By Daniel Hernandez
La Habra Journal
The chorus of his song echoes off the wooden floor of the historical museum, resurrecting a thought from a recently deceased son of a World War II chaplain.
In memory of the song’s writer Bruce Bell, who tragically died in an auto accident a month ago, the La Habra Historical Museum assembled war artifacts belonging to Eugene Bell, his father, displaying them in an exhibit titled “Defending Our Freedom.”
Among the war relics, a red leather-bound religious songbook with a bullet lodged through the center rests inside the museum’s glass casing, arousing chills upon visitors to the old building.
“People have been very moved by it,” La Habra Historical Museum registrar Suzette Eschberger said. “It makes everybody stop and think a little bit.”
Through a small boom box placed below Eugene Bell’s allotted exhibit space, a song titled “Bullet in the Bible” plays sporadically throughout the exhibit hours.
Bruce Bell conveys in the song emotional feelings describing what his mother told him about the story of his father being shot during the war, long time friend Paul Svenson said.
Although not confirmed directly from Eugene Bell, Svenson said Bruce Bell’s mom recounted the story of how the book — filled with religious songs — saved Eugene Bell’s life during the Second World War.
Bruce Bell’s mom explained to her son that his father wore this Bible in his jacket pocket when he was shot, Svenson said.
Absorbing a bullet from a combatant fighter over seas, Eugene Bell might have been knocked back by the force of the impact, Eschberger hypothesized, describing how deep the bullet penetrates the book.
Bruce Bell’s father, she said, might have been in a heap of pain.
Eugene Bell, like most World War II veterans, did not speak much about the war, Svenson stated.
“He was a very quiet, kind of dignified United Methodist Minister who cared about civil rights,” Svenson, who grew up close with the Bell family, said.
The lyrics of the country song describe the son’s thoughts after he stumbled upon his father’s Army Navy songbook.
The book — titled “Song and Service Book for Ship and Field” was with his mother’s belongings, and it was discovered after she passed away, Svenson said. At the bottom of the book, embossed in gold ink, are the words “Army and Navy.”
Svenson is responsible for loaning the chaplain’s World War II relics to the museum.
Before Bruce Bell passed away, Svenson and Bell discussed lending the book with the bullet and other memorabilia to La Habra where Eugene Bell was a minister in the mid sixties.
Although professional country musicians recorded the song written by Bell, Svenson noted that he might re-record it himself in the future.
However, in a touching display of friendship, Svenson performed the song at the memorial service for Bruce Bell.
The museum, located on La Habra Boulevard next to the library, opened the “Defending Our Freedom” exhibit back in October with an anticipated end date of March 16.
In addition to Eugene Bell’s religious songbook with a bullet lodged through it, other military and war memorabilia are arranged in the small space of the building.
One particular story illustrates the hardships that Private Shirley McMasters endured during World War I. While she lay injured in the Battle of Meuse-Argonne in France, German soldiers dropped mustard gas on the field.
Were it not for a heroic soldier who hustled to provide a gas mask for McMasters, she could have died, Eschberger explained.
Filled with a plethora of military stories from La Habra residents or people connected to the city, The “Defending Our Freedom” exhibit emanates with a patriotic sentiment.
Eugene Bell’s story, as told by Bruce Bell in his song, expresses a religious overtone and appreciation.
The hook of the song lies in the image of the red songbook. The two items — song and book — separated yearn to be together, and at the La Habra Historical Museum visitors have a chance to experience the nostalgia first hand….“For years I heard a story about a bullet that he took. It would have hit his heart if it wasn’t for a book.”