S.D. WWII veteran dies at 100

Published: Nov. 11, 2022 at 11:22 AM CST|Updated: Nov. 11, 2022 at 11:29 AM CST
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LEMMON, S.D. (KFYR) - On November 27, 2022, one of the last WWII veterans in the Dakotas passed away. John Wells of Lemmon, South Dakota died Sunday evening.

Wells enlisted in the Marines on October 3, 1942 — his 20th birthday. In February 1945, his Marine unit landed on Iwo Jima. Wells shared his memories of the war with us just a few weeks ago.

He was honored on his 100th birthday last month with proclamations from the city of Lemmon and the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe.

Wells’ daughter, Lorri Bauler, said he will be interred in the Black Hills National Cemetery. Funeral arrangements are pending.

ORIGINAL STORY (Published November 11): On February 19, 1945, the United States invaded the island of Iwo Jima as part of its Pacific campaign against Japan. It was one of the bloodiest in the history of the U.S. Marine Corps.

There aren’t a lot of soldiers left who were there. John Wells of Lemmon, S.D. is one of only a few World War II veterans who fought in that battle and is still alive.

This is a birthday John Wells won’t soon forget. Members of the Lemmon VFW and students from the elementary school stopped by with birthday wishes. His daughter Lorri captured it all on her cell phone. They’re celebrating his 100th birthday. 80 years ago, Wells’ birthday celebration looked a lot different.

“Fact is, I took the oath on my birthday, the third of October,” he recalled.

That’s the day he enlisted in the Marines.

“I was 20,” Wells said.

From his home on the South Dakota prairie, Wells shipped out to Minneapolis, then San Diego. By April of 1943, he was stationed in the south Pacific. In February 1945, his Marine unit landed on Iwo Jima.

“That night the Japanese were having a battle. We sat there and watched what looked like big fireworks. When the guns went off you could see flashes,” he remembered. “The first night at Iwo Jima we were all dug in for the evening. A friend always told me, ‘I don’t think I’ll ever be coming back.’ I told him ‘All you got to do is just keep down as low as you can on the ground.’

Wells remembers going to check on a friend in another foxhole.

“We were talking for a while. And I said, ‘Well, I better get back.’ So, I started back and that’s all I remember for a while, and I woke up and blood was running out of my nose and my ear, and I looked around and my friend was standing up and shrapnel must have gotten him. I can remember the last thing he said was, ‘Oh my God.’ That still sticks with me. I don’t know why. I guess I was lucky,” he said. “I came back. And my brothers came back. I think the man upstairs was watching me. He had to be.”

All these years later, Wells’ service is not forgotten. On his 100th birthday, he was honored with proclamations from the City of Lemmon and the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe. He’s not sure he’s deserving of all the fuss.

“Oh, I don’t think so. Not really,” he said. “It’s just one of those things that happened. If I had to do it all over again, I would. I don’t have any regrets.”

His modest and quiet nature makes John Wells a humble hero; someone deserving of honor and recognition, no matter how many years have passed. After his service, Wells started his life in Lemmon, where he’s lived ever since. He and his wife Dorothy will celebrate their 74th wedding anniversary in December.

He’s taken two honor flights to Washington, D.C. Highlights of those trips include seeing the World War II memorial and seeing his granddaughter, who followed in his footsteps and also served in the Marines.