Loss of Area Hero

Heather Smith - Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Men stood still and saluted.

Mothers put their hands over their hearts.

Children, bundled in snowsuits, waved tiny American flags and watched the black hearse drive by.

Hundreds of people dotted the nine-mile route between where the life of U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Bryan R. Bell was celebrated and where his body was laid to rest.

"That tells you everything you need to know about him," said Angela Gelotte, a friend of Bell's and one of about 750 people who nearly filled the Harbor Creek High School auditorium for his funeral Monday. "He made a big impression on the world."

Bell, a 23-year-old Harborcreek Township native, was an explosive-ordnance disposal technician with the 2nd Civil Engineer Squadron, assigned to Delta Company's 466th Explosive Ordnance Disposal Unit. He was killed Jan. 5 in Shir Ghazi, Afghanistan, when a roadside bomb detonated near his vehicle.

Bell was a hero who made the ultimate sacrifice for his country, said the Rev. James Jaeger, a chaplain with the Air National Guard's 107th Airlift Wing who officiated the service.

"He contributed and shared his gifts and talents and gave his life to make a better world," Jaeger said. "He gave his life each day in the EOD to protect those he lived and worked with. There is no greater love, Scripture says, than to lay down one's life for one's friend."

U.S. Air Force Airman 1st Class Candice Bell was part of the escort guard that brought her brother's body back to Erie. Bryan Bell not only influenced her decision to join the Air Force, but was the biggest influence on her life, she said.

In a eulogy punctuated by humor, she remembered a fun-loving, goofy boy who rode go-carts in the yard, engaged in Jell-O fights, and watched "Top Gun," pretending to direct the fighter jets as they took off and landed.

When he joined the Air Force in 2007, his extended family grew. He forged an incredible bond with other EOD technicians at Barksdale Air Force Base in Louisiana, where he was stationed, Candice Bell said. Fellow technicians who were close to Bryan Bell attended the funeral.

"We are not Bryan's only brothers and sisters," Candice Bell said.

She asked everyone in the audience to keep her brother "living strong in your body."

"Make sure you show Bryan every day, not only a week from now, a year, but forever, how much he meant to you," she said.

One of the most poignant moments of the funeral came when Alaina C. Hart Bell received four awards on behalf of her husband, including the Purple Heart and the Bronze Star Medal with valor.

Everyone in the audience in uniform stood as the citations were read, including members of Fairfield Hose Co., where Bryan Bell had served as a volunteer firefighter, and a group of women who serve with Candice Bell at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base near Dayton, Ohio. "We're all one huge family," U.S. Air Force Technical Sgt. Tania Langdon said later.

Bryan Bell was buried at Wintergreen Gorge Cemetery with full military honors in a short ceremony that included a 21-gun salute and a flyover by a B-52 bomber.

More than 500 people gathered as eight pallbearers from the Honor Guard at Andrews carried the flag-draped casket from the hearse to the grave site. Later, Alaina Bell and Bryan Bell's parents, Richard W. Bell and Donna Peters Aldrich, were each given a folded American flag.

Dale Desser said he met Richard Bell over their shared love of model trains. He remembers a young Bryan Bell playing in the family basement under the train table and, later, arguing with him about football. Bryan Bell was a Buffalo Bills fan, while Desser followed the Steelers, Desser said.

Desser said he wasn't surprised when Bryan Bell wanted to join the Air Force. "He was an all-American boy," he said.

Desser said he had lunch with Richard Bell in December. The elder Bell was nervous, he said.

"He said 'He's in a rough area,' and I said 'I know, I hope he makes it OK," Desser said. "It never happened that way."

Kathy Dugan, Alaina Bell's great-aunt, said she had been optimistic about Bryan Bell's return as the war in Afghanistan started winding down. Bryan Bell is the third person from Harborcreek Township to be killed in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

"I was thinking he'd be coming home," Dugan said, shaking her head. "I guess that was probably what everyone was thinking: Enough."

 Source: Goerie.com

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