Marine Veteran John Keith Wells – The first Iwo Jima flag raising


Lieutenant John Keith Wells led one of the most decorated infantry platoons in Marine Corps history – 3rd Platoon, 28th Marines, 5th Marine Division. He led them at Guadalcanal and on Feb. 19, 1945 he led them on Iwo Jima – one of America’s most historic battles.

Upon landing on the Japanese held island, his platoon was tasked with assaulting the foothills of Mount Suribachi. Attacking across open terrain littered with enemy fortifications and pillboxes. Wells lead his men from the front, encountering machine-gun, mortar and rifle fire. He continuously moved across the line to lead his assault groups forward.

“Give me 50 Marines not afraid to die and I can take any position,” Wells famously said about his Marines who destroyed 25 enemy emplacements on their way up Mount Suribachi.

He was severely wounded during an assault, but continued to command until the objective’s enemy blockhouse was destroyed. Unable able to walk, he posted himself at a position where he could observe his men and continue to command before he was evacuated to a hospital ship.

1st Lt. Harold G. Schrier filled in for the wounded Wells, the final push up Mount Suribachi. On Feb. 23 at approximately 10:20 a.m., 3rd Platoon, 28th Marines, 5th Marine Division breached its summit and planted an American Flag – the first, but often overlooked flag raised that day.

Too small to be seen from the beach, leadership ordered a larger flag to be taken to the top of Mount Suribachi to mark the United States first captured Japanese territory.

So admired by his men, leadership allowed for the wounded Wells to be carried off the hospital ship and escorted to the top of the Mountain so he could witness the raising of the larger flag—that became a beacon of hope and an iconic image for the ages.

Wells remained in the reserves after the war and retired as a Major. He passed away on Feb. 11, at age 94, just 12 days shy of the 71st anniversary of that historic event.

We honor his service and all those brave Marines that followed him on Iwo Jima.


Tim Hudak

  joined the VA in December 2013 and is on the Veterans Experience Office team. Tim, a Chicago-land native enlisted in the Marine Corps straight out of high school. As an intelligence analyst he deployed to Al Anbar province, Iraq with Marine Heavy Helicopter Squadron 363 in 2006 and 2008. After the Marine Corps, Tim used the GI Bill to earn a degree in Intelligence Studies from Mercyhurst University in Erie, Pa., and co-founded the university’s first student Veteran organization. Tim is active in many Veteran organizations.


  1. Scott    

    Rest in Peace Marine. As our country, that you fought so hard for, has made some wrong turns off the freedom path there are still a few of us that will not forget the sacrifices you and others made for all of us.

  2. John Lothrop    

    Great story about Marines in one of our most iconic battles. We as Marines are who we are because of these guys from Iwo Jima. The generation of Marines who fought in Fallujah,Sangin and Helmond can stand right with the Marines of Iwo. Different era same Marines. Semper Fi.

  3. Jim LEAVOR    

    Semper Fi MARINE, It was an honor of mine that I was part of the Color Guard for the last Marine that passed from the memorialized Iwo Jima Monument, PFC Renee Gagnon in NH in the early 80’s…later to be interred at Arlington.
    MSGJim L. Buffalo, NY; Oceanside, CA:, Nashua NH; Punta Gorda, FL.

  4. Rick Jackson    

    What a wonderful story about a true leader. I do not envy the guys that he commanded; they really had to push themselves in order to keep up with Lt. Wells. Thankfully, he lived a long and productive life. This is an inspiriting story for a great leader for all generations.

  5. Jim Barber    

    Thank you for honoring Lieutenant John Keith Wells with your nice article. I had the opportunity of interviewing Lieutenant Wells in his home about nine years ago, and his testimony was amazing. He was a true American hero.

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