He has farmed, fought in World War II, suffered loss and survived the Dust Bowl, to cite just a few of his experiences. At 94, it’s easy to say that Houston Bell has gone through a lot in his life.
He was born in Center Hill and was about a year old when his family left Arkansas to head to New Mexico.
In Clayton, N.M., Bell’s family fell victim to the Dust Bowl, he said. He worked on a ranch in New Mexico when there was work, but then his family made its way back to Arkansas.
“We left there in 1932,” Bell said. “That was the year that Roosevelt was elected president, and we went to Norfork, Ark.”
Bell, one of nine children in his family, went to high school at Mountain Home and then left home to find work when he was about 16 years old.
He made his way to Oklahoma to chop cotton, he said. This was his first job out of high school, which he only completed through the 10th grade.
After working chopping cotton, Bell came to the Searcy area, where he met his wife, Naoma.
He found his wife at Kensett Baptist Church, and they married in 1940. The Bells farmed on the land that his wife’s mother and father owned.
“We raised strawberries and some cotton, but there was more money in strawberries,” he said. “We farmed up until 1951.”
After the birth of his two daughters, Brenda and Jane, Bell was drafted to serve in the Air Force in 1944 and fight for the United States in World War II.
“Somebody had to [serve in the Air Force],” Bell said. “I had never flown before I was in the service.”
Bell served as a tailgunner in a crew of 10 members.
“I had to shoot .250-caliber machine guns, and I sat in the back of the plane behind two inches of glass,” Bell said. “I flew 35 missions.”
Bell said he had no previous experience shooting guns, except for quail hunting when he was growing up.
He fought in eastern Germany and said the only time he saw the country was from the air. Bell said he was sent to Miami Beach after a mission, and the first thing he saw was a newspaper headline that read, “Germany Surrenders.”
“When we got to Miami Beach, the Air Force was
letting people out on a points system, and you had to have 85 points to get out,” Bell said. “I asked them how many I had, and they told me I had 96.”
Although Bell fought for about a year in the Air Force, he said he beat the odds of an average tailgunner.
“The average life of a tailgunner was eight missions, and I passed that quite a bit,” Bell said.
He came back from the war in 1945, and his and his wife had two more children, Dwight and Douglas. When he came back from the war, Bell and his family relocated to Judsonia, where he built the house in which he still lives today.
Dwight was killed at a young age while riding his motorcycle.
From 1961 to 1963, Bell worked on the Greers Ferry Dam, he said. He drove back and forth from Judsonia every day to work.
After the dam was finished, Bell said, he was without work for only two weeks.
“I went fishing and then went to work for Matthews
International Corp.,” Bell said.
He worked for the bronze company for 17 1/2 years, retiring at age 64. Retirement finds him busy as well. To occupy his time, he works in his yard and gardens.
In his 94 years, Bell said, he’s learned a lot of things. Although his formal education ended after the 10th grade, Bell said being successful in life is all about what one knows.
“It’s what you learn along the way,” Bell said.
Staff writer Lisa Burnett can be reached at (501) 244-4307 or firstname.lastname@example.org.