U.S.S. Chilton bell finds a home

Published 3:50 pm Monday, July 3, 2017

The commissioning bell from the U.S.S. Chilton has officially returned home to the county that it was named after.

It was placed on display at the Chilton County Courthouse during a presentation on July 2.

Chilton County High School student Carter Giles helped preserved the bell’s history to the county by creating the display as part of his Eagle Scout project.

The bell is one of the first things that people will see as they enter the courthouse, as it sits at the top of the stairs at the main entrance.

“This is going to be here for a long time,” Giles said. “It represents all the dedication that the people of Chilton County have put back into our country.”

The display is more than just the bell, which is concealed in a glass case, but also includes pedestals with a pair of binders containing historical accounts of the U.S.S. Chilton and veterans from Chilton County that have served over the years.

With the addition of the books, the display in the courthouse has the look and the look and feel of a museum chronicling Chilton County’s military history.

There were a few family members on hand representing loved ones that had served aboard the U.S.S. Chilton.

Claressa Rustin made the trip to the courthouse from Neely, Mississippi to represent her former husband Luther Newitt Blackwell Jr. who was assigned to the ship in the mid 1960s.

The two were married for 18 months before Blackwell was killed in a car accident after coming back home.

She saw it as her responsibility to attend the ceremony to show the appreciation that Blackwell was unable to do himself.

“I have been crying since I’ve been here,” Rustin said. “I think it is absolutely wonderful.”

For about the past year, Giles has been working on the project and slowly transformed it from an idea to actuality.

“It’s great to see the younger people stepping up,” Rustin said.

According to Giles, gathering the information for the binders required several phone calls and attempts at spreading the word.

“The past couple of months was when we really started working on it,” Giles said. “Before that it was all about research.”

The presentation of the bell marks the final step in a lengthy process that included Billy Singleton and County Engineer Tony Wearren transporting the bell from its location in Staten Island, New York to Chilton County.

Shortly afterward, the bell was refurbished and introduced to the public during a Memorial Day ceremony in 2016 at the Jemison Municipal Complex.

Singleton is the current caretaker of the bell, although it is still owned by the U.S. Navy and considered a historic artifact.

“I’m just thrilled to death at the way it all ended up,” Singleton said. “I’m glad it’s here and that the people turned out to dedicate it.”

According to Singleton, though the bell was on the U.S.S. Chilton it had never been in Chilton County until last year.

Aubry Wallace, retired U.S. Air Force, was the main speaker in the program and talked about his experience of growing up in a family where serving in the military was second nature.

Wallace encouraged everyone that looks at the bell to remember what it stands for in the grand scheme of things.

According to Wallace, the 106 Chilton County residents that the bell honors died in action protecting the freedoms of Chilton County and Alabama, as well as the United States.

The fact that the presentation took place two days prior to the Fourth of July added even more to the patriotic theme that resonated in the air.

Clanton Boy Scout Troop 57 presented the colors and Ansley Bittle sang the National Anthem.

“This county has always been so supportive of veterans and I think this is very unique,” Singleton said. “This just tops it off.”