PASADENA (CBS) — Flipping through photos of history, World War II bomber pilot John Wells recalls his recent return to Australia for a plaque dedication and the commemoration of the 70th anniversary of the American troops’ arrival in 1942.
CBS2/KCAL9’s Serene Branson talked with Wells who recounted living in tents and off the land as part of the 22nd Bomb Group, known as the Red Raiders. It was the first complete group of men and aircraft to reach Australia.
At 93, Wells is the lone survivor. He attended the ceremony along with the sons and grandson of his comrades.
“That was a little humbling. I was standing up in front of a couple of hundred people at the dedication of our 22nd Bomb Group plaque and suddenly realized that I was representing three or four thousand men,” he said.
Wells even had a replica uniform made for the trip.
“The original uniforms all wore out and the only thing I had left from World War II… a former uniform was an arctic parka and you sure didn’t need arctic parka in September,” he said.
He recalled a warm welcome, visiting some familiar spots, just like in 1942.
Said Wells, “at least a half of the time, we’d be in the movie and all of a sudden there’d fly on the screen, ‘all airmen report to their base.’ And the Aussies would yell, ‘good luck Yank, good luck.'”
But some of the memories are dark. The descent into Pearl Harbor is still haunting.
“It looked like a scrap yard… hangers were devastated, burned out hulks of aircraft were still lying around,” he said. “We were well trained for what we did but we had absolutely no training as to what combat was gonna be like.”
They lost men but completed the first B-26 Marauder combat mission in World War II.
Although his return to his camp in Australia was bittersweet, Wells received a welcome fit for a humble hero.
“I never really felt like this before. I was put on a pedestal,” he said.