The Marine who led the charge up Mount Suribachi to place the first American flag over Iwo Jima in World War II died last week.
First Lt. John Wells died Thursday at the age of 94 at a rehabilitation center in Arvada, Colorado, local ABC affiliate Denver 7 reported. Wells was awarded the Navy Cross, Bronze Star, and Purple Heart for his service in World War II commanding the 3rd Platoon, Easy Co. 28th Marines. Wells led his men in a frontal assault up Mount Suribachi during the Battle of Iwo Jima on Feb. 21, 1945.
While Wells did not make it to the top of the mountain himself—he was shot several times by the Japanese—his leadership resulted in his Marines raising the first American flag above Iwo Jima. The iconic photo of the second American flag being raised was taken hours later.
“By his courageous leadership and indomitable fighting spirit, 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,” Wells’ Navy Cross citation reads.
Wells’ daughter, Connie Schultz, told Denver 7 that the decorated World War II veteran was a true family man who loved the Marine Corps.
“He was a very warm, sensitive, spiritual man all the way to age 94,” Schultz said. “He honored and loved the Marine Corps with all his heart and soul. He loved his family and his last words were, ‘My family.’”
Wells was born in Lakeview, Texas, and attended college at Texas A&M University before joining the Marine Corps. Following World War II, he finished his degree at Texas Tech University and went into the oil business, continuing to serve in the Marine Corps Reserve until 1959.
A funeral will be held for Wells on Saturday in Abilene, Texas, and Reverend Paul Matta, former Texas Gov. Rick Perry, and Lt. Gen. (Ret.) Joe Weber will officiate, according to his obituary.