In Memory of
Navy Wat Tend 2C
John Roger Bell
Watertown, South Dakota
Codington County
July 22, 1914 – February 28, 1942
Killed in Action aboard the USS Houston in the Sunda Strait

John Roger Bell, World War II memorial marker

John Roger Bell was born July 22, 1914, in Watertown, South Dakota, to Clement and Ora Bell. Raised and educated in Watertown, John Roger joined the Navy in October of 1935 at Omaha, Nebraska.

John was a Navy Water Tender Second Class.  He was on the U.S. Houston, and we are told his job would have placed him in the deepest part of the ship. This ship was around Indonesia at the time where the Battle of the Java Sea took place. On February 28, 1942, late at night, the USS Houston was “outnumbered and outgunned” by the enemy. Although many sailors were able to abandon ship before it sunk, lots of them were gunned down in the water by the Japanese. Those who  managed to swim to shore were taken captive. Many did not survive their harsh treatment as POWs. However, since John Bell was in the deepest part of the ship, he probably had no chance of survival during the sinking.

After the war, he was declared legally dead, because he was never seen again by any of his surviving shipmates or in Japanese prisoner of war camps. His death date is considered to be February 28, 1942, but his “official” presumption of death is December 15, 1945. John was awarded the Purple Heart and is on the Tablets of the Missing at Manila American Cemetery in the Philippines.

This entry was respectfully submitted by Laiken Lensegrav, 8th Grade West, Spearfish Middle School, Spearfish, South Dakota, February 11, 2000. Information for this entry was provided by Richard W. Bell of Watertown, South Dakota, brother of Navy Wat Tend 2-C Bell; Mrs. Jean Dorman and Margaret Tillma, Castlewood, South Dakota,  sisters of John Roger Bell, Gerald R. Cornelius, and