Technical Sergeant Bernard P. Bell, USA (December 18, 1944)

Bernard Pious Bell was born in Grantsville, West Virginia on December 29, 1911. He was living in New York when he joined the United States Army in 1942. He fought in Italy and Southern France as a member of Company I, 3rd Battalion, 142nd Infantry Regiment, 36th Infantry Division.

On December 18, 1944, then-Technical Sergeant Bell led an eight-man rifle squad against a Nazi-held schoolhouse being used as a strong point in Mittelwihr, France. Bell’s leadership and personal courage enabled his squad to seize this key position in the town and prevent its recapture by the enemy, despite near 20-to-1 odds. He was later awarded the Medal of Honor.

From Medal of Honor Citations for World War II (A-F):

Medal of Honor ribbon (foreground); World War II European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign ribbon (background)
Medal of Honor ribbon (foreground); World War II European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign ribbon (background)
Bernard P. Bell (Military Times Hall of Valor)

BELL, BERNARD P.

Rank and organization: Technical Sergeant, U.S. Army, Company I, 142d Infantry, 36th Infantry Division. Place and date: Mittelwihr, France, 18 December 1944. Entered service at: New York, N.Y.

Citation: For fighting gallantly at Mittelwihr, France. On the morning of 18 December 1944, he led a squad against a schoolhouse held by enemy troops. While his men covered him, he dashed toward the building, surprised 2 guards at the door and took them prisoner without firing a shot. He found that other Germans were in the cellar. These he threatened with hand grenades, forcing 26 in all to emerge and surrender. His squad then occupied the building and prepared to defend it against powerful enemy action. The next day, the enemy poured artillery and mortar barrages into the position, disrupting communications which T/Sgt. Bell repeatedly repaired under heavy small-arms fire as he crossed dangerous terrain to keep his company commander informed of the squad’s situation. During the day, several prisoners were taken and other Germans killed when hostile forces were attracted to the schoolhouse by the sound of captured German weapons fired by the Americans. At dawn the next day the enemy prepared to assault the building. A German tank fired round after round into the structure, partially demolishing the upper stories. Despite this heavy fire, T/Sgt. Bell climbed to the second floor and directed artillery fire which forced the hostile tank to withdraw. He then adjusted mortar fire on large forces of enemy foot soldiers attempting to reach the American position and, when this force broke and attempted to retire, he directed deadly machine gun and rifle fire into their disorganized ranks. Calling for armored support to blast out the German troops hidden behind a wall, he unhesitatingly exposed himself to heavy small-arms fire to stand beside a friendly tank and tell its occupants where to rip holes in walls protecting approaches to the school building. He then trained machineguns on the gaps and mowed down all hostile troops attempting to cross the openings to get closer to the school building. By his intrepidity and bold, aggressive leadership, T/Sgt. Bell enabled his 8-man squad to drive back approximately 150 of the enemy, killing at least 87 and capturing 42. Personally, he killed more than 20 and captured 33 prisoners.

Technical Sergeant Bell received the Distinguished Service Cross for his actions nearly two weeks earlier in Selestat, France. It was another enemy strongpoint – a factory, this time – and Bell’s actions presaged that at the schoolhouse.

From Military Times’ Hall of Valor:

Distinguished Service Cross ribbon (foreground); World War II European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign ribbon (background)
Distinguished Service Cross ribbon (foreground); World War II European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign ribbon (background)

The President of the United States of America, authorized by Act of Congress, July 9, 1918, takes pleasure in presenting the Distinguished Service Cross to Technical Sergeant Bernard Pious Bell, United States Army, for extraordinary heroism in connection with military operations against an armed enemy while serving with Company I, 142d Infantry Regiment, 36th Infantry Division, in action against enemy forces on 5 December 1944, at Selestat, France. While leading his platoon in an attack to drive the Germans from well fortified positions, the platoon was subjected to heavy machine gun and rifle fire from a building 100 yards away. Ordering his men to cover his advance, Sergeant Bell fearlessly dashed through a hail of enemy fire and reached the German stronghold. Kicking a door open, he fired his carbine several times, shouting to the Germans to surrender. Overwhelmed by his audacious action, ten enemy soldiers dropped their weapons and filed out of the building. Sergeant Bell then continued the attack toward a large factory and, by a brilliant flanking maneuver, destroyed single-handed an enemy position which served as an outpost for the factory, thus enabling the platoon to successfully seize the factory, thus enabling the platoon to successfully seize the factory, capturing 85 of the enemy and forcing the remainder to withdraw in disorder. Technical Sergeant Bell’s intrepid actions, personal bravery and zealous devotion to duty exemplify the highest traditions of the military forces of the United States and reflect great credit upon himself, the 36th Infantry Division, and the United States Army.

Bell was also awarded two Silver Stars, making him a recipient of our nation’s top three awards for valor. His Silver Star citations are not available. He left the Army as a Warrant Officer on June 19, 1945 and passed away at an all-too-early age of 59 on January 8, 1971.

He rests in peace in Arlington National Cemetery.

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