Monday, November 11, 2013

Calling On A Hero

Mr. & Mrs. Bell
Photo taken: November 16, 2007

It had been a long day of teaching.  One of those days where you feel a little defeated and beat up when the kids all walk out the door.  One of those days where bus duty feels like a huge punishment, and you "supervise" by pretending you don't see the kids hiding behind the benches throwing erasers at one another. Mrs. Ramey had apparently had a similar day to mine because I remember walking into her classroom after bus duty and feeling relieved when she gave me a look that said, "Please tell me we aren't still going." 

Ramey was one of my very best teaching friends when I lived in Mobile, Alabama. She was one of those teachers who was never too busy to answer my endless questions.  Her precision to detail and OCD tendencies (as she herself would admit) coupled with my big picture views and lofty goals were a dynamite combination! We were a killer 3rd grade team, Ramey and me. On this particular fall day, Ramey and I had planned to drive downtown to a museum that was featuring a new photography gallery depicting the story of  World War II.  After a quick debate on if we should still go or not, Ramey and I grabbed our after school snack of Diet Dr. Peppers and Cheeze-Its, and headed for the museum. 

The World War II photographs were breathtaking.  I stood in awe of the countless pictures of young men who had picked up and left everything they knew to serve and protect our country.  A part of me kept an eye out for a picture of my grandfather, Charles M. Barnett, who had passed away a year earlier.  I didn't see grandpa in any of those pictures, but I felt him with me in that museum. I remember feeling so proud that he had served our country, came home to raise a family, and then spent his life as an educator sharing his knowledge of photography with his students and investing in their lives until his own passing.  Standing in that museum that day, I could smell my grandpa's "dark room" where he spent hours upon hours developing pictures years earlier, but where us grand kids had thought it was cool to just hang out and be kids together.

As I was lost in my own personal thoughts, Ramey called me over to a photograph that had clearly captured her attention.  Together, we read the story of Maurice Bell, a seaman on the USS Indianapolis who survived 4 days and 5 nights in shark infested waters, waiting to be rescued after a Japanese torpedo sank the USS Indianapolis in the middle of a 1945 July night.  We were moved to tears, touched by his story. One of only 317 men who survived out of approximately 1,200 men on board, Mr. Bell's story was beyond comprehension for even Ramey who grew up in a military household of bravery and tradition. And then we saw it..."Maurice Bell currently resides in Mobile, Alabama with his wife Lois." It was as if Ramey and I knew immediately that Mr. Bell was going to change our lives, and our students' lives with his story and his honor. 

Two weeks later, Maurice Bell, the sweetest old man your eyes had ever seen, sat in my 3rd grade classroom with my twenty students.  He shared his story with a room full of eight year olds.  A room full of students who didn't know or understand war. A room full of students who couldn't understand what it was like to hear their friends being taken one by one into the dark waters by sharks. A room full of students who didn't understand why their teacher was misty-eyed. However what I saw that day, was that Mr. Bell also shared his story with a room full of students who suddenly didn't care when recess was or what was for lunch.  Students who ran up to him after his talk and hugged him asking for his autograph. Students whose eyes glistened with pride when Mr. Bell let them wear his seaman's cap and when he crouched for a picture with them.  

What I saw that day, was a hero.  A real live hero.  In my classroom.  With my students.  I felt so proud that Veterans Day week.  Proud of the fact that Ramey and I had sucked up our bad day, and gone to learn and experience something special together. Proud that we did something about it by calling up a stranger and inviting him to connect with our students. Proud that those little eight year old lives would forever have the experience of meeting Mr. Bell and his lovely wife, Lois. 

Proud that we called upon a hero.  

Written with much love in the memory of Grandpa Chuck and Maurice Bell, two heroes I think about often.
Read and watch more about Maurice Bell's story from PBS here.

With Grandpa Chuck on Thanksgiving 2005

1 comment:

  1. Needless to say, I'm glad that you were able to share this story with the rest of us. I have relatives who served, but unfortunately never had a close enough of a connection with them to really share their insights and hear their stories. I was eating breakfast this morning at a remote town, as family engaged with each other and I stood as the outsider making sure everything was in check, and was brought to tears (cue quick bathroom break) when on SportsCenter they showed a video montage of veterans coming home. Brave souls to sacrifice their time... braver souls for sharing their stories with the rest of us! Cheers Chuck & Maurice!