Veterans Living History Project

Clyde Bell Sr, better known as Papaw, is 96 but you'd never know it by trying to keep up with him!

When visiting with Donna Bell's sons, two of his 13 great grandchildren, they asked him a simple question.

"Papaw, what was it like in the war?" asked one son. Papaw answered, "Horrible. Terrible."

That question opened a treasure trove of stories about his years fighting in World War II, complete with memorabilia, that takes him back in time.

"I went over in August '43 and came back in August '45," said Bell.

His amazing journey as a young Army Soldier took him through Africa, Italy, France, and Germany. He took part in seven campaigns, including the Battle of Anzio, where he lived in a foxhole for four months.

"We went in with about 5000 men initially, and within about a week the Germans had about 8 or 10 divisions on the beachhead and kept us there four months," said Bell. "The shells started hitting so close, we decided we better dig in."

He took down a Nazi flag that was flying over the town of Reidseltz, France, and replaced it with an American flag.

"That's shrapnel holes from where shells landed when it got hit, (the flag) was hit by shrapnel," said Bell.

He helped himself to knives, helmets, and and swastikas as he came face-to-face with German soldiers. When asked how he got the items from the German soldiers, he replies, "I said I want your uniform. Period. And I had a 45 on my side."

Bell was also at one of the most infamous concentration camps, Dachau, the day after it was liberated.

"Dachau was probably the most brutal thing I saw during the war," said Bell. "The conditions they were in were unbelievable, there were 37 boxcars on the site and the infantry, while I was there, I saw the infantry break into the box cars and there were about 200-300 dead bodies in each of the boxcars."

Stories like these are becoming few and far between. In 2000, there were almost six million World War II vets alive, but now, there are just over a million. The veterans administration says as these national heroes age, they are dying at a rate 600 per day, making the quest to preserve their stories more urgent than ever.

Bell says, "We had a job to do, and we did it."

Bell is one of the lucky ones, blessed with time to share his stories.

During the war, he wondered if he would live to see his wife, Elsie and new born son, who happens to be Donna's dad.

"I wasn't sure I would make it back, and she wasn't sure I would make it back," said Bell, referring to his wife Elsie. She gets emotional at memory and replies, that was a lifetime.." but shes unable to finish her sentence as she holds back tears.

After 72 years of marriage, together they teach their family about American history and the true meaning of sacrifice, love, and freedom.

If you know any war veterans, especially those from the World War II era, you are encouraged to help document their stories, and submit it to the Library of Congress, when it will be preserved in the National Archives for generations to come.

Its called the "Veterans Living History Project." You can learn more by clicking on the link below, or contact Congressman Steve Southerlands office at 850-785-0812 if you need assistance in getting your story documented.

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