View Full Version : Smallest county in W.Va., home to former POW Lynch, takes care of its own

07-21-03, 06:07 AM
Smallest county in W.Va., home to former POW Lynch, takes care of its own

By April Vitello
11:16 a.m., July 19, 2003

ELIZABETH, W.Va. – Two days after officials announced former POW Jessica Lynch would be coming home, residents here were busy raising money for another injured soldier from West Virginia's smallest county.

"We do whatever it takes to help out," Wirt County Assessor Debbie Hennen said. "We just take care of our own."

Marine Sgt. David Bell hasn't lived in Elizabeth for eight years, but that didn't stop workers at the Wirt County Courthouse from raising $2,000 for him at a July 13 spaghetti dinner.

"There was not a table space available," said Betsy Bell, David's mother.

With only 5,873 residents, Wirt County had West Virginia's largest unemployment figures last month, at 15.1 percent. County residents haven't let hard financial times get in the way of their generosity.

David Bell, 27, was training recruits May 20 at Camp Pendleton in San Diego, where he was an instructor, when a grenade launcher jammed. When the next round fired off, part of the barrel exploded, sending shrapnel into the top and left side of his head. He lost his left eye in the accident and broke or shattered every bone on the left side of his face.

Bell lived in this town of 900 with his parents, Ernie and Betsy and older brother Daniel, until he left for the service.

News of the accident got back home quickly. Soon after, the town pulled together to help the family.

"I don't know what we would have done. They are so supportive," Betsy Bell said.

In the county courthouse hallway, a picture of David now sits beside one of Lynch, which has been up since her capture March 23 during the war in Iraq.

Lynch is scheduled to be released July 22 from a Washington, D.C., hospital and is expected to arrive home that afternoon in Palestine, about 70 miles north of Charleston.

Wirt County pulled out all stops for Lynch, as sympathy and attention from around the world poured in. A special fund was set up to take in thousands of dollars in donations, along with money raised in fund-raising events, from car washes to pig roasts. A local Wal-Mart pledged another $1,000.

Now a notebook for Bell sits next to one for Lynch, for people to sign and send get-well wishes. During a prayer vigil in June, residents of Wirt County raised about $200 to help with travel expenses for the Bell family.

There also have been bake sales, yard sales, car washes, church competitions and general donations for the Bell Family Fund. About $5,000 has been raised so far, which has been used for airplane tickets for Bell's parents and to help him in California.

"He has a lot of expenses," said Sherry Matheny, David's cousin, who oversees the fund.

"It just shows what a small community can do when they pull together. We never expected this much."

Bell's wife Holly said all the letters from his hometown and across the country have helped pull him through.

"Mostly they say how proud they are of him and how their hearts are with him during his recovery. Just the kind of sentiments he needed to feel he wasn't alone and that people were rooting for him," she said in a telephone interview from California.

Bell was released from the hospital on May 30. He and Holly travel to five or six doctor's appointments a week. He has at least five more surgeries within the next six months to repair the damage. Meanwhile, he is trying to stay strong and busy.

No matter what the future holds, he said Wirt County will always be special for what residents have done.

"I get cards every day from people, some I don't even know," Bell said from California. "It's like a treat to open the mailbox, it gives me a little more pride."



Inside the Wirt County Courthouse in Elizabeth, W.Va., a table is set up with photographs of two soldiers who were wounded while serving in the armed forces –Marine Sgt. David Bell and Army Pfc. Jessica Lynch.