with the RAF and Tom worked closely with RAF ops. He was invited to fly in RAF jets: Vulcan and the Victor. Our neighbors and dear friends were Maj. Wilson and Madeline Benton and Capt. Tex Henderson and Nita. Tex was C.O. of the Air Police squadron. A great honor and farewell was bestowed on Tom and Tex when they were "dined out" at RAF Mildenhall by Hqtrs 3 Group and were presented with a plaque. The Bells and Hendersons were invited for a farewell dinner at Air Vice Marshall, Sir Mickie Dwyer's home. Our 3 years in England were wonderful and a fantastic experience. Tom worked closely with the air refueling group from Plattsburg AFB and then the B-47 crews from Schilling AFB (our old Smoky Hill AAF!)

What a surprise when we left England in 1955 to be sent to Lake Charles AFB, LA! Tom went to Wichita, KS to be check out in the B-47. Somehow, somewhere, he became involved in maintenance and at LCAFB he would be Assistant DCM and /or CMS CO. Four years later, Lake Charles AFB was closing. Tom was assigned to a B-47 wing at Lincoln AFB NE, in maintenance! LAFB was closing too in 1965. We felt jinxed. In March of 1965, we were transferred to Blytheville AFB and worked under Col. John Livingston once more, a great gentleman. Col. Livingston immediately appointed him president and chief instructor of the base aero club in addition to his regular duties as DCM/Assistant DCM.

All of Tom's promotions were regular (no "spot" promotions as in B-36s) and when he was passed over for full Col because of the adjustment of the PLSD, he asked for an assignment to Mather AFB. (Col. Livingston was in personnel at SAC headquarters!)

He retired June 30, 1968. He immediately began civilian flight instructing, first with the McClellan Aero Club, then others. Later he chose to fly only with advanced students. A humorous anomaly occurred when the B-52 ACs from Beale AFB came to Tom at Lincoln Air Field, CA to obtain their ATP ratings in a Cessna 172!

Through the years, the crew of P10 has kept in touch. Tommie Smith (tail gunner) came out in 1990 to stay with Tom when Shirley had surgery. We enjoyed his visit. His P10 crew always gave him credit for returning them home from the Pacific WW II air war over Japan.

Tom passed away on January 24, 1997
and inurned at Arlington National Cemetery.


The above biography provided by Shirley Bell, she can be emailed at:treaslite@aol.com
Thomas' son Scott can be emailed at: SnJmodprod@aol.com

Source: Shirley Bell, Scott Bell