Glasgow World War II Vets Mahugh, Bell Reflect After Being Saluted With Big Sky Honor Flight
It's a generation of soldiers, much different from today. In some ways they share things in common, the camaraderie, the stories of funny instances and the pressures of war. The World War II generation is slowly dying off as the years tick by. This generation seems to share one trait: They speak very little about their time in war.
Two Glasgow WWII veterans took a special trip April 27-29. They were selected to go on the Big Sky Honor Flights. Glen Mahugh and Carl "Bill" Bell traveled with an escort to Washington, D.C. To see the memorials that honored their time in service. While the two only hinted at moments of emotion while seeing the the 100 stars that represented 100 soldiers, each who died in war, or visiting the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, they both said it was an amazing experience.
"It was very nice and very interesting," Mahugh said. "There was so much going on in the short time, I had a hard time comprehending at my age."
The few days at the memorial were packed with activities and tours. They were escorted by police cruisers on their way back to the airport and treated like royalty during their visit. The honor flights are focusing on sending as many WWII veterans to the memorials as possible. Mahugh and Bell seemed to be in fairly good health and good spirits after their trip.
"It was an amazingly controlled, well planned and executed trip," Bell said.
When they returned home, the returned to a crowd of cheers and handshakes. It was a heroes welcome to the soldiers that served many years ago.
While these two didn't serve in the same branch or visit all the same places, they do have at least one thing in common: Their ties to the atom bombs that dropped in Japan and helped end the war.
Bell remembers that he graduated from Malta High School on a Friday in 1943 and by Monday he was in Butte getting processed into the Navy. He left behind a high school sweetheart, Dorothy, as he went on for training. While some of the details from 70 years ago are lost, he remembers much of the training he requested.
He pursued medical training; it lined up with his first aid training and experience with running the ambulance in Malta. He pursued advanced training in first aid during his time in the service. As he climbed through training and rank, he found himself on Whidbey Island in Washington state. As he knew he was preparing to ship out, he and Dorothy decided to marry. They wed on June 14, 1944, nearly 70 years ago. Some of his family and her family came up to attend the ceremony that took place in Everette, Wash.
Soon after he shipped out on the U.S.S. Suwanee, knowing that he and several other crew were replacements aboard the ship after kamikaze planes crashed into the deck. The boat shipped out towards the Philippines. After finishing a battle there, his unit was given a citation by President Roosevelt. He watched planes go out and come back to the ship, and it was his duty to provide pharmacy services and assist in the sic ward, as well as provide first aid to incoming.
They traveled to a few different ports and locations and witnessed several plane fights. His vivid memories of a friend taking shrapnel on deck after a bomb loaded on a plane exploded during a landing brings tears to his eyes. He never knew if his friend survived the incident. He only knew that his voice box was gone. Bell wasn't sure how he survived as several holes went through his first aid bag, and he remained untouched.
As his war time began to come to a close the U.S.S. Suwanee headed towards a different location. After the first atom bomb hit Hiroshima they were told to turn around. The second bomb struck Nagasaki, Japan, and they headed back with no escort, which was unusual. They anchored into a harbor not far from Nagasaki and soldiers offered to take them around where the bomb hit. Bell explained that this was a decision he regretted for much of his life.
He was taken down a trail and saw the impact. He saw a 10-foot pile of bones, people flooding from the city covered in burns. He later received radiation burns and developed growths from the radiation. He remembers trading envelopes of sugar for a small wooden fishing boat, a kimono for his wife and a scarf that went with it.
Soon after the end of the war, the ship headed for home. He had enough points to get out of the service and he left the Navy in 1946 as a petty officer 2nd class. He received three presidential citations by the time he finished, as well as four battle stars in Okinawa, Leyte Gulf, Balikpapan and Nagasaki.
After the war, Bell pursued college and got his degree in mortuary science in St. Louis. He eventually was able to purchase the Glasgow Mortuary and he remained in Glasgow with his wife and two sons. He served on the aeronautics board for Montana, served as president of the Montana chamber of commerce and was active in the community.
Mahugh was drafted with several 20-year-olds in 1942. He said that back then most men spent a term in the military. He had two older brothers who had already gone on to serve before him. He went into the Army Air Corps. He trained on airplane engines and learned to be a mechanic. He went to Seattle and trained on the B-17. He continued training that took him to Florida, New Jersey and Nebraska. When he reached Nebraska he trained on the modern B-29, the largest bomber of the time.
He went from Nebraska to a unit in Utah that was dropping atom bombs. He remembered a commander telling him what he saw there stayed there, and for many years he never spoke of his experience. He saw some of the testing results from New Mexico. When he went back to Nebraska they received a very modern plane that had electric reversible propellers, something that was very rare.
His crew went to Sacramento and got ready for overseas flight. He was assigned as a ground grew chief for the B-29, called the "Full House," with the 509th Composite Group on Tinian in the Marianna Islands.
He said tthe plane went an hour ahead of the planes and charted the weather before the second bomb dropped. The planes had to carry a 10,000-pound bomb. They went to Iwo Jima to transfer a bomb into the belly of the plane. Mahugh said if a third bomb would have been dropped, his plane would have been crewing the flight. They did not know they were preparing to drop an atom bomb.
After the bomb in Nagasaki dropped, the war was over. He went back to New Mexico in November 1945 and got ready for discharge. His wife, Mary Jean, said he rarely speaks of the war.
He didn't meet his wife until after the war. He came back to his home, Glasgow, and did auto body repair after the service. He worked for the Ford, General Motors and Studebaker dealerships. He met Mary Jean on a fishing trip. Her grandparents and his parents were neighbors, they began dating in 1948 and were married in 1949. They had three children.