For Mom and Dad on the Fourth

Fourth of July weekend. Time to think about America, hot dogs, burgers with everything, pie, fireworks and a day off to chill (even in L.A. where it’s going to be trip digits). We’ve already had some reflections on the 4th of July here at TKZ. I wanted to add another. 
On the Fourth of July, above all else, I think about my parents. Mom and Dad were part of that Greatest Generation. They gave me and my brothers the best possible start in life. And for that I will be eternally grateful. 
Arthur S. Bell, Jr., grew up in Hollywood, next door to Joel McCrea and around the corner from Alan Hale (whose son was about my Dad’s age and would grow up to play the Skipper on Gilligan’s Island). He went to Hollywood High School and UCLA, where he was catcher on the baseball team. Oh yeah, and he had a teammate there by the name of Jackie Robinson. (Dad’s in the middle of the first row, Robinson far left)

During summers, Dad was an extra in the movies, making numerous appearances, one of which was as a wounded Confederate soldier in the Atlanta train station scene in Gone With the Wind. We’ve never been able to spot him, though.
But here is the thing that really blows me away. At the age of twenty-three, Dad was an officer in the United States Navy aboard a Patrol Craft, hunting subs around the Solomon Islands during World War II.

My mom, Rosemary, was born in Maryland. Her father was with the Roosevelt administration and went down to oversee projects in Puerto Rico. That’s where Mom grew up. She graduated from Syracuse University in 1944.
While living in New York she met a dashing young Naval officer and the rest is Bell family history.
Dad and Mom settled in Woodland Hills, part of the booming, post war San Fernando Valley. Dad went to USC law school and Mom was active in the community. She helped start the Women’s Club and worked on a local newspaper. She served on the Chamber of Commerce and as honorary mayor of Woodland Hills. Mom was the writer in the family and I first learned about stories from her.
From Dad I learned about hard work. He was one of the most respected lawyers in Los Angeles and a devoted champion of the Bill of Rights. He helped start the federal indigent defense panel in the city, so the poor facing major raps would have access to competent criminal defense counsel.

This explains, I think, why my books all have a quest for justice in them. I learned to respect that quest from Dad.

Here’s the way I remember him best––sitting in his home office reading advance sheets with the latest case law. He was the leading search and seizure expert in California. Judges, prosecutors, defense lawyers, police and more than a few prisoners all sought his advice over the years.

Fourth of July was always big time fun when I was a kid. Mom would host a potluck for the neighborhood. All the baby boom progeny would be running around or swimming or eating or playing games. Then we’d sit on the front lawn and watch a local fireworks display.
Dad would sometimes take that occasion to recite a poem or two. With his ever present cigar, he would orate in the same voice with which he argued to many a jury.
One of his favorites he learned from his father, as I learned it from Dad. To me, it sums up what my American father was trying to instill in my brothers and me. I think he succeeded. It’s called The Victor:
A toast to the man who dares
No matter how dead his trade;
Who can win his luck
By his own good pluck
When the rest of the world is afraid.
Another to him who fights
When the trade is a whirlwind lure,
And who jumps right in
With a will to win,
Though rivals are plenty and sure.
So here’s to the man who dares,
Though fortune blow low, blow high,
And who always knows
That the conquest goes
To the man who is ready to try.
Happy 4th of July, everybody!

38 thoughts on “For Mom and Dad on the Fourth

  1. What a neat post about your parents and that poem is totally awesome and inspiring, both because it makes me think of some protagonist faves of mine and also because it’s something to keep in mind as writers–to not let ourselves be defeated.

    Interesting–I googled that poem title and came up with a poem by C.W. Longenecker, but the poem was different.

    Actually I like your posted version better than what I found.

    A nice way to cap off my evening (where I got over 2500 words written today. WOOHOO!!!!)

    BK Jackson

  2. I love my parents, but I will honestly say none of them were particularly patriotic. My father joined the Air Force, so he wouldn’t have to fight and to meet chicks, hence the eventual arrival of my step-father who waited till he was drafted and hated every minute of his two years in the Army, except the bit where he met my mom. Mom hated the whole idea of the military. She’d lost her favourite cousin in Vietnam, had seen how it scarred her dad and his brothers, and really didn’t want me to enlist. That on top of the fact that she’d grown up outside the USA, in pre-statehood Alaska in an area where a lot of folks would’ve preferred to become an independent country. They were all good in their own ways, but none ever instilled in me a particularly intense pride for my country.

    Nonetheless, on February 28th 1988 I swore in to the military as a volunteer for the US Marines. Grandpa had been a Marine Raider, predecessor to Force Recon. He wasn’t displeased, may have even been proud but his only words to me were “Killing a man isn’t as easy as the movies make it look.”

    At the MEPS station in Anchorage they swore us in, and I paid attention when we repeated the oath of service.

    I, [name], do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter. So help me God

    When I made that oath I meant every word…and still do.

    In the history of men, there has never been a greater nation, and when we’re gone I pray our memory will live even greater than Camelot.

    Semper Fidelis.

  3. Loved the pictures. What good-looking parents you had, Jim. And the poem is inspiring and sounds like it was meant for writers. So how many sibs do you have and what are they up to? Do they read your novels?

  4. Kathryn, thanks for that about your father. There was a sense of the concept of “duty” that was so important to that generation, not just in war but in how one served the community.

  5. Thanks for your post, Jim. My husband and I are spending the day with my parents, an early 4th party. My father is a real Renaisance man. By trade he was an architect, but in his soul he is an amazing artist and gourmet cook. (His oil paintings are spectacular, but he only paints for his own pleasure and for us.) Absolutely everything interests him, one of his many legacies to me.

    I’ve been helping my dad write a book, sort of his memoirs and genealogy. I hope to put it into a hardcover book for the family. We’re near the end where we add photos and he has some really old ones. He’s so proud I’m an author and this family project has really brought us closer. I can see in his eyes how much this means to him.

    Your post has stirred good feelings in me, Jim. Thanks. Now on to my day with my parents. Dad is cooking.

  6. BK, as far as I can determine the poem is by “author unknown.” My grandfather, a salesman, had it printed up to hand out to clients. I have one of those framed and hanging in my office. It is inspirational in that good old American spirit of hard work sort of way. And 2500 words is a GREAT day! Congrats.

  7. Thanks for sharing that bit of background, Basil. And thank you for your service. That line of duty ran through my family, too. My great great grandfather served under Sherman in the Civil War (James Scott, for whom I am named). My grandfather was in the Army in WWI.

  8. Jordan, you will treasure helping your dad write a book. I helped my dad write a memoir of his naval experience, and he turned it into a beautiful hard bound book with pictures and maps. He paid a hefty sum for an optimistic print run. Well, WWII navy groups started hearing about it and wanted to buy it. A few years after Dad’s death the printing sold out. I think he would have been very proud of that. The book is a family treasure.

    Enjoy the food!

  9. Great post and a wonderful tribute to your parents, Jim! My dad was too young to serve in WWII, but I still consider him to be a member of America’s Greatest Generation.

  10. Jillian, I have two brothers. My oldest brother is a minister back east, and my middle brother is a lawyer in San Diego. They’ve read my books, though I haven’t pestered them to see how many!

    I loved having big brothers as a kid. Once a couple of older punks terrorized me on a hill near our house. They had this big battery and said they’d electrocute me to death if I tried to run away. They kept scaring me until I couldn’t stand it and I just took off running. I was sure they were right behind me, ready to strike.

    But I made it home and my middle brother saw the look on my face and I was crying and babbling. And he said, “Stay here.”

    He ran off to the hill and, let’s just say, those punks never bothered me again.

  11. Very touching post, Jim. What a great way to remember your folks. And the Fourth of July is the ideal time to do it.

    And Basil, you couldn’t’ve said it better: there is no greater nation on earth. The fact that your parents weren’t particularly patriotic only validates your remarkable patriotism all the more, because it all came from inside you, without any existing predisposition. You guided yourself.

    Thank you for your service. We need a lot more people like you.

  12. Thank you for sharing your parents’ story. My father, Frank H. Ball, was a seventeen-year-old gunner on the USS Bremerton during the Battle of Bari, Italy. On December 2, 1943, 105 German bombers sank seventeen allied ships where they moored. One of those ships, the John Harvey, was transporting mustard gas to Europe to retaliate in the event that Germany resorted to chemical warfare. My dad said he was a mile from the John Harvey when it exploded. I still have the piece of steel that slammed into the stack near his head.

    He didn’t tell too many war stories, my dad, even when I badgered him for details. I remember as a boy being disappointed by his answer when I asked if he had shot down any of those German planes. Years later, I cherish his reply: “I hope not.”

    Dad was fond of saying “Hitler kept trying to kill me, but I won in the end.” And while I know he is grateful for every day of life he’s lived since, I can’t help but be haunted with the belief that he left something of his self behind. I know he left too many childhood friends.

    They certainly were our “greatest generation,” these men and women of the WWII era. I believe our country will be less for it when they are gone.

  13. The story of your parents moved me. I, too, had parents of that generation. My father was a sonar operator on several ocean going tugs in the Pacific during WWII and was part of the team that salvaged the German sub, the U505.

    Their work ethic and sense of fairness and justice guide me to this day, and I hope I have been able to pass those values down to their grandchildren, my teen boys.

    Thank you for this.

  14. “This explains, I think, why my books all have a quest for justice in them. I learned to respect that quest from Dad.”

    Very moving piece, Jim. Thanks for sharing.

  15. Jim,
    I LOVE the story of brotherly protection. You were blessed. My father flew bombers in WWII, my mom was an airforce nurse. My brother was a marine and when I was in graduate school I worked at the neuropsych hospital in Pittsburgh with Vietnam Vets who treated me like their little sister. I’ll never forget the day I took 8 vets to the zoo. We had so much fun and they were fantastic guys who’d been horribly traumatized by the war. Thanks for sharing about your sibs.

  16. David Ball, thank you for that. Your father truly exemplifies the “greatest” part of that generation.

    LJ, great to hear about another Navy man of that era. You are so right about a certain ethic that seems so sadly lacking today. We just need to keep talking about it. The 4th is a good time to do it.

    Joe, thanks for the kind word.

  17. This was a great post and great replies and so appropriate for the July 4th holiday–honor of parents, honor of our service men and women, and gratitude for what we’ve been given.

    Thank you all.

    BK Jackson

  18. What a lovely tribute, Jim, and a great way to emphasize what makes the 4th so special. We feel sad to be missing the annual block party at our old home in the US but we did share a 4th party with some American friends which made up for it a little. My parents are the hippy generation but both sets of grandparents did their bit for England in WWII. On my mother’s side my grandfather fought in Europe and guarded German POWs in Belgium while my grandmother worked in an aircraft factory. On my dad’s side my grandfather was in the medical Corp and my grandmother a VAD. She regarded the war as the greatest moment in her life particularly tending to soldiers evacuated from Dunkirk. My husband’s grandfather was a Japanese POW in Burma and never really recovered from the experience. My mum has all the family medals and next Anzac day my boys hope to march in memory of their grandparents.

  19. Thank you for such a wonderful post. It’s impossible to move forward without looking back from time to time.

    And Basil- Thank you for your service to our country. Words fail me here.

  20. Wonderful post and pics and what a tribute to your parents.I did Legal Aid work and indigent defense for 8 years. Even when you want to knock your clients up side the head, it is still worthwhile.

    My family is not big on military. However, my brother joined the Navy in to avoid being drafted. He was in bootcamp in October 1962 when they were all awakened at 5:00 to hear from the base commander.

    He told them that Russians were moving missiles into Cuba and the president had instituted a naval quarantine. Even they were only halfway through training, they had to be ready to ship out at a moment’s notice to support the blockade. Ken remembers his commander saying, “Boys, we need to see what Mr. Bear is going to do.” My bro was from a town of 500 and a high school graduating class of 12.

    He served on an aircraft carrier that was on the sidelines of another moment in history. It occurred on August 2, 1964 when his ship was in the Tonkin Gulf during “an incident.” He was a radarman on the bridge and the carrier was being buzzed by little boats. The Captain told the bridge crew that he thought a gunnery drill was in order. He looked at the charts and told the XO that anything that came inside of this line ::finger on chart:: gets blown to Hell and that he’d be in his ready room if they needed him. My bro said it was the coolest thing ever. As a 20 year old kid, he didn’t know what was happening, but he was ready to rock and roll. Evidently a carrier manning and working out its guns was a less than appetizing target and nothing more happened.

    The next two years were spent ferrying Marine amphib units in and wounded out.

    It wasn’t until I helped him put together a memoir for his kids and grandkids (he’s quite a bit older than me) that he realized just how momentous those times were. Sometimes when you are that close to history, you don’t see it.

    Happy 4th one and all and here’s to those that gave us the freedom to share moments like this.


  21. Clare, yes, block parties. Nice. Glad you got together with some Yanks.

    Dunkirk? Wow. That is one of the most heroic moments in the history of civilization. Thanks for sharing that history.

  22. James, I think there were nine or so of them floating around at that time. Ken was on the USS Valley Forge from about ’63 to ’66.

    He mustered out in 1966 and then reenlisted several years later and stayed in for ten years the second time.

  23. My bro said his strongest memories of those two times were the icy stone-cold coolness of his commanders and how confident it made him feel.

  24. Nice post. What a blessing your parents and your upbringing must have been, Jim.

    Just this morning my husband and I were discussing our fathers and how their WWII military service impacted their lives, and by extension, ours.

    It’s sad to see that generation fade away. Your post is a lovely tribute.

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