A few rain drops splash danced off dry pavement or knocked the stubbornly dead leaves off trees around our hometown but gave only slight relief from the heat, thus it looks like many days to a frost.
Last Tuesday afternoon, at 88 degrees and quiet, it appeared to be a typical mid-September day as I made my way along a gravel driveway covered with brown and yellowed leaves. Although I had been in the area near Subway, I hadn’t been to visit Frank Bell in recent years.
“Beware of the Dog” the ominous signed warned, but I found only an old black and tan hound too tired to let out a loud bark or two. When Frank came outside the dog walked away but returned for a photo op.
The land he now lives on in the distant past belonged to the late Paul and Louise Proffitt. We talked about Louise because both of us happened to teach at Cosby High School in 1973 where she was the secretary.
My mission was to find out about a recent award Frank had been presented but more than that it was time to renew old acquaintances since he retired as full-time pastor of Webb Baptist Church.
Frank and his late wife, Una Bell, touched many lives in the Cosby area through both the church and their role as educators. Beyond that, Frank worked with youth as a coach and mentor in athletics. You probably knew all that and maybe their background, which Frank revisited with me in his living room.
Una hailed from Springfield Massachusetts and Frank from Toccoa, Georgia, home of the 182-feet high Tallulah falls. So how did they get together and end up in Cocke County to spend the majority of their lives?
As a young woman, Una served in the US Air Force specializing as a weather observer. Remember this. Frank was also in the Air Force and had a highly responsible job of guarding bombers carrying atomic weapons.
But let me go back when Frank was growing up in North Georgia, the son of Willis Arthur Bell, who had married Corine Elizabeth Smith. They were typical hardworking parents on the farm raising four children. At age 87, he celebrated his birthday August 29, he is the only survivor in his parents immediate family. There were three boys and a girl.
“We were poor. Dad was a farmer,” said Frank, who helped with the cows, hogs and typical farm chores. Born in 1932, the country was already several years into the Great Depression. They hardly noticed. He did remember how precious small slices of fatback bacon were. When they slaughtered the old boar, neighbors begged them to sell a small slice or two. The family later moved 18 miles north to West Minister, South Carolina.
It is obvious that Frank appreciates learning, school and discipline. Frank took advantage of summer school to get his high school degree, which he would add to later. By the early 1950s, the military supplied relief from tedious and tiresome farm labor.
He joined the new Air Force. Remember this is the Cold War era with the Soviet Union, which had hydrogen bombs and shook the world with the launch of Sputnik in 1957. But the US had already detonated two atomic bombs to effectively end World War II in late 1945.
So at age 20, Frank is a corporal guarding B-36 bombers at Ramey Air Force Base at Puerto Rico. It was a Strategic Air Command (SAC) base, meaning it had nuclear attack capabilities.
The first time Frank met Una happened at the base gate where the young corporeal checked Una’s credentials. She was a tech sergeant and not intimidated by him. But he was awe struck by her features and had to follow up on his feelings. This encounter took place in 1954, as he recollects, and they began dating on the base.
Before it was Ramey AFB, when opened in 1936 near Aguadilla, Puerto Rico, the government had purchased almost 4,000 acres to build Borinquen Army Airfield. By 1948, after serving several wings of WWII bombers and tankers, it became Ramey AFB.
During the period Frank was serving there the B-36 fleet was dubbed the peacemaker intercontinental bombers. By the time Frank went into the reserves the B-52 came into service in 1955 as a nuclear deterrent to the Cold War Soviet threat.
To be continued...