Maurice Bell was born in Mississippi on February 17, 1925, and grew up in the northeast corner of the state. Throughout 1942, he traveled around the country with his father on a construction crew that was building army camps. While in Indiana in early 1942, he met and started dating a local girl, Lois Richards. In early 1943, Bell went to Mobile, Alabama to work in the shipyards. He easily found work as an electrician's helper, and got a room in a boarding house there. He was drafted in the summer of 1943 and decided to sign on with the Navy because, he said, he didn't want to sleep in a hole in the ground. In September, l943 he became a gunner on a heavy cruiser, the USS Indianapolis, the flagship for the 5th Fleet. Bell witnessed the invasions of Tarawa, Saipan, Peleliu and Iwo Jima from the ship's deck, as well as the naval battle of the Philippine Sea (also known as the "Great Marianas Turkey Shoot"?). After more than a year overseas, Bell went home on leave and married Lois on October 29, 1944.
In March of 1945 Bell's ship took part in the pre-invasion bombardment of Okinawa, and was hit by a kamikaze on March 31. The Indianapolis was seriously damaged and sent back to California for repairs. On July 16, 1945, she headed back out to sea, bearing top secret cargo bound for the American air base on Tinian -- cargo that Bell helped to load. It was the atomic bomb. After delivering the bomb, the Indianapolis set out for the Philippines on July 30. In the middle of the night, the ship was hit by a torpedo from a Japanese submarine and sank in minutes. Of the nearly 1,200 men aboard, only Bell and some 900 others made it into the water alive. Bell survived four days and five nights in the water, but some eight hundred and eighty crewmen died. Bell returned to the states on November 1, 1945, and worked in construction and school maintenance. He and Lois have three children.