WWII veteran Sewell saw action — in a post office

Dan Sewell shows a photo clipping of a crash that wounded its test pilot. (Photo by Ellen Miller-Goins)

By Ellen Miller-Goins

Dan Sewell, who recently celebrated his 89th birthday on May 12, is proud to be a veteran but admitted with a laugh, “I had the least exciting military career imaginable.”

Still, it is a military career that took Sewell from his hometown in Fort Worth, Texas, to bases in the Pacific Theater to a career of over 20 years with Bell Helicopter in Hurst, Texas.

Sewell was drafted at age 18 in 1943. “They were drafting everybody then,” Sewell said. “It’s so young. 18’s a child.”

As if to illustrate, Sewell said prior to being drafted, he had not thought much about the war. “I was going to school, riding my bicycle and flying model airplanes.”

Was he scared to go to war? “Not a bit,” Sewell said. “My mother was.”

Sewell finished high school and enjoyed another summer as a “child” before heading to train at Fort Wolters near Mineral Wells, Texas, then to Camp Grant outside Rockford, Illinois, for medical training. “I weighed 123 pounds just like I do now,” Sewell said. “I don’t know why they picked me. Can you imagine me carrying a litter with a wounded soldier on it?”

Telling a story about another young man who rode the bus with him from Fort Worth to Fort Wolters, Sewell said, “His mother was very influential in Fort Worth politics. She pulled a few strings and got him stationed at Camp Wolters so she could come over and visit him. Well he got sent to Europe and got killed at the Battle of the Bulge, so I’m glad my mother didn’t have any influence. He would have gone with me (to Camp Grant).”

According to Dan, the most “action” he saw was during training. “(In the infiltration course) we had to crawl under a layer of barb wire and they had machine guns set up firing live rounds a foot and a half above the barb wire just to give us the feeling of being in combat,” Dan said. “The other thing we had to do was dig a foxhole and get in it while a Sherman tank would run over that hole cross-wise. That was just about as terrifying as the infiltration course.

“Another time they issued us Arctic equipment and we went on a hike with all that Arctic gear. Then I got sent to New Caledonia in the South Pacific. We got there and they didn’t have anything for us to do. Three weeks prior everybody was sent to Guadalcanal. When we got there, there were 5 acres of tents at the staging area and everyone was empty. There wasn’t a soul there.”

rr_vet_sewell03_SMFor the remainder of his military service, Dan worked at  Army post offices in Nouméa, New Caledonia, and Manila, Philippines. “I said I had a very non-colorful military career,” he said with a laugh. “I think I caught malaria that first night on the beach (on the way to Manila).”

His military service did afford Sewell the opportunity to pay for training that landed him a job with Bell Helicopter where, he said, he was part of the teams that designed the Huey, AH-1 Cobra and Bell XV-3 helicopters.

Sewell said he was a “go-fer” for the Huey helicopter project but he designed many elements for the Cobra and the XV-3, a tilt-rotor “convertiplane” that helped paved the way for the V-22 Osprey. “I went to work as a draftsman,” Sewell said. “Then I was part of the experimental projects group.”

Joann, Dan’s wife of 61 years, said, “Dan always wanted to fly but when he was a child an eye doctor told him he’d never fly and he was heartbroken. It was his lifelong passion. That’s why he always liked flying model airplanes and model helicopters. He was proud he worked at Bell.”

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