A petticoat's story


Martha “Mott” Warren Bell joined the Navy to see the world: instead she saw Kingsville, Texas. Bell, 97, of Sandy Hook, enlisted in January 1942.

She did her basic training in Cedar Falls, Iowa. Upon becoming a “wave,” which stands for Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service, she was transferred to the Able Squadron at the Naval Air Station in Kingsville, Texas. She was hoping to go to California.

Bell joined with her cousin; however, after boot camp she went to Texas while her cousin went to Chicago as a nurse. Once the initial training was over, they never saw each other.

One of her first jobs was working in the air traffic control tower where she would monitor the airplanes. Her assigned base was newly built in 1942 to assist in training pilots fighting in World War II. After moving to a clerical position keeping the log books, Bell said she loved it and her work.

She said being in the Navy was a good thing, she made a lot of friends and she found her husband, Bennett “Bill” Bell.

The Sandy Hook resident said some of the sailors did not like “petticoats” doing what they considered to be their job. In fact she said her chief was a “long timer” who did not believe petticoats (female sailors) should be in the Navy. The chief was very tough on the women, she said.

As women were just starting to enter the military, Bell would have her choice of men to date. She said she wanted no part of it.

“The girls would accept the first proposal they received. That was not for me,” she said.

Bell said she would not marry while in the Navy. However, she did meet a young man.

Actually she met him through her roommate who was dating him.

Her roommate would always talk about Bell to her boyfriend and him to Bell.

“Bill, Bill, Bill. I heard his name so much I was sick of it,” she said.

Yet as much as she was sick of his name, she ended up saying it a lot. They were married for nearly 70 years before he died and have one son who is a retired Coast Guard captain who lives in Atlanta.

After being discharged in 1945, she and Bill married and went right back to Kingsville, Texas, where they lived in a military-provided trailer. Eventually after living in several places across the country including Florida and Atlanta, home was still Sandy Hook for her. “The people I know are in Sandy Hook. I wouldn’t be there if I didn’t know them,” Bell said. 

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