James E. Bell (1968/06/03)
When Washington Post Staff Writer Bill Turque was walking near the Vietnam Wall on Memorial Day 2006, he spotted a letter written by a thirteen year old California boy that had been placed in Panel 61, Row 20, addressed to James Everett Bell. It merely said, "I know you were from Watsonville, California, and you were born on January 24, 1948... A brave soldier like you didn't deserve to be drowned."
Little information is available regarding James Bell and his connection with Santa Cruz County. James Everett Bell was born to Mr. and Mrs. Bell, on January 24, 1948, in Madera County, California. His mother's maiden name was Evelyn Britten. A cousin reported on the Internet that the Bell family had a number of relatives living in Oklahoma, suggesting some relationship with that state. His siblings included at least a brother, Bobby, who was much younger. James Bell related to a navy buddy that in the summer of his teen years he had worked at his uncles' farm "bucking hay."
In 1966, James Bell joined the US Navy and was sent to the US Naval Training Center in San Diego for boot camp. After completing boot camp and fireman training, he was assigned to the 7th (Pacific) Fleet as a fireman aboard the USS Vega, a store (supply) ship sailing between "Yankee Station" (San Francisco) and "Market Time" (Vietnam).
On June 3, 1968, while operating in the Gulf of Tonkin off the North Vietnam coast, Fireman Third Class James Everett Bell fell overboard and was drowned. His body was recovered, returned to California and buried in the Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery in San Diego.
(VVMW; USDVA; DANFS; Meganet.Net, Com7th Fleet Vietnam Ship Casualties http://web.meganet.net/kman/7thfleet, [15 May 2007 Approx.]; Bill Turque, "Four Memorials, Countless Memories-Visitors Grieve Privately and Together," Washington Post Tuesday, May 30, 2006; Page B01)