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Back to web version document.write(today_string());Saturday, Oct 13, 2007
Posted on Fri, Oct. 12, 2007
Lost, now found

Lexington man relishes memento of dad he never knew

By Jim Warren
[email protected] HERALD-LEADER.COM The little hunk of metal visibly has been through hell -- bent and twisted, blackened in places by searing flames, buried in German soil for almost 60 years.
But the battered dog tag is a precious thing for Lexington's Wayne Wells -- a personal possession, and a memory, of the father he never knew.
"My father had always been held up to me as a war hero," Wells said yesterday. "But he was just stories that I had heard, and anecdotes that my uncles would tell me. I'd never had any of his personal effects. But this is something tangible. In a way, it makes him seem closer."
For most of his life, Wayne thought that his father, 2nd Lt. Millard C. Wells Jr. of Paris, had been lost without a trace somewhere in the North Sea between France and England, killed when his B-24 bomber went down on a combat run in the summer of 1944.
Now, he knows that wasn't true. The plane actually crashed and burned in central Germany. Everybody on board died.
But Millard Wells' dog tag survived and has found its way back to Kentucky and to the son who was born exactly six weeks before Millard Wells died.
The Pentagon officially announced yesterday that the remains of nine crewmen from the B-24 have been identified and are being returned to their families.
"Someone at work said it's like getting closure when you weren't looking for it," said Wayne Wells, an engineer with the Lexington-Fayette Urban County Government. "I've never been in the service myself, but I'm impressed by (the military's) genuine interest in this. When they find somebody who has been lost, they bring them home to American soil."
The Pentagon said the remains of these other crew members also have been identified: 1st Lt. David P. McMurray of Melrose, Mass.; Staff Sgt. Robert L. Cotey of Vergennes, Vt.; 1st Lt. Raymond Pascual of Houston; Tech Sgt. Leonard J. Way of Upper Falls, Md.; Staff Sgt. Francis E. Larrive of Laconia, N.H.; Staff Sgt. Robert J. Flood of Neelyton, Pa.; and Staff Sgt. Walter Schlosser of Lake City, Mich.
McMurray was the pilot of the B-24 Liberator; Millard Wells Jr. was the co-pilot.
The remains of Ray and Flood already have been returned and were buried last week in their home areas, according to the Associated Press.
Millard Wells and the others will be buried at Arlington National Cemetery, with full military honors, sometime next spring, Wayne Wells said.
For Wayne Wells, yesterday's announcement was the final chapter in a story that began about 2002, when he was stunned by a phone call from Germany. A man named Enrico Schwartz, who searches for old War War II crash sites as a hobby, told Wayne Wells that he thought he'd found where his father had crashed.
"Honestly, the first time I talked to Enrico, I thought it might be some kind of scam," Wells said. "We had always thought my father went down in the North Sea. That's what they had told my mother at the time."
But Schwartz and his colleagues, using transcripts of old radio transmissions, identified the likely crash site as a farm near Westeregeln, which had been under Soviet control until Germany was reunified in the 1990s. With permission from the farm owner, they excavated the site and began finding signs. One of them was Millard Wells' dog tag.
In November 2002, Schwartz turned the dog tag over to the U.S. Army, which then began an intense, systematic investigation that resulted in remains being found in 2003. The Armed Forces DNA Identification Laboratory eventually identified the remains of each individual flier using dental records, DNA analysis and other forensic tools.
In August, the Army sent representatives to Wayne Wells' home to report their findings and deliver the dog tag.
Wayne noted that both his mother and his brother died several years ago, never knowing the true story.
Millard Wells and his buddies were part of a "tough luck crew," in what is still remembered as the "Hard Luck Group."
They were members of the U.S. Army Air Force's 492nd Bomb Group, a unit of the 8th Air Force, assigned to hammer Nazi Germany from the air, operating out of bases in England. The 492nd earned its "Hard Luck Group" title the hard way, suffering so many casualties during 89 days in combat that it was disbanded in August 1944.
Wells and his fellow crew members were shot down over France in June 1944 but parachuted to safety. Given a new plane, they returned to combat.
On July 7, 1944, they were part of a large raid on an aircraft factory at Bernberg, Germany. On their way home, they were swarmed by German fighters. Twelve planes went down.
Wells' plane ripped a deep hole in the ground. The Germans apparently removed the wreckage, but buried the remains of the fliers in the hole left by the crash. There they remained for almost 60 years.
In a crew picture taken in 1944, Millard Wells wears a leather bomber jacket, his Army overseas cap cocked at a jaunty angle. He is smiling, as if looking forward to life after the war. Probably, he already knew he had a child on the way.
When he learned that his son had been born on May 23, 1944, he wrote him a letter, which Wayne Wells still has.
"He addressed the letter to me, and just told me to take care of my mother," Wayne said. "He was a romantic kid. He was only 21 years old when he died. It's hard to think of your father as a kid, but he never got beyond that."
Wayne said he had the option of having his father's remains returned here for burial. But he chose to have the burial at Arlington.
"Being in Arlington is an honor," Wayne said. "And my take on it is that he's been buried with his crew for almost 60 years, and they should be kept together."
WWII mystery solved
Reach Jim Warren at (859) 231-3255, 1-800-950-6397, Ext. 3255.


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