John Wells was born on March 23, 1920, in Marion, Ohio. He enlisted in the U.S. Navy on January 25, 1939, and after completing basic training and advanced training at NTS Norfolk, Virginia, he served aboard the destroyer USS Wasmuth (DD-338) from April to December 1939. His next assignment was to the Submarine School at Submarine Base New London, Connecticut, from December 1939 to February 1940, followed by service as a Torpedoman aboard the submarine USS R-2 (SS-79) from February 1940 to March 1941. TM3c Wells then served aboard the submarine USS O-7 (SS-68) from March 1941 to March 1942, during which time he attended the Torpedo School at Newport, Rhode Island, from July to September 1941. His next assignment was as a Torpedoman aboard the submarine USS Grunion (SS-216) during her fitting out in March 1942, through her commissioning in April 1942, and until he was killed in action during a confrontation with the armed Japanese freighter Kano Maru on July 30, 1942. On August 22, 2007, a search team organized by the three sons of CDR Mannert Abele (the Captain of the Grunion when she was sunk) used a remotely operated vehicle to find a sunken vessel 3,000 feet down in the Bering Sea north of Kiska Island at the tip of the Aleutian Islands. On October 1, 2008, the U.S. Navy announced that the sunken vessel is the World War II submarine USS Grunion (SS-216).
His Navy Commendation Medal Citation reads:
For meritorious conduct as a member of the crew of the U.S.S. GRUNION which destroyed three enemy destroyers while engaged in a war patrol in enemy controlled waters. Despite severe and persistent anti-submarine measures resulting from these three successful attacks, the GRUNION was brought safely through the counter attacks and continued an aggressive war patrol. As a member of the crew of the GRUNION, your performance of duty was an important and material contribution to the prosecution of this war.