USS Porterfield

The U.S. Navy destroyer USS Porterfield was in service from 1943 to 1969.

In the early 1960s, two young U.S. Navy sailors from Missouri simultaneously spent more than a year assigned to the destroyer USS Porterfield.

One, Dale Schmidt, was from Kansas City, while the other, Carl Bell, was from the small south-central Ozarks town of Houston.

As part of the Porterfield’s crew of 329, the two men never became friends, or even close acquaintances. But at some point, Schmidt heard Bell mention he was from Houston, and it caught his attention.

More than half a century later, Schmidt – a resident of Hamilton – got the urge to go to Houston and attempt to make contact with his former shipmate and fellow Missourian, not knowing the name of the man he was seeking or if he was even still alive. At about 4 p.m. Monday, June 15, Schmidt and his wife Mary Ann stopped in at the Houston Visitors Center and he described his quest to Houston Area Chamber of Commerce director Angie Quinlan.

What transpired from there defies all odds.

Quinlan pondered the situation for a few moments, and then went online to the Houston Herald website, pulled up the archives and entered “USS Porterfield” in a search field. A single post appeared from the May 17, 1962 issue of the Herald.

On page C1 of that issue was a small article titled, “Men in service.” It mentioned seaman Carl Bell serving on the Porterfield.

Carl Bell in the archives

Carl Bell’s service aboard the USS Porterfield was mentioned in the May 17, 1962 issue of the Houston Herald. The short article described the harrowing rescue of a sailor who went overboard from the aircraft carrier USS Bonhomme Richard.

“I think I’ve got your man,” Quinlan said.

She contacted Bell’s wife, Carolyn, and the next morning the two men were shaking hands inside the Visitors Center. Bell didn’t remember Schmidt and Schmidt didn’t recognize Bell, but the two men are now 81 and 78 years old respectively, and neither resembles the strapping young sailors who were on the Porterfield.

Nonetheless, both men were touched by the unlikely reunion.

“It was good to see him,” Schmidt said. “I got out of the service about 57 years ago; that’s a long time – a lot of water has run under the bridge.”

“It makes you feel good,” Bell said, “and it brings back a lot of old memories. We knew some of the same guys on the ship.”

The two men talked about a variety of subjects, and Schmidt learned that Bell had inadvertently left all of his photographs on the ship when he left it for the last time. Fortunately, Schmidt was able to provide Bell with a photo or two.

The Porterfield in S.D.

The USS Porterfield sails into San Diego Harbor in April 1961 after a cruise in the Western Pacific. The sailor at the tip of the bow is Missouri resident Dale Schmidt.

“I enjoyed listening to them talk about the ship and the different jobs they had,” Quinlan said. “I was so happy that I was able to have a small part in helping them meet again after all these years.” 

Coincidentally, Bell and Schmidt were both in the Navy for just a few days less than four years. Schmidt had stints on multiple ships (including the destroyer USS John A. Bole and the cruiser USS Helena) while the Porterfield was the only vessel Bell was on. Both men began their service in California and were part of numerous cruises around the Pacific Ocean to places like the Philippines, Hawaii, Midway Island, Hong Kong, Formosa (now Taiwan), Guam and others.

“Just to see how people in other parts of the world live is an education in itself,” Schmidt said.

Actually getting together in Houston delighted and amazed both men.

“I don’t play Powerball,” Schmidt said, “but the odds are too great – even that both of us would still be living.”

“It really was amazing,” Bell said. “He has a great memory or something, to put it together the way he did.”

“Things like this don’t happen by accident,” Quinlan said.


The USS Porterfield (DD-682) was based in San Diego when Bell and Schmidt were crewmembers. While the ship didn’t see combat during that period, it was certainly involved in more than one wild or harrowing experience.

Schmidt recalled a time in 1962 when the Porterfield was on a night cruise following the aircraft carrier Bonhomme Richard off the coast of California near San Francisco.

“It was about midnight and you couldn’t see your hand in front of your face,” he said.

A jet landed on the carrier and two sailors were standing on the deck nearby. The aircraft turned and the blast from its engine blew one of them into the ocean.

“It was about an 80-foot drop to the water,” Schmidt said, “and there were swells of about eight feet.”

The Porterfield deployed a rescue boat and the man overboard was located just in time.

“I’d say the guy was going down for the last time when a swimmer from the boat grabbed him by the hair and saved him,” Schmidt said.

That same small Herald article said Bell was a coxswain on the rescue boat.

“That was quite a story,” Schmidt said.

ship's patch 1

A USS Porterfield ship’s patch.

Schmidt also recalled when the Porterfield was part of a group of three destroyers and one aircraft carrier hunting for a submarine about 700 miles off the coast of Washington state.

“We never found the submarine – all we found was a whale,” Schmidt said. “But in the meantime, we got into a big storm and the waves were at least 70 feet tall in some cases. We couldn’t signal the carrier by hand for about half a day, and one time we made about a 47-degree roll.

“That’s just about on your side.”

“That was scary,” Bell said. “But a lot of times we were under the water more than on top in that little destroyer.”

Schmidt said his experiences in the Navy forever changed him as a man.

“I was in the service between my 20th and 24th birthdays,” he said, “and I grew up a lot in that time.”

USS Porterfield refuled

The destroyer USS Porterfield is refueled by the aircraft carrier USS Coral Sea in 1960.

•Type: Fletcher-class destroyer

•Commissioned: Oct. 30, 1943

•Decommissioned: Nov. 7, 1969

•Displacement: 2,050 tons

•Length: 376 feet, 5 inches

•Speed: 38 knots

•Range: 6,500 nautical miles

•Company: 329

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