David M. Bell was born Nov. 2, 1928. His father, Donald G. Bell was a dentist; his mother, Florence (Walker) Bell, later Florence Spaulding, had studied nursing.
David grew up in Pepperell on his grandfather Walker’s “Gallinapom Farm” on Mount Lebanon Street. In addition to his mother Florence, stepfather Milton Spaulding, his sister Sally (Spaulding) McEwen, and brother Kim Spaulding, he was surrounded by numerous aunts and uncles.
He was, by his own account, a mischievous and precocious child who had free rein to explore and grow. He attended grade school intermittently taking time off to work on the farm as needed. As a teen he attended New Hampton School and Pepperell High School. His appreciation of hard work, gardening and the outdoors would stay with him the remainder of his life.
Like the youngsters of his day, David was caught up in the fervor of WWII. Still too young to fight, he took pilot lessons in Groton and became certified by the Civil Aeronautics Administration, having made his first solo flight in a Piper J-3 at age 16. At war’s end, still wanting to serve, he joined the Merchant Marines shortly after his seventeenth birthday. He worked as a deckhand aboard the SS Pierre Victory and vessel Joseph Stanton bringing horses and other much needed supplies to Europe.
He returned to Pepperell and pursued his passions for hunting, fishing, horseback riding and skiing. An expert skier who loved Tuckerman’s Ravine, he was the Brookline, N.H., ski patrol leader when they received their letter of recognition for acceptance into the National Ski Association of America and National Ski Patrol System.
In 1949, David traveled to North Carolina where he worked on the horse farm of Mickey Walsh — Stoneybrook Stables in Southern Pines. David raced in the inaugural running of the Stoneybrook Steeplechase, which became a classic southern steeplechase event.
He again returned to Pepperell and took a job at the Groton Hunting Club, which gave him time to ride and develop a new passion — auto racing.
David became a member of the National Jalopy Racing Association and could be found tearing up the track in car number 250 or 50 at Hudson and West Peabody Speedways. In his second season, David “Snapper” Bell could be found inside Car No. 75, the “Willowdale Special,” owned by Hal Mallet of the Willowdale Garage in Groton and being maintained by his friends, Danny Shirwin and Al Grady.
He decided to leave his beloved Pepperell behind once again and in December 1950, joined the Army and headed to Fort Bragg, N.C. for basic training. As a new recruit his first assignment was with the 508th Airborne Regimental Combat Team (ACRT) at Fort Benning, Georgia. He graduated “Jump School” on June 1, 1951, and worked briefly as a mechanic and crewman in the heavy mortar platoon before volunteering to serve in Korea.
During fighting in the famed “Punchbowl” and on “Anchor Hill,” he earned the Bronze Star, two Purple Hearts, and his Combat Infantryman’s badge. He was promoted multiple times, going from gun crewman to platoon sergeant and then First Sergeant (1SGT), Mortar Company, 223rd Regiment, 40th Infantry Division.
David returned to the states in May 1953 and was briefly assigned as 1SGT “L” Company, 86th Regiment, 10th Division at Fort Riley, KS, before being returned to Fort Benning and the 508th ARCT.
In October 1953, David returned to Pepperell and married Eunice (Shea), daughter of Frank Shea and Germaine (Lavoie) of Nashua. The couple returned to Benning where Dave became an Airborne School instructor. They had their first of three sons, Kevin. Eunice was pregnant with their second son when the unit got orders. Eunice returned home to Pepperell while David traveled to Japan. Shortly after the birth of their second son, Eunice traveled with toddler Kevin and newborn Randy to Japan.
In addition to his military duties as 1SGT and ultimately Regimental and Post Sergeant Major, David together Eunice, loved their tour in Japan. David taught Eunice to shoot skeet. She would go on to win multiple trophies including top female skeet shooter in Maine some years later. Dave hunted, played hockey, raced speed boats and the couple competed in sailing regattas.
After Japan, the couple moved to Jacksonville, SC, where David was a marksmanship instructor. In 1959 they moved to Maine where he became an Army Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) instructor and coach of the rifle team. Some of David’s rifle team members made the Olympic shooting team.
In 1960, David and Eunice’s third son, Darren, was born. In his off time, Dave took courses in wildlife management, carved decoys, participated in a woodcock banding study and continued to hunt. In November 1963, David appeared in an Outdoor Life magazine article written by colleague and hunting partner, Chan Bergen. After the army Chan became editor of Western Horseman magazine. A picture from that article made the cover of a subsequent Outdoor Life book.
His tour in Maine ended with assignment as a military advisor to the Shah of Iran. Though hating the separation from his family, David took advantage of time off to befriend the local tribesmen resulting in some outstanding hunting opportunities for ducks, game birds and wild boar.
In 1964, David returned home and was assigned as SGT. Major of the University of Connecticut (UCONN) Army ROTC department. He served as an instructor and rifle team coach. Dave and Eunice made Connecticut home and were active participants in their local community; Eunice as a librarian and Dave supporting his three sons’ sporting teams and coaching football. The combination of the sedentary life and the pain of seeing young men sent off to war was too much for him. In 1969, he voluntarily left the comfort of home and family for the jungles of Vietnam.
Now, in the newly created position of Command Sergeant Major (CSM), David had the opportunity to take higher, more administrative positions. Much to his wife’s chagrin, he turned these down for the opportunity to stay in the trenches. David served as Battalion (Bn.) CSM for 2nd Bn, 16th Infantry, 1st Infantry Division and in the same position for 1st Bn, 5th Cavalry Regiment, 1st Cavalry Division. In addition to setting up and defending fire bases, accompanying soldiers on patrol, and conducting ground and aerial reconnaissance missions, David participated in the much debated ground incursion into Cambodia. He also survived a helicopter crash.
During his year in Vietnam, David was decorated for heroism multiple times. He received the Silver Star, three awards of the Bronze Star, including one with “V” Device for Valor, and 12 awards of the Air medal. David returned home from Vietnam and retired in early 1971.
In the summer of 1971, having survived two wars, David was attending a heavy equipment operator school when he was involved in a horrific bulldozer accident. The bulldozer he was driving was leaking fluid onto the cab floor. While pushing a stump, David knew the dozer was going to hit hard and braced himself for the impact. When the dozer hit, his foot slipped on the leaking fluid causing his leg to land on the dozer track. The pant leg got caught and he was pulled out of the cab, down the track to the front of the dozer. Unable to free his leg, David dove forward and grabbed onto the blade as the still moving dozer crushed his legs. How he continued to hold on is unimaginable, but in his words he said, “You’ve got my legs you SOB, but you’re not going to get the rest of me.” He not only continued to hold on, but directed the horrified onlookers in assisting him with his own first aid. The doctors that ultimately treated him were going to amputate both legs, but he convinced them not to. After a nearly year-long battle, he regained the use of his legs.
David and Eunice were both voracious readers. They enjoyed being surrounded by young people and there was always plenty of hot coffee and stimulating conversation to be had. In 1977, Eunice, died after a long battle with lung cancer. Shortly thereafter, David sold their home and moved to Stafford Springs, CT.
In 1984, David remarried. His second wife, Margaret (Wildes) Blood, was also from Pepperell. David and Peg spent most winters in Florida where Dave continued to enjoy duck hunting from the convenience of an airboat seat. In the spring, Peg would spend time tending her beautiful flower gardens and David continued to maintain a small and weedless vegetable garden. His canned bread and butter pickles were a family favorite.
David believed anything worth doing was worth doing right. He loved history, and believed all of us have a civic responsibility to give back. He was a man of high personal discipline and moral character. His word was his bond and his integrity was above reproach. More importantly, he loved life, family and friends.
They say if you can touch one person’s life and make it better, you have done well. How many lives were shaped or saved during David’s time with us is unknown, but all were the better for it.
David died on May 11, 2013, from cardiac arrest after a long battle with pulmonary fibrosis. He is survived by his second wife Margaret, by two sons and his brother, Kim Spaulding of Pepperell. David was predeceased by his eldest son Kevin Bell.
David’s ashes will be interred at Pepperell Cemetery, 8 Park St., on Saturday, Sept. 14, at 11:30 a.m. A celebration of his life is planned after the graveside service and military honors. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the Eunice M. Bell Memorial Library Fund c/o the Robertson School, 227 Cross St., Coventry, CT 06238 or the Homer Youth Hockey Association, P.O. Box 2703, Homer, Alaska 99603.