Early Life and Military Training

Landing at Salerno

Friendly Fire

Altavilla

San Pietro, Cassino, and Being Wounded

Coming Home

Helping a fellow soldier

Reenlisting and meeting Joyce

Korean War

Germany and Retirement

Life After War

Mount Retundo and the Rapido River

Race Relations and Being Wounded

Reflections on the War

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Raymond Wells was born in Eagle, Colorado in April 1922. He was living in Secora, New Mexico and remembers the day the Depression hit. Secora was a small town so his family paid for groceries on a monthly basis. He went to the grocery store and the owners said no more credit. His mother started selling the family’s furniture for groceries. Wells’s father worked on the railroad. Before his family lived in Secora they lived in Carthage which was a mining town near San Antonio. From Carthage they moved to a small town that was flooded by the Rio Grande. The family moved to their uncle’s house until their family found their own home and settled in Secora. While there, Wells attended school in a Catholic convent. Wells remembers an incident when another boy stole something and tried to blame it on him but a nun who was a favorite of his stood up for him. After three years the family moved to El Paso, Texas where he attended high school. His sophomore year he enlisted in the National Guard during a trip to the armory. Wells went there with a friend. Both of them were underage but joined up anyway. His brother joined a few months later. Wells joined Company H, 141st Infantry Regiment on 2 February 1939. On 25 November 1940 he was inducted into federal service. From there they boarded passenger trains and moved to Camp Bowie, Texas. Wells remember when draftees came to camp because they were all from Texas and trained there. Wells learned about Pearl Harbor while he was working in a kitchen but no one understood the implications of the attack. In 1942 they were moved to Camp Blanding, Florida where they got their first draftees from New York and New Jersey. Wells then moved to Camp Edwards and continued training there.

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On 1 April 1943 Raymond Wells boarded a troop train to New York where they went aboard a ship. His brother Irwin, who was 17 months older, was seasick during the entire voyage to North Africa. They arrived on 11 September. Wells experienced culture shock when he encountered camels and Arabic speaking peoples in Iran. Training continued and they were scheduled to head to Europe. Wells boarded another ship and was told that he was going to participate in the first mainland invasion of Europe. He remembers hearing Eisenhower announcing the surrender of the Italians. Wells went ashore on a Higgins boat. He specifically remembers how calm the sea was. Wells was in the third wave of troops so he witnessed the bodies of those who came before him. He saw German tanks on the left and ordered the machine gunner to set up and fire. Wells found a platoon sergeant and traveled to the train station that was their first objective. While there they mistakenly shot at a major from division HQ who was dismantling a German telescope. He was not injured. Wells got orders to move out in the middle of the night. By this time there was a general feeling of being afraid as the landing earlier had destroyed their fantastical ideas of war.

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Being in charge of other people helped give Raymond Wells focus during combat, not leaving any time to be afraid. Wells soon moved to Altavilla. On the way his squad encountered problems with their jeep, keeping them behind the other men. They took a wrong turn and encountered a company of armed Italians who surrendered. Wells describes the way in which men who die in combat are given temporary burials. While in Altavilla the men fought in ancient Greek ruins where the terrain was difficult and the streets were narrow. Machineguns were set up outside town until the Germans left Naples. The 143rd Infantry Regiment and the American Rangers were to their left while the 141st and 142nd Infantry Regiments stayed together. On 16 or 17 September [Annotators Note: 16 or 17 September 1943] the Germans moved out. It was a month before the men would see combat after reliving the 3rd Infantry Division. While waiting to set up they encountered a German patrol. The soldier who spoke did not have an accent. Wells knew the odds were not in his favor so he decided to keep his cool because the Germans had automatic weapons. The men parted ways with no incident. The men dug in at the base of the hill for ten days at which point they were hit with Screaming Mimis [Annotators Note: nickname given by American soldiers to German nebelwerfer rocket artillery] and lost one of their men. His squad was chosen to attack and Wells was shot at. He instructed his gunners to move and all but one was shot. They moved into a ravine where a shell hit and killed a few men. The attack continued into the evening.

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Raymond Wells was by himself with a .30 caliber machinegun and took out three enemy snipers. He moved to San Pietro and volunteered to stay while the battalion moved back. Again he was shot at and crawled to a wall where several other men took cover. He led the men to a higher wall. Wells took over a different squad where he dug in and met up with his brother who was infiltrating the German lines to set up a position. Wells was sent to a field hospital on Christmas night 1943 for internal bleeding. He had surgery and woke up to his Christmas dinner. Later General Clark visited the men. Wells was in the hospital for a couple of weeks. He got word that his brother was MIA so he left the hospital before he was discharged. He reported to a lieutenant who said the hospital told him he was a deserter but knew his reason for leaving. Company E was a group of Mexican Americans from El Paso, Texas and Juarez, Mexico. Wells remembers previous reunions that had thousands of men, but now he says only two from his company remain. Wells got word they were going back to the front line and walked 32 miles towards Monte Cassino. He climbed a mountain and set up his machinegun with a replacement. They were shelled all night and he was hit in the lower left leg by shrapnel. The next morning a soldier whose name he never knew gave him a piggy back ride to the aid station a few hundred yards away. The doctor bandaged Wells and as he attempted to crawl down the hill two men picked him up and placed him on a stretcher. Right then, a sniper began shooting at the men who worked to get Wells down the mountain. The men could have been from the Coast Guard. They brought Wells to the 36th Infantry Division aid station and from there he was transported to a field hospital. Wells was operated on by a surgeon who managed to retrieve the shrapnel.

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Raymond Wells was moved to another hospital. While there his wisdom teeth were taken out and he contracted malaria multiple times. After he recovered they told him he was to go back to the front lines, however as he was preparing to go a nurse told him that orders had come from Casablanca stating that he was to return to the United States. He waited at Naples for transportation for a week. While there he was able to say goodbye to the men in his company [Annotators Note: Company H, 141st Infantry Regiment, 36th Infantry Division]. A few days later he boarded a merchant marine ship handled by the navy. There was rough weather going to New York. From there he went into a desegregated barracks where combat soldiers were held. They shared everything with black soldiers. A few days later Wells boarded a train going back to El Paso. During a stop in Arkansas Wells called home. On the way home Wells met the brother of one of his gunners. From there Wells visited his family in Las Cruces, New Mexico. He got malaria again so he went back to Texas and got medical attention. He was taken by ambulance to William Beaumont Hospital. Wells's father was there and told him he knew the sergeant major of the hospital so he was able to obtain more passes. Next, Wells was shipped to Fort Sam Houston. While there he encountered a fellow soldier who could not find a place to eat because there was a lot of segregation. Wells took the man inside of a restaurant and demanded he be served. Next Wells talked to a regimental commander and asked him to assign him to be a barracks leader at Fort Sam Houston.

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His job was to help get new men settled in, but Raymond Wells had a PFC to help him. Next there were orders to go to Hot Springs, Arkansas where he stayed at the Arlington Hotel. There, soldiers would come in and stay with their families. Wells stayed there for a year until he had enough credits to get discharged in June 1945. For the next two years Wells moved to places such as California, Arkansas, and Missouri. While visiting his parents he walked into a recruiting station and reenlisted. Wells wanted to join the 82nd Airborne Division but his mother was sick so he decided to join the Air Force in El Paso instead. Wells says he felt at home there. He was the only combat infantryman in his unit. He got to be a prison sergeant in charge of troops locked up for going AWOL. He noticed that the men had no reading material and made a deal with them to get magazines and books for good behavior. About a year later Wells met his wife Joyce. While he was on duty near the Freedom Train he saw her standing in line. Wells had to do some training for two weeks in Pennsylvania which was difficult after he met Joyce. He received orders to leave to Okinawa.

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A year after Raymond Wells was shipped to Okinawa Joyce joined him there. At the time there was very little in terms of infrastructure. There were houses but there were also a lot of rats. She got a job over there and they had their first child, Tony. The family was Episcopalian and the navy was able to help them baptize the baby. Shortly after that the Korean War started and Wells decided it was best to send his family back to the US. After that he was sent to Korea where he travelled with the main commander. With him he flew to Gimple where there was still fighting going on, however Wells himself did not see any enemy action. His commander gave him the task of acquiring 600 laborers so Wells went to the prison and got the men. This number soon grew to over 3000 people. He requested another man for help and together they built it up. When the Chinese came they had to evacuate. There was a preacher of a Christian church that was outside of the base who asked Wells for help leaving. He helped to save his village. The convoy was left in the hands of another sergeant who got everyone down safely. Back in Japan Wells was placed in charge of native labor. One day while on the way to a meeting Wells got sick with pneumonia. He was sick for 21 days and lost 33 pounds. He got sent on leave for seven days to a summer resort where he was the only American. Wells then returned to work in Tokyo where he was in charge of processing men returning to America. After helping process 600 men for reassignment, Wells was sent back to America.

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After coming back to the United States Raymond Wells took a train to meet his wife in Aberdeen, North Dakota. On the way there he experienced some resentment from civilians about his role in the war. After being sent back Wells was relocated to Hamilton Air Force Base and eventually sent to an area near Munich, Germany. He was given a 26 room house for him to live in with his wife and three children. When his wife arrived in Germany she was sent to Frankfurt without Wells' knowledge. He raced to the train station and caught the last train to Frankfurt where he finally was able to meet his wife at two in the morning. Wells became ill shortly after and had internal bleeding which required him to receive a blood transfusion. During his hospitalization his family was moved on to the base. They stayed there for about a year before he was given an assignment in Alaska. After three months of being there Wells became friends with the General in charge who had been his same General in Germany. Wells and his family stayed in Anchorage for four years in which time they were able to buy a house and make many civilian friends. After this Wells, was assigned to Warren Air Force Base in Wyoming where he stayed until 1982. In 1983 he retired as the Sergeant Major of Operations.

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Raymond Wells retired from the service in June of 1983. After retiring, Wells moved to Fort Worth, Texas but eventually settled in Denver where he worked at the US Mint. He retired as head of the cash division. Wells serves now by going to veterans funerals. Wells had a bazooka team in his company. He remembers an incident when a German tank purposefully ran over a wounded Mexican American soldier. The men then made it a mission to destroy that specific tank. Wells was a part of the heavy weapons company. The navy also had observers on the beach when Wells landed directing them where to fire. The bazooka teams had a high casualty rate because they often had to get very close to the tanks. The squad that Well's brother was in was credited with putting an 88mm shell down the center of a tank. One of the battalions from the 142nd Infantry Regiment had a hard fight at Salerno, however Wells never personally felt that they were ever being pushed back. Wells remembers when two lieutenants were captured, placed on a troop train, and escaped the train by jumping off somewhere in the mountains. A month later they were able to find the rest of their outfit and survived the war. During the Battle of San Pietro, Wells' whole squad was knocked out but he continued on, taking out three snipers by himself. Wells describes the rural Italian cities in which most of his combat experience took place.

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Raymond Wells and his men had periods when they would go 48 hours without rest and only one canteen of water and salt tablets. Sometimes the men would drink out of ditches. Wells remembers having pills that the men would drop into their canteens to purify the water. Wells’ battalion commander was wounded six times. There was one man who Wells had to straighten out during battle who was a coward and got captured. On Mt. Retundo's forward slope Wells encountered eight or nine German soldiers who they talked to for a while without firing upon. Wells says that more than likely they did not engage because it was pitch black and they probably did not know how many machine guns they were surrounded by. The Germans blew up the dam at the Rapido River so it was wider than normal with very steep banks. Originally engineers had placed a foot bridge over the river but it had been blown up. People started using rubber boats but they were problematic because there were holes and they would sink. If you got to the other side of the river you were stuck. After the battle there was a truce which allowing both sides pick up their wounded and dead to be brought back across the river.

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While Raymond Wells was in the hospital a driver picked him up and when he got back to his company they made him a platoon sergeant. There were only 30 men left in his company out of 200. Wells made one patrol to the river during the day. They were able to cross a field without being fired on. Once at the edge of the river the lieutenant received an order to pull back and later that night troops from New Zealand relieved them. One night the men had to walk 32 miles to the top of a mountain with all of their gear and during the day had to hide in a valley. They could only resume climbing once it was dark and only on a small herding trail. Mules were often used to transport the dead down the cliff but sometimes they fell. Going up the mountains there was heavily artillery fire. Wells was in charge of four machine gun crews, but he remembers one specific man named Boston who got wounded and died the same night. Boston killed many Germans. Wells remembers that night as being the largest barrage of artillery he ever experienced. When Wells was hit by the shrapnel he did not feel it because of how hot the metal was. Many were not wounded because they were in fox holes. In Wells’ company there were only three or four wounded, which did not compare to the riffle companies. The hospital was in a sheep herder's rock house. After he was treated, Wells was carried down the hill by two other soldiers who were constantly shot at by snipers. When Wells finally received surgery he was not sewn up for two weeks in case he developed an infection. Back in New Jersey Wells was placed in barracks that were not segregated. The black men were also from Texas. Wells remembers in 1947 when the army began to mix whites and African Americans. Wells remembers while on Okinawa, when a black sergeant and his wife were moved in how many whites protested. Wells went outside to confront the mob, sticking up for the man by saying he was a fellow soldier. Wells’ brother joined the company a few months after him, however they had to lie about their ages so Wells is older in the records. His brother was shot in the ankle by a French dum dum bullet. After that battle he was captured by the Germans and placed on a troop train towards Rome where he was seen by a doctor. Next he was sent to Poland as a prisoner of war and eventually exchanged for a German soldier. Then his brother was sent to New York where they got a suite at a hotel where everything was given to them. A few years before this interview, his foot had to be removed because he had blood poisoning. The pain became so bad that he asked for medication. The doctor informed him that it might kill him and he later died. Wells said that he had lost his wife a few years earlier and was ready to go too.

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Raymond Wells’ younger brother was an armed guard on a Merchant Marine ship in the Pacific. Wells recognizes what a burden this was for his family, having three boys in the military. His other brother was in the 81mm mortar platoon. Wells thought of German paratroopers as good soldiers who never shot prisoners of war. Wells remembers SS troopers having Italian civilians bury their own dead. He remembers seeing children blown up in Italy. Wells says that the war forced him to grow up and change his values. Before the war he was happy go lucky. He believes that the difference between World War 2 and other wars is that almost all men enlisted and those who could not took up jobs to help the war effort. Many families moved to Seattle to work in the aviation industry. Wells was cautious about making true friends in the service because they could be gone the next moment.
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