A WEEKLY COMMENTARY
Year Twenty-Three ... Number Fifty-Two ... December 23, 1976
Table of Contents
THE THREE LIVES OF DON BELL
As a reporter we have always believed that the answer to the question "What is Truth" is vastly more important than "Who is Don Bell?" Consequently, in our reporting. commenting and analyzing we have always tried to avoid using anything more personal than the editorial "we."
However, there are those new and prospective subscribers who almost inevitably ask the question "Who is Don Bell?" There are also many who, showing our letters to someone else, or quoting from them, are asked the same question. If they are unable to answer factually, credibility is questioned and facts are discounted. Too, there is the elemental fact that subscribers have a right to know something of the qualifications and the professional background of anyone they are supporting and trusting in any patriotic work of the nature of "Don Bell Reports."
Therefore, due to numerous and continuing requests, and to the insistence of the one who is "bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh" and who answers all of our personal mail, this autobiographical sketch of Don Bell is presented in lieu of a regular weekly "Don Bell Reports."
In many instances we have had to rely on memory, records having been lost when the Japanese fire-bombed our former home in Manila. Later, upon leaving Japan to cover the Bikini atom bomb tests, all possessions were lost in transit. This, then, is the story of a journalist, not a life history, as we remember it.
FIRST: THE PREPARATION
As a very young man with a very large aim in life, we decided that the quickest way to become a foreign correspondent was to get into a foreign country and start corresponding; with the right people, of course. Furthermore, the easiest way for a penniless youth to get into a foreign country in the winter of 1926 was to join the U.S. Marines, requesting overseas duty. This latter seemed easy because there was trouble in both Nicaragua and China, and Marines were sure to be sent to both places. Fresh out of boot camp, we were one of the large force sent to China under General Smedley Butler, "to protect the interests of Standard Oil and Texaco," as the General said a few years later. The situation was critical for a while because Chiang Kai-shek had kicked the Communists (Russians, Americans, and Chinese) off his staff and his nationalist forces were battling to unite all the provinces into one great republic. Our job was to prevent that battling from seeping into the international settlements of Shanghai and Tientsin. In this we were fairly successful, and after things had settled down and the occupation had become routine, the Chaplain wanted someone to publish a magazine. So Walla Walla (meaning much talk) came into being as the official organ of the Fourth United States Marine Expeditionary Force, headquartered in Shanghai, China. We were selected as its editor, and our journalistic career began where it had left off in high school. (Oh, yes, we had also decided in the winter of 1926 that on-the-spot self-education was better for a budding foreign correspondent than an on-the-campus college education. Hence the Marine correspondence school instead of a University).
Having served our country for six years, we were discharged in Shanghai to become an executive with the Shanghai Evening Post & Mercury, American-owned, English-language daily which was later "liberated" by the invading Japanese. Our "executive" duties consisted of managing the printing plant, acting as features editor, writing a daily column, doing string reporting for the United Press, other chores that gave us a well-rounded education in fourth estate affairs, and later when the company acquired a radio station, we became its news editor and commentator.
This all ended in 1937 when Japan invaded China, driving Chiang Kai-shek's government back to Chungking, and forcing us to flee China and accept a post with an American-owned, NBC-affiliated radio station. There we became a full-fledged foreign correspondent with NBC, and also became a prisoner-of-war when the Japanese occupied Manila in January, 1942.
Shortly after our broadcast of the "Little Pearl Harbor" bombing of Nichols Field, we were commandeered by the Philippine Government and by General MacAr thur's headquarters to help maintain morale by continuing to broadcast hourly until the radio transmitters were destroyed to prevent their falling into the hands of the enemy. When our radio voice was thereby silenced, Col. Hap Harries of G2 (intelligence) would drive in, pick us up, take us to Corregidor, where we would join General MacArthur's staff. But Hap Harries never made it. A bomb got him before he got to me, according to his widow, Mary Harries, who wrote the Saturday Evening Post War Anecdote which is reproduced from the original and which appears on the opposite page.
As for us, a Filipino friend slipped into the prison camp to tell us about the beautiful memorial broadcast he had heard over KGEI, a short-wave radio station broadcasting from San Francisco. It seems that Don Bell was captured, tortured because he wouldn't give information to the enemy, paraded through the streets and then executed; the first war correspondent to die in World War II.
SECOND: THE OCCUPATION
But an error had been made. Someone else had been mistaken for Don Bell-we never learned who-and had died in our stead. The incident probably saved us, because the Kempei Tai (Japanese military police) quit looking for us, and we spent a miserable three years, one month and one day in Santo Tomas, Japanese Prisoner of War Camp Number One, Manila, the Philippines.
At Christmas, 1954, we published a letter which we titled "The Last Christmas." It dealt with the last Christmas spent at Santo Tomas. We reprint a part of that letter:
Colonel Hayashi knew it was to be our last Christmas. He had received precise and complete instructions regarding the time, place and method of our mass execution. He may have felt that since time was running out for us, he could be indulgent. He approved our plans and gave permission for a Christian observance of the birth of our Lord and Saviour ....
We had an electric organ. We built a stage to accomodate an 80-voice chorus. A Spanish priest smuggled in enough instruments to outfit a 30-piece orchestra. All inmates contributed as they could ....
We planned our program carefully:
Previously we had discovered a splendid male quartet through talent searches to provide occasional entertainment which had made endurable the long evenings of prison boredom. We had almost lost the quartet to the torture chamber because of a previous performance that the Japanese called insulting to them (it was meant to be). And the first tenor died of starvation during final rehearsals for our Last Christmas on Earth. A quick shift in plans and the remaining three-a French Catholic, a Russian Orthodox, and a Baptist preacher-performed gloriously as the Three Kings of Orient. The voices were weak with the enduring pain of enduring hunger. But we had microphones. And their costumes were of sackcloth. But we still had imagination ---
The finale of the evening performance was an abbreviated version of Handel's Messiah, closing with the immortal Hallelujah Chorus.
Came time for the finale: Some of our prisoner audience had benches or chairs; others sat on the ground. None had the strength to stand throughout the performance. I'm sure many in the audience had gone into that coma-like substitute for sleep which invests a body infested with the ravaging beri-beri, to benumb the pain of the sting of death.
But - as the first glorious tones of that inspired chorus were heard, something began to happen. The people began rising. Four thousand prisoners of twelve nationalities and fourteen religions began to rise as one. They stood erect, looking straight ahead; not at the stage or the people on it, but beyond the stage. They were looking beyond the pain and suffering brought them by three years of prison life; seeing a vision of the life that should have been on the birthday of the King of Kings and Prince of Peace. We were of fourteen religions, yes. But the bias and the bigotry, dogma and diversion was gone. We were as one, unified in the only kind of one-world that a just God can ever condone or bless - one in spirit with our Father, observing with praise and thankfulness the birth of His Son ---
The miracle of the moments endured after the music had ended, finally to be punctured by the harsh-pitched screechings of the Japanese guards, ordering us back to the rooms of confinement.
That's when reality struck us: from heaven to hell in the time it takes to hear and comprehend one shrill voice of command. It had been a most wonderful experience - but for what purpose? We were being ordered back to the little wooden bunks, hungry, tired, without hope of an earthly tomorrow. (Looking back on years of remembering, it seems that was the worst night of all --) Then, just before dawn the bombers came. We couldn't see them clearly in the first light-flakings of a tropical dawn, but we had learned to distinguish the big, beautiful, silvered B-17s by their sound. And we wondered which of the enemy camps would be obliterated this Christmas morning.
But we heard no sounds of exploding bombs as the planes droned away. We learned why a few minutes later.
The Japanese had tried to pick them all up and destroy them; but there were too many of them. Our American airmen had bombed the island with Christmas Cards!
I had one of the cards, one of my most treasured possessions. It was lost with other "memories" when I was shot down and reported killed (the second time) off the China coast three months later. But I can remember the cover: the delicately drawn scene of the Nativity. And inside (as best I can remember after all the years) were these words:
"The Commanding Officer, Officers and Men of the Army of Liberation extend the Sentiments of the Season and the promise of the realization of your fondest hopes in the coming New Year."
That promise was kept. For General of the Army Douglas Arthur MacArthur walked into Santo Tomas Prison Camp just forty-three days later, to greet those of us still alive."
We were so emaciated we felt sure he wouldn't recognize us as we walked forward to speak to him, so we said, "General, I am Don Bell." And he said, "Hello, Lazarus, I am happy to see you have returned from the dead."
Returning to work was a different matter. NBC, thinking us dead, had written us off. But Muual Broadcasting System offered us an immediate place as their correspondent with MacArthur's headquarters, in spite of my physical condition at that time. I accepted and after some hair-raising experiences in Luzon, Borneo and a few other islands, we talked the Commanding Officer of the Navy's air fleet, to let us go as thirteenth man on a patrol bomber mission along the China coast.
And so it happened that on March 22, 1945, the PB4Y2 in which we were flying, disguised as a radar technician, ran into real trouble.
Japan was dependent on oil supplies that had to be shipped by tankers via the South China Sea. Our job was to prevent any tankers or Japanese merchant ships from getting to Japan. Spotting a nest of ships off the coast near Amoy, we went down to identify them, were hit by unexpected anti-aircraft fire off Quemoy, and we kept right on diving, right into the China Sea. So, the ship was lost, the crew was listed as missing in action, presumed dead, and, technically, Don Bell was a member of the crew. Thus ended this second life -- according to the record, that is.
THIRD: THE DEDICATION
Actually, seven of us survived the crash and through a series of miracles we got ashore and started walking toward Chungking, some 800 to 1,000 miles away as an airplane would fly. However, a mysterious Chinese gentleman we only knew as Mr. Lu, guided us to an escape base deep in the mountains, from which we were airlifted to Chungking.
Because of wartime regulations, we could not return to General MacArthur's command, because we had escaped through enemy territory adn had to go to the United States, via Europe, for reassignment.
And here began a series of shocks. We had been out of the United States for nineteen years. We left when Calvin Coolidge was President and the country could still be called a Republic; we returned shortly after the death of Franklin Delano Roosevelt and the country had become a Democracy. The Nation we had loved, and served, was so changed that we hardly recognized it. When we applied for a new passport, we were arrested as a draft dodger. When we made a guest appearance on CBS's Report to the Nation, we couldn't get paid because we had no social security number. When we were sent to San Francisco to cover the organizational meetings of the United Nations we found Alger Hiss directing traffic and the Council on Foreign Relations running the show in collaboration with V.M. Molotov and the Soviet delegation.
We were shocked, but we held our peace at the time. There was a war to finish and then, having settled permanently in the United States, we would study, and speak out against the forces that were destroying our country.
We rejoined MacArthur's command, went with him to Japan, left to cover the Bikini atom bomb tests in 1946, then back home to the United States at long last, for radio network assignments in New York City and Washington, D.C. But we couldn't speak out against the nation's enemies when they owned the microphones. So we began a period of independent broadcasting, settled for a while in Tulsa, Oklahoma, where we began to publish this newsletter, which is about to begin its 24th year of uninterrupted weekly appearances.
In February, 1954, we moved to the Palm Beach area where we joined the late Upton Close and George Deatherage in publishing both Closer-Up and Don Bell Reports. With the death of Upton Close, and then George Deatherage, we faced an impossible problem in continuing the publications; except that -- and now we quote from a letter we wrote and published on August 30, 1974:
"Almost immediately after our arrival in Florida, Upton introduced us to a 'patriotic lady' who was interested in our work. We had never set eyes on each other before. But upon being introduced, this 'patriotic lady' excused herself, began rummaging through a pile of old magazines and scrap books, and suddenly held up a copy of Life Magazine of April 13, 1942. In it was the illustrated story of the fall of Manila to the Japanese, and there was an action photo of Don ?bell before a microphone interviewing Gen. MacArthur. Under the picture was the caption: "Murdered by Japs, according to Manila reports, was radio commentator Don Bell, long anti-Japanese. Supposedly he had been tortured with fire and bayonet.'
She was attracted to the main in the picture, 'just knew' that the story of his death was untrue, and held onto the illustration in the hope of matching it up with the original sometime in the future. And, as predestined, and as you've already guessed, this 'patriotic lady' seen became Mrs. Don (Ginny) Bell. And she was willing to become perfect partner (in the publishing business) as well as wife and helpmeet. So ... a 'family corporation' was established. We made it a family affair and decided to continue the publication of both Closer-Up and Don Bell Reports (unquote).
Temporary but serious illness forced us to retire Closer-Up so more time and effort could be concentrated on Don Bell Reports.
Throughout the years the publishing of Don Bell Reports has been a work of dedication, a "calling" for which we believe we have been prepared by years of sometimes bitter experience. It has become a "family affair," and so long as Don and Ginny can remain free agents (and "Where the Spirit of the Lord is there is liberty"), and so long as we remain in reasonably good health, we shall continue to publish this newsletter, God willing. He has blessed this work through the years, kept us as truthful and factual as mere mortal may be as a reporter of human events.
In this season of joyful tidings, we pray that the Lord will continue to bless all of our friends, supporters and readers, and that we may be of assisstance in interpreting the signs of these troublous times.
As I listened to Don Bell, one of the radio commentators who described the Bikini atom-bomb tests, it reminded me of the hoax he played on the Japs toward the end of our three long years in the Japanese prison camp at Santo Tomas, Manila.
The Japs let us have a public-address system in the prison, to broadcast occasional scraps of vague, highly censored news they fed us from the outside world and to notify us about daily work assignments. In broadcasting the so-called news, Bell was a great morale builder; knowing how starved we were for information about the war, he often took chances on slipping through important facts by resort to clever double-talk.
The time came when persistent rumors were being whispered through the prison that MacArthur had landede on Leyte -- a dramatic moment for the 4000 starving prisoners who had been waiting so long for the Americans to come yet dulled by the memory of many rumors which had proved false.
Our starvation ration of five ounces of food a day had just been reduced again because the Japs insisted they could get no rice for us. Each evening Bell was allowed to broadcast that rice had against failed to arrive that day, so that the few families who had a little saved up could budget out a bit of it for their children and grimly go on hoarding the rest.
Finally, as the starving continued and the Leyte rumors persisted, Bell stepped to his microphone one evening and, following the routine work-detail broadcast, began the announcement I'll never forget. "And now I have some grand news for you," he said. "Today the rice ration arrived."
No doubt the Japanese thought that the roar of applause which rolled through the camp when he had finished what he had to say signified our delight at the arrival of the food. Well, that did please us. But what really made us cut loose was the wonderful news he finessed through in his closing remark. "This has come a little late," he said. "It has been a long time. But ... better Leyte than never!"
Don Bell Reports is a privately circulated newsletter, published every other Friday, emphasizing the Christian American point of view. Reproduction is permitted when credit is given. Postal rates permitting, two copies of each issue are mailed first class to each subscriber. Subscription rates: Domestic, $40 per year; Foreign Air Mail, $50 per year. Extra copies of same issue to same address: 1 to 9, 500 each; 10 to 49, 400 each; 50 to 99; 300 each; 100 or more, 200 each. Address all orders and correspondence to: Don Bell Reports, Post Office Box 2223, Palm Beach, Florida 33480.
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