By Rita LeBleu, American Press
Few people see as much of the world as Jerry Bell, and live to tell about it. Fewer still would be honored or feel a sense of obligation to put past experience to work in the small rural community of DeQuincy.
Last month Bell was inducted into the Louisiana Justice Hall of Fame, a foundation that honors law enforcement, corrections, criminal justice and civil service. At the end of the month, he’ll release “Wind Across the Rails,” a true account of many of his life experiences, beginning with the poverty of his youth.
It’s a window into small town ways, good and bad, and the book details Bell’s military exploits. He has interrogated terrorists and rescued CIA agents minutes before execution. He’s helped rescue downed pilots and taken down South American Cartel leaders. He was boots on the ground during the Lebanon hostage crisis. As a NATO Security Officer, he helped counter the German terrorist attack on Alexander Haig. He has served eight U.S. Presidents, discussed President Jimmy Carter’s health with the down-to-earth Rosalyn and enjoyed tea with Nancy Reagan. He remembers the great bear hug of Norway’s King Olaf.
Bell, 74 and working as major chief of detectives for the DeQuincy Police Department, remembers everything. He is a hyperthymestic, a condition that, no doubt, made the high school dropout who went on to get advanced degrees later in life, very trainable.
Unlike memorization techniques, hyperthymestics memories are personal, autobiographical. That’s how he was able to put down the stories in the book.
Bell has served as a Counter Intelligence Agent, a Criminal Investigations Special Agent, a State Security Department Police Officer and a U.S. Sky Marshal during the 1970s. Bell also served as Mayor of DeQuincy, as a Calcasieu Parish Deputy and as a part of a local Homeland Security team after 911.
Bell was in Panama for the arrest of Manuel Noriega.
Not every assignment was fraught with danger, but he has had brushes with death.
“I’ve had bullets whiz past my nose and felt the man right behind me go down,” Bell said.
He felt like his life was equally at risk in DeQuincy.
“We had 25 bars and one night officer – me,” Bell said with a grin. “I was closer to death in DeQuincy than in the Dominican Republic fighting rebels.”
Bell has also engaged enemies on which he was never able to draw a bead. He almost died of cancer. He lost a son to suicide. He has witnessed evil and feels that he has been a witness to supernatural help from angels.
Bell said his early memories aren’t a “pretty story.” He was orphaned at five when his father died of pneumonia and his mother left.
“My brother and I were farmed out to aunts and uncles,” he said.
Bell quit school and joined the U.S. Army when his grandmother died.
“I weighed about 120 pounds,” he said. “I went to the Marines and they didn’t want me. I went to the Navy. and they turned me down. I heard the Army would take anybody,” he said with a chuckle.
Bell earned the Green Beret, the Special Forces Tab, Master Parachute Badge, Distinguished Gold Badge and over 20 medals, including the honored Legion of Merit.
He has provided security for the Los Angeles and South Korean Olympics. He guarded Julia Roberts when she was in New Orleans for the filming of The Pelican Brief.
Bell is the only detective in a tiny town where the caseload — which includes attempted murder, armed robbery and home invasion – is growing.
“It ain’t Mayberry,” he quipped.
Staying busy has been good for Bell. He has no regrets and sleeps well at night, he says.
“I’m a Christian. Anyone I ever killed was trying to kill me and I did it in service to my country, to keep people at home, safe.
Bell is married to Barbara Martin Bell who he described as a “true hero.” His daughter, Jeri Lyn Turner is a veteran.
Bell will sign copies of “Wind Across the Rails” on Thursday, Nov. 21, at the DeQuincy Railroad Museum, from 6-9 p.m.