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First Name: John

Last Name: Wells

Birthplace: Lakeview, TX, USA

Gender: Male

Branch: Marines (present)

Home of Record: Lakeview, TX
Middle Name: K.

Date of Birth: 05 February 1922

Date of Death: 11 February 2016

Rank: Major

Years Served:
John Keith Wells

•  World War II (1941 - 1945)


John Keith Wells

Major, U. S. Marine Corps

Navy Cross

John Keith Wells
Lakeview, TX
Keith & Kathryn Wells

Full Name John "Keith" Wells
Date of Birth Sunday, February 5th, 1922
Date of Death Thursday, February 11th, 2016
Obituary for Major John Wells, USMCR, Retired
1st Lieutenant John Keith Wells, USMC, [major] 94, dies; His rifle platoon raised the First flag at Iwo Jima.
Abilene, TX, February 11, 2016: John Keith Wells, United States Marine Corps, Navy Cross, Bronze Star and Purple Heart, commanded the 3rd Platoon, Easy Co. 28th Marines during the battle of Iwo Jima. The 3rd platoon was part of the invasion force, landing 19 February 1945, and was a key unit in the subsequent frontal assault on Mount Suribachi. 1Lt Wells, thinking the frontal assault order from higher up was pure suicide, he refused to give his marines the order to assault. Without the supporting fire that had been promised, he simply rose from his shell hole waived his rifle over his head and started running up the mountain. The rest of his marines followed; soon the frontal assault was full bore. This charge echoed through the annals of the finest hours in Marine Corps history. For their day’s work the 3rd platoon became one of most decorated Marine Corps units to fight in a single combat action in the history of the Marine Corps. They were responsible for destroying 25 Japanese emplacements. Members of the 3rd platoon were awarded 1 Medal of Honor, 3 Navy Crosses, 1 Silver Star, 1 Bronze Star and over 100% Purple Hearts.
During the assault Lieutenant Wells received numerous wounds. Navy Corpsman John Bradley came to Lt Wells and gave him a second shot of morphine and also made an attempt to clean and re-dress his wounds. Corpsman Bradley told Wells sternly that he ought to head for the rear at once to get proper treatment. Lt Wells dealing with the loss of blood and fighting consciousness stayed at the front for another half hour. Finally deciding that he was no longer fit to command, he turned the platoon over to his platoon Sergeant Earnest “Boots” Thomas and began crawling to the beach where he was evacuated for medical treatment aboard the Iwo Jima command ship, THE USS El Dorado. There General Holland Smith, Admiral Richard Turner and Navy Secretary James Forrestal were monitoring the battle. Later Sgt Thomas was ordered to the ship to be the marine who made the first live radio address from a battlefield that was aired publically in the United States. It was from this vantage point that Secretary Forrestal retorted, “Holland, the raising of the flag on Suribachi means a Marine Corps for the next 500 years”.
Three days later, against orders, Lieutenant Wells obtained a supply of morphine and caught a boat ride back to the island where he managed to ascend to the top of Mt. Suribachi to rejoin his platoon. With the exception of the three days on the medical ship, he stayed on the island for the entirety of the battle, 19 February thru 16 March, 26 days. As a result of his wounds he was unable to officially re-assume the platoon’s command.
Keith was a tall dark-headed, broad-shouldered, west Texan. When WWII broke out he was a student at Texas A&M and a member of the Corps of Cadets ROTC advanced horse Calvary unit. In March 1942 he dropped out of school and entered the Marine Corps as a Private First Class subsequently completing paratrooper training. He was selected to attended officer candidate school. He served three years and ten months active duty and was retired as a Major in the Marine Corps Reserves.
23 year old Lieutenant Wells had a habit of mixing freely with his enlisted men and that help make him a popular leader. He also enjoyed discussing the art of warfare in dramatic fashion. At Camp Pendleton upon being given command of the 3rd platoon, he, in a resolute expression and raised fist addressed the unit, saying, “Give me fifty Marines who are not afraid to die and I can take any position”. Some of his marines privately expressed concern, not knowing what to make of their new Lt or his heroic pronouncement. This phrase became the sub title of Lt Wells’ well received 1995 book, Iwo Jima, Give me Fifty Marines Not Afraid to Die” .
Of the 45 original enlisted men in the 3rd platoon, fifteen were killed; all but four were reported wounded one or more times. Kenneth Midkiff, the last sergeant of the third platoon, was killed on the last official day of the Iwo Jima battle soon after talking to Lt. Wells.
Keith and the 3rd platoon’s story has been revisited in the popular press. In James Bradley’s 2000 book, Flags of Our Fathers, the story line is built around Keith and the 3rd platoon. James Bradley’s dad, John H. Bradley, Pharmacist mate Second Class [Navy Cross] was one of two Navy Corpsman assigned to Keith’s 45 man rifle platoon. In his book Bradley records that on that fateful morning “the heroes of the day began to literally stand up and be counted; one of the first was Lieutenant Wells; among the many heroes on the field, none surpassed the sustained courage of Lt Keith Wells.” In addition, in the 1949 movie, Sands of Iwo Jima, starring John Wayne depicting Sergeant Stryker; this role is a amalgamated role of 3rd platoon Sergeant Earnest “Boots” Thomas, KIA, Navy Cross, Purple Heart and 1Lt Keith Wells.
In 1994 at a rare Marine Corps event, Colonel Conway [later Commandant] Commander of The Officer Basic School established the Lieutenant Keith Wells Land Navigation award. It is awarded to the top land navigation Lieutenant at the completion of each TBS graduation. In November 2006 Lt Wells and his remaining 7 Marines were honored by GEN Peter Pace, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, at the 231st USMC birthday ball. They became known by the moniker, “the forgotten third platoon”. On Veterans Day 2006 they were also received by President George W. Bush for breakfast at the White House.
In 1983 the Japanese Defense Force invited Keith Wells and wife, Kathryn for a two week reception. While there he addressed Officers of the Japanese Defense Force. They also visited with General Kuribayashi’s, Commander of Japanese forces in Iwo Jima, widow and his two daughters. Also present was Major Yoshitaka Horie who served was Iwo Jima’s emergency supply officer.
After the war 1st Lieutenant Wells resumed his university studies at Texas Tech in Lubbock and became a petroleum geologist. He was a lifelong practicing geologist specializing in the Permian basin. His wife, Kathryn, the love of his life, was deceased in 2011. He is survived by three children and numerous grand children. The Boy Scouts of American honored Keith with the Silver Beaver award for his lifelong support.
NAVY CROSS citation: For extraordinary heroism as a Rifle Platoon Leader of Company E, Second Battalion, Twenty-eighth Marines, Fifth Marine Division, in action against enemy Japanese forces on Iwo Jima, Volcano Island, 21 February 1945.
“ When ordered to attack across open terrain and dislodge the enemy from a series of strongly-defended pillboxes and blockhouses at the base of Mount Suribachi, 1Lt Wells placed himself in the forefront of his platoon and, leading his men forward in the intense hostile machine-gun, mortar and rifle fire, continuously moved from one flank to the other to lead assault groups one by one in their attacks on Japanese emplacements. Although severally wounded while directing his demolition squad in an assault on a formidable enemy blockhouse whose fire had stopped the advance of his platoon, he continued to lead his men until the blockhouse was destroyed. When, an hour later, the pain from his wound became so intense that he was no longer able to walk, he established his command post in a position from which to observe the progress of his men and continued to control their attack by means of messengers. By his courageous leadership and indomitable fighting sprit, First Lieutenant Wells contributed materially to the destruction of at least twenty-five Japanese emplacements and his unwavering devotion to duty was in keeping with the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service.”
John L. Sullivan, Secretary of the Navy
Arrangements have been entrusted to North's Funeral Home, 242 Orange Street.

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Texas WWII Exceptional Gallantry

Honoree ID: 315838   Created by: drjones46




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