Pearl Harbor Survivor Lonnie Bell “We should Never Forget”
My boss tells me I have the best job in the company. I do have to admit, I do learn something new everyday and usually meet someone new. Yes, being a talk show host on a statewide network does have its advantages.
On Wednesday, December 7th, I had one of my finest days because I had the honor of interviewing Lonnie Bell. Lonnie is a country DJ legend in Montana. But on this day, we talked about 75 years ago, December 7th, 1941, a day he will never forget.
Many American remember the bombing of Pearl Harbor by the Japanese 75 years ago, but Lonnie was in US Navy at the time, and, within hours, he was on his way to Alameda, California and the Pacific fleet.
By the time he arrived, not much had changed from the bombings a few weeks earlier. Ships were in the ocean, badly damaged, and buildings around the base were still in rubble and destroyed. Lonnie remembers that at 6 pm it was lights out and the lights did not come back on until 6 am.
Lonnie told the state-wide audience on Voices of Montana that the early part of the war was just plain terrible. “America was not prepared and was losing badly. By the time Germany and Italy had declared war on us, we sailors all thought we were doomed.”
According to Lonnie, he was trained on the PBY Catalina flying boat. “We were all sitting ducks out there. We would go out looking for the Japanese but if we found them and they saw us first we had a hard time making it back to safety.
“Our planes were slow and we were not going to outrun anybody.We were just on scouting missions: find the Japanese, report them, and then the fighters would come take care of them. It was all very stressful.”
Lonnie and the crew were flying patrol in the Pacific and had to cover 800 miles each flight. They flew from Espírito Santo to Vanikoro Island and then loop around and do it all again, every night.
Our patrol did that until May 1943. “We wore those planes out, man. They should have junked them after we were done with them, but they didn’t. The Navy still needed them in action.”
Lonnie told us “I joined the Navy at 16 because I didn’t want to become a West Virginia coal miner like my dad and his dad and all my brothers. I wasn’t very big or strong enough for that everyday, so I asked my parents and they signed the enlistment papers.
I spent almost a year and a half straight in the Pacific theater of war and was now on my way home and we all needed it. Soon after getting home, someone loaned me a guitar and I was back to pickin’ again.”
Lonnie Bell has a book for sale called “Slidin’ along with Lonnie Bell” and can be purchased at the Northern Broadcasting Studios 600 1st Ave North, Billings Montana 59101. Be sure to catch “Lonnie Bell’s Classic Country” 8am-12pm, Sundays on KGHL AM 710.
Lonnie’s book begins in West Virginia, takes the reader through the war years and into his Hall of Fame broadcasting career, and, of course, when he discovered Loretta Lynn.
Lonnie left us with this thought “Its important we never forget Pearl Harbor because it can happen again if we put our guard down. Nobody thought the Japanese would be crazy enough to bomb us, but they did. Just like the twin towers, it will happen again, we always need to be ready for it”