S1c Raymond Virgil Jr. Wells

Unknown Sailor

S1c Raymond Virgil Jr. Wells

Twelve days after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, the newspaper in Nevada, Missouri 85 miles south of Kansas City reported that Alice Wells was “suffering under the terrible suspense of not knowing whether her two fine boys have made the supreme sacrifice for their country or whether they escaped from the inferno in Pearl Harbor.”

Two days later, on Dec. 21, 1941, the Navy notified Mrs. Wells that William Bennett Wells was among the missing on the U.S.S. Arizona. The note didn’t mention the fate of his older brother, Raymond Virgil Wells Jr. It wasn’t until January that she learned that Raymond, too, was dead on the battleship.

The brothers were seamen first class.

Their lives had been difficult. Their father, Raymond Virgil Wells Sr., an Army veteran of World War I who was a locomotive fireman and later a farmer,, was sentenced to a year in prison in 1929 for vehicle theft and liquor possession. In 1934 he was acquitted of murdering a woman. He was arrested again within months and sentenced to 15 years for holding up a local doctor and stealing his new car.

Alice Paul Wells, a homemaker, was left to raise their five sons and newborn daughter during the depths of the Great Depression.

Raymond Jr., the oldest son, was born March 31, 1919 in Missouri, likely in Nevada where his mother was born and raised. He enlisted in the Civilian Conservation Corps, a federal jobs program, in 1935 and served two years. The pay was a pittance — about $30 a month, the equivalent of $580 in 2022 dollars — but the CCC provided young men food, housing, and medical care in exchange for their labor building roads and recreation facilities, planting trees, and the like. 

William, the second oldest, was born July 2, 1920 in Missouri even though the family at the first of the year was in Fort Scott, Kansas about 18 miles west of Nevada. They were staying with the father’s parents.

William delivered newspapers and also served two years in the CCC. Both brothers graduated from high school in Nevada, a town of about 8,000.

Raymond Jr. enlisted in the Navy on Jan. 7, 1938, and went aboard the Arizona that April. William enlisted on Feb. 13, 1940, and joined his brother on the battleship that June.

Their brothers also served in the military during World War II. Robert was in the CCC and then in the Navy. Richard served in the Army Air Force and Charles in the Navy. A sister was the youngest sibling. In honor of his brother, Charles named his son William.

William and Raymond Wells were lauded at a memorial service at Centenary Methodist Church in Fort Scott in February 1942.


Sources: The Fort Scott (Kansas) Herald; The Southwest Mail and The Weekly Post of Nevada, Missouri; the Joplin (Missouri) Globe; The Chillicothe (Missouri) Constitution-Tribune; the St. Louis (Missouri) Post-Dispatch; the Jefferson City (Missouri) Post-Tribune; application for military interment; grave markers; Census; Navy muster rolls; Nevada High yearbook. Thanks to a great niece, Kristin Wells, for the photographs, which show Raymond on the left and William on the right. This profile was researched and written on behalf of the U.S.S. Arizona Mall Memorial at the University of Arizona.

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