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Michael Alonzo Wells
Courtesy Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund

West Virginia Veterans Memorial


Michael Alonzo Wells

"If in our daily life we can smile, if we can be peaceful and happy, not only we, but everyone will profit from it. This is the most basic kind of peace work."

Thich Nhat Hanh, Being Peace

Michael Alonzo Wells was born February 7, 1949, in Fairmont, Marion County, West Virginia. Michael's parents were Alonzo Harvey Wells and Edith Irene Wells. He had two brothers, Charles and James Harvey Wells. He grew up in the town of Enterprise in Harrison County, West Virginia. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, in 1950 Harrison County had a population of 84,958. On December 7 of that year, the Veterans Administration Medical Center in Clarksburg was dedicated. Enterprise was a small community with a population of around 961 people. Between 1950 and 1960, Harrison County's population declined 9 percent to 78,000. In 1959, the median family income was $4,969 and over 25 percent of the area's families reported incomes under $3,000. In 1960, total employment had decreased by 14 percent over the past 10 years. Manufacturing comprised 25 percent of the area's total employment, with coal mining and retail trade employing another 25 percent. Clarksburg had been classified as a labor surplus area with substantial and persistent unemployment since May 1960.

The Vietnam War was the second Indochina war. It was a civil war between North and South Vietnam; the North was communist and was backed by the Soviet Union and other communist countries such as China, and South Vietnam was backed by the United States. The U.S. took up financial and military aid of South Vietnam after the first Indochina War. The first waves of unofficial American military involvement, in the early 1960s, were called "advisors." On August 5, 1964, U.S. President Lyndon B. Johnson indicated that the U.S. had officially entered the Vietnam War. The U.S. had approximately 23,000 troops in Vietnam; by the end of 1965 numbers increased to over 180,000, and by 1967, U.S. troop strength was around 480,000. During the Vietnam War era, between 1964 and 1973, the U.S. military drafted 2.2 million American men out of an eligible pool of 27 million.

Michael Alonzo Wells attended public schools and graduated from Shinnston High School in 1968. With the military draft in full swing, Michael decided to enlist in the Army on December 18, 1968; his occupation was 11B (light weapons infantry). Michael attended basic training and advanced individual training at Ft. Knox, Kentucky, before his tour of duty started on May 22, 1969, in Vietnam. Private First Class Michael Wells was a machine gunner assigned to Alpha Company, 2nd Battalion, 47th Infantry (Mechanized) Regiment, 3rd Brigade, 9th Infantry Division.

The 9th Infantry Division's Vietnam history began February 1, 1966, when the "Old Reliables" became the first division to be organized, equipped, and trained for deployment to an overseas combat theatre since World War II. The division's official entry into Vietnam took place on December 19, 1966, when Major General George S. Ekhan II led an advance, prompting Military Assistance Command Vietnam (MACV) Commander General William Westmoreland to remark, "Your alertness, professionalism, aggressiveness, and courage individually, by team, and by unit-add new luster to our outstanding reputation. You have destroyed more of the enemy in seven days than the United States has lost in the seven years of the war since January 1, 1961."

On June 8, 1969, Presidents Richard M. Nixon and Nguyen Yan Thieu met at Midway Island and announced that 25,000 American troops would be redeployed from Vietnam. Five days later it was announced that a majority of this number would be troops of the 9th Infantry Division. The "Old Reliables," minus the 3rd Brigade, were going home.

The 9th Infantry Division's main area of operations (AO) was in the Mekong Delta from 1967 to 1972, and it took part in Operation Speedy Express in 1969. This operation was led by Major General Julian J. Ewell and was part of the U.S. military's "pacification" efforts against the Viet Cong. (Statements herein regarding the military history of this unit are from "9th Infantry Division ORLL [1 May 69 thru 30 June 69]," accessed 1 May 2020, and "Orientation Brochure: 3rd Brigade, 9th Infantry Division," accessed 1 May 2020,

The following excerpts are from a letter written by Jawan Thompson, a veteran who was in the same battalion as Michael Wells, which gives some insight into what Pfc. Wells might have experienced in Vietnam. Thompson writes:

I remember the day a 15-16 year old boy walked into camp looking like a local and leaving a bag he was carrying by some soldiers...luckily we realized what was happening and cleared the area before it blew.... I remember the wonderful sounds of the huey and cobras when we were under heavy fire and needed help.... I remember choppers bringing in a pallet of Coca-Cola or Budweiser-many times for a reward after a heavy encounter. I drank so much Coke over my time there that I couldn't drink Coke for years after getting home.

More than likely, the 2nd Battalion, 47th Infantry (Mechanized) was conducting strike operations within its AO, blocking enemy lines of communications, providing assistance to the government of Vietnam in its accelerated pacification campaign, and was prepared to move and strike enemy positions within their tactical operation zone. The unit was still conducting combined operations with the Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN) having success in destroying the communist's infrastructure.

On June 27, 1969, just 35 days into his tour, Alpha Company was dispatched on an airmobile operation to a small town, Kien Tuong in Long An Province. When they landed, "they came under intense hostile small arms fire. PFC Claude C. De Nardis volunteered, disregarding his personal safety, to move to the left side of the hostile emplacement attempting to get near enough to throw a grenade. Private De Nardis was successful in his attempt and saved the life of his Squad Leader who lay wounded near the emplacement." Unfortunately, Pfc. Michael Alonzo Wells, along with Sgt. Philip Mastramico, Pfc. De Nardis, and Pfc. Alfred H. Kunkel Jr. all perished that fateful day. Pfc. De Nardis and Kunkel were awarded the Silver Star for their bravery that day. The other brave young men earned a Bronze Star for their actions and sacrifices.

Pfc. Michael Alonzo Wells' remains were recovered and returned to West Virginia. He was buried at the IOOF Cemetery in Enterprise, Harrison County, West Virginia. He is memorialized at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall in Washington, D.C., as his name is inscribed on Panel 21W, Line 26. He is also remembered and honored at the West Virginia Veterans Memorial in Charleston, West Virginia.
The military marker at the grave of Michael Alonzo Wells, IOOF Cemetery, Enterprise, West Virginia, sits in the Wells family plot. Courtesy Bobby Bice

The military marker at the grave of Michael Alonzo Wells, IOOF Cemetery, Enterprise, West Virginia, sits in the Wells family plot. Courtesy Bobby Bice

Photo of the Corporal Jerry Lee Halpenny/Pfc. Michael Alonzo Wells Bridge courtesy Bobby Bice

Photo of the Corporal Jerry Lee Halpenny/Pfc. Michael Alonzo Wells Bridge courtesy Bobby Bice

On February 21, 2003, the West Virginia Legislature introduced House Concurrent Resolution No. 50, wherein they directed the West Virginia Division of Highways to rename the bridge crossing the West Fork River at Enterprise, Harrison County, West Virginia to the "Corporal Jerry Lee Halpenny and PFC Michael Alonzo Wells Memorial Bridge." It turns out that Michael grew up only four houses away from Cpl. Jerry Lee Halpenny, who was killed in action in Vietnam on October 13, 1968. Therefore the bridge was named in honor of these two great individuals for their unwavering courage and duty. According to the resolution, "These two young men live in the hearts they have left behind, but they have honored all of us by their sacrifice and it cannot go unnoticed."

The commendations and awards earned by Pfc. Michael A. Wells include the Bronze Star, the Purple Heart, the Combat Infantryman Badge, the Army Commendation Medal, the National Defense Service Medal, the Vietnam Service Medal, the Vietnam Campaign Medal, and the Distinguished Unit Citation. ("Michael Alonzo Wells,", accessed 1 May 2020,

Pfc. Michael Alonzo Wells and others from his unit are forever remembered by a Memorial Scholarship. According to Jawan Thompson,

We who served so proudly with you want to let you know that we have established a Memorial Scholarship to honor your memory and the ultimate sacrifice that you and the other 195 brave soldiers of the 2nd 47th Mechanized Infantry made while serving our country in Vietnam in 1966-1970. Our wish is that this Memorial Scholarship conveys the highest tribute possible to each of you because it comes from the hearts of the soldiers who served with you. It represents the everlasting and inexpressible gratitude we feel for your sacrifice. We got to live the lives that you were deprived of, and this scholarship is one small way of expressing our sorrow for your loss and our appreciation for the magnitude of what you gave. Many of you brave young soldiers sacrificed your own lives to save one of us, and we have carried heartfelt memories of you for nearly four decades. This perpetual Memorial Scholarship is our way of being sure that the memories of love, honor, and respect we feel for you, our Panther Brothers lost in combat, will live on forever. (Jawan Thompson, "2nd 47th Mech Infantry Honors Fallen Brother," The Wall of Faces, Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund, 29 December 2010, accessed 1 May 2020,

Article prepared by Wyatt Albertson, John Leef, and MAJ (Ret) T. Brad McGee, George Washington High School JROTC
April 2020


Michael Alonzo Wells

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