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Interview conducted with Paul Vernon Bell as part of the Nash County Cultural Center’s Oral History Project. Bell, born Sept. 12, 1923, reflects on growing up on a farm in the Oak Level community. His family produced tobacco, corn, cotton, and watermelons, which they sold from their car in Rocky Mount. Bell attended Oak Level School and Nashville High School. In 1944, he joined the Navy and had basic training at Camp Peary, VA. He was assigned to the U.S.S Lansing (DE-159), a destroyer escort which accompanied convoys from the U.S. to Africa, where he worked as a gunner’s mate, stocking ammo and keeping the ship’s guns in good condition. He describes going ashore in Bizerte, Tunisia, seeing women in burkas, people traveling in ox-drawn carts, and a lack of sanitation. Bell says they saw very little action, but mentions an incident of cargo ships being bombed near the Strait of Gibraltar. He was later transferred to another Navy landing craft, LCF-659. He mentions being in China briefly at the end of WWII, before heading to Sasebo Naval Base in Japan after the war. He recounts picking up ammo which had been stored in mountain caves by the Japanese and visiting Hiroshima shortly after the bombing, being unaware of any potential danger from radioactivity. Bell tells of how trees were killed for miles around the site, the mud structures in the city had nearly all been destroyed, and most metal structures had melted to the ground. He talks about seeing a motorcycle which had been melted in the street where it was driving when the blast occurred, and of the Navy’s Seabees Construction Battalion propping up a giant bell from a church which had been destroyed so they could still hold services. He remembers seeing survivors with missing appendages, eyes, faces, and other disfigurements, and talks about witnessing a woman giving birth in a ditch all by herself. Bell says he felt no hate toward the Japanese soldiers and citizens he worked with after the war, mentioning they were likely in a similar situation as he was, having no say in the matter. He talks about some of the souvenirs he brought home, and of the men he served with; mentioning a young man he tried to help who could not handle being at war and acted out frequently before being discharged. Bell says he himself returned home in 1946, taking the U.S.S. Columbus to California, then traveling by train in cattle cars to Norfolk, VA, and finally by bus to Rocky Mount, NC. After being discharged from the Navy, Bell married Eunice Marie Mullen and went to school for farming on the G.I. Bill. He discusses a few different jobs held before he built on land owned by his father, and began farming there. He says hw then bought a farm next to one owned by his father-in-law, and farmed both of those properties once his father-in-law died. Bell says his wife had recently passed away, and he remembers their travels together, celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary, and mentions their six children: Dave Bell, Dennis Bell, Barney Bell, Angela Bell, Anita Bell, and Craiger Bell.

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