Each Memorial Day, I submit stories of Cloverdale soldiers who have died in service to our country. In the Veterans Building at 205 W. First St., we have a memorial wall of all the Cloverdale servicemen who made the ultimate sacrifice for our country. On this Memorial Day we honor the sacrifice of Second Lieutenant Richard Wells who lived on Commercial Street, just down the street from the Veteran’s building.
Richard Hutson Wells was born on April 19, 1918 in Stevensville, Montana to Bruce and Stella Wells. At a young age, his family moved to Cloverdale, where his father became the publisher of the Cloverdale Reveille newspaper. Wells was deeply involved in many sports activities such as football, basketball, baseball and tennis. In his spare time, he managed to participate in the school orchestra and acting in the high school plays. After school, Wells would help out at the newspaper as a press maker and helping print the newspapers. Wells graduated Cloverdale High School in the Class of 1936 and eventually became an assistant publisher of the newspaper.
In Oct.16, 1940, at the age of 22, Wells was required to register for the military draft and for his own reasons, eventually decided to join the military. Wells enlisted into the U.S. Army on April 3, 1941, eight months before the December 7, 1941 attack on the United States at Pearl Harbor.
Richard H. Wells, service number 01314699, worked his way through basic training and eventually earned the rank of Second Lieutenant. Wells was assigned to the 242nd Infantry Regiment, 42nd Infantry Division a makeshift National Guard Division made up of soldiers from all parts of the country. Following their combat training at Camp Gruber, Oklahoma, the 42nd Division of mostly “green” soldiers arrived in Marseille, France on Dec. 8-9, 1944. It is written that Wells, “Had a ‘soft’ job in the army, free from all the danger and apparently could have kept it for the duration of the war. He felt that while other boys were forced to fight, to endure hardships, to suffer and to die, he would not be doing his full duty unless he got into the fighting himself. So, he petitioned to be transferred to a combat regiment.” Wells was assigned as an officer in an anti-tank company.
The 42nd Division moved their way up through France arriving in the Northeast section of France near the Rhine River to the French/German border town of Hatten on Christmas Eve 1944. Wells and the 42nd Division were now in the midst of battle in the cold of winter. The “Operation Norwind” was the last German major offensive that was referred to as the “Other Battle of the Bulge.” German soldiers were clad in white camouflage to blend in with the snow and the U.S. troops were easily visible in only their olive drab wool combat uniforms.
Just after midnight on Jan. 9, 1945, the first contact with an enemy patrol was reported. By 0225, the area around the town of Hatten was receiving heavy enemy artillery and mortar fire. By 0400 hours it was reported that enemy infantry was now attacking in force. The third squad of the first platoon reported to Wells by phone that they were under attack by enemy rifle and machine gun fire. Wells tried to notify the first and second squads by phone but discovered that all communication lines had been broken by the artillery barrage. Wells ordered S/SSgt. Milmont to check on the third squad to see if they were alright. Wells went on to check on the first and second squads and found that they were intact but receiving heavy machine gun and mortar fire. He started moving back toward the third squad position by crawling through a hail of enemy fire. The enemy kept coming and even fired on the third squad from guns of a captured American tank destroyer.
Under direction of Wells, the third squad made an attempt to get back to the edge of the town of Hatten to fight from the houses but were pinned down. In the meantime, the first and second squads made a counterattack and were able to temporarily drive the enemy off. Wells received reports that their ammunition was running low and the enemy was regrouping for another attack. Wells decided to take off in a jeep to get more ammunition, he eventually returned with a load of ammunition at a critical moment when at least 15 enemy tanks and ten armored personnel carriers came streaming out of the woods. The enemy tanks and the Third platoon opened fire simultaneously as the ammunition was being unloaded. Both sides exchanged gunfire and suffered heavy casualties, eventually the enemy tanks retreated back into the woods leaving four enemy tanks and two personnel carriers blazing and wrecked on the snowy field.
As the long day moved on and the battle continued, the Germans advanced and had taken control of most of Hatten except for a small section of town where the 242nd continued to fight off the enemy. Wells went back into the town Hatten to notify his captain of their dire situation and that he was going to make an attempt to drive through the lines with his Jeep to contact regiment and inform them of the situation and at the same time he would ask for artillery fire. Wells and his driver set out and met up with the third squad at 1415 hours, and they encountered a group of German soldiers who came from behind a building with raised hands yelling “don’t shoot” in German. Wells told the men of the third squad to hold their fire. This turned out to be a trick for the Germans to get better positions. The Germans ran for the doorways of nearby houses and opened fire on the men. Lieutenant Wells and his men returned small arms fire and also with their 57 mm anti-tank gun. They fired not only the houses the Germans ran into but every house in sight. Soon after, the Germans returned sniper and artillery fire on the squad. At one point, Wells went out for more ammunition in his Jeep and returned with the small arms ammunition and passed it out amongst his men. Meanwhile, enemy sniper fire was getting heavier. Wells said he was going to enter one of the houses from which the sniper fire was heavy.
On January 31, 1945, Mr. and Mrs. Wells received a notification from Washington: “The Secretary of War desires me to express his deepest regrets that your son, Lieutenant Richard H. Wells has been reported missing in action since ten January. In case further details or information are received you will be promptly notified.”
During the battle at Hatten the 42nd “Rainbow Division” suffered losses including; 614 killed, 2605 wounded, 855 missing in action and 245 captured. The town of Hatten was completely leveled during the fighting. The 242nd Infantry Regiment received the Presidential Unit Citation for their actions in battle.
Second Lieutenant Richard H. Wells was listed as Missing in Action on Jan. 9, 1945 until the end of November 1945 when he was officially pronounced dead by the war department.
In a letter written to the parents of Richard H. Wells, Major General Harry Collins wrote: “I am told that most of the village was demolished by shell-fire. Of the heroic defenders of Hatten some are dead. Some have been liberated from German prison camps while others are still missing. I have been unable to find anyone who can give me any information about your son from the time he entered the house to look for snipers.”
Second Lieutenant Richard. H. Wells was killed in the town of Hatten, France on January 9, 1945. His remains were eventually found, and he was buried at the Lorraine American Cemetery in St. Avold, France. Richard H. Wells of the Cloverdale High School class of 1936 was awarded the Purple Heart, the Combat Infantry Badge and the Presidential Unit Citation along with his other military commendations.