Jim Bell was born in 1931 in Akron, Ohio. He entered the U.S. Naval Academy in June 1950, and graduated with a commission as an Ensign on June 4, 1954. Bell completed flight training and was designated a Naval Aviator in November 1955, and then completed All Weather Intercept Flight Training in February 1956, staying on as an instructor pilot until December 1957. His next assignment was as an F4D Skyray pilot with VF-141 at NAS San Diego, California, from December 1957 to June 1959, followed by U.S. Naval Postgraduate School at Monterey, California, where he received his Masters degree in Aeronautical Engineering in June 1962. After completing instrument training with VA-44 at NAS Jacksonville, Florida, and A3J-1 Vigilante (later redesignated A-5A Vigilante) training with VAH-3 at NAS Sanford, Florida, LT Bell joined VAH-1 flying the A-5 in February 1963 (later redesignated RVAH-1 flying the RA-5C). He began flying combat missions from the aircraft carrier USS Independence (CVA-62) in July 1965, and was forced to eject over North Vietnam and taken as a Prisoner of War on October 16, 1965. After spending 2,677 days in captivity, he was released during Operation Homecoming on February 12, 1973. He was briefly hospitalized to recover from his injuries, and then attended the Industrial College of the Armed Forces at Fort McNair, Washington, D.C., from August 1973 to August 1974. CAPT Bell served with Fleet Composite Squadron Seven from August 1974 to November 1975, and then with Naval Air Headquarters at the Pentagon from November 1975 until his retirement from the Navy on March 1, 1979. Jim Bell died on September 30, 2014, and will be buried at Arlington National Cemetery.
His 2nd Silver Star Citation reads:
For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity while interned as a Prisoner of War in North Vietnam. During the period January to June 1967, his captors, completely ignoring international agreements, subjected him to extreme mental and physical cruelties in an attempt to obtain military information and false confessions for propaganda purposes. Through his resistance to those brutalities, he contributed significantly toward the eventual abandonment of harsh treatment by the North Vietnamese, which was attracting international attention. By his determination, courage, resourcefulness, and devotion to duty, he reflected great credit upon himself and upheld the highest traditions of the Naval Service and the United States Armed Forces.