Born: April 7, 1927
Retired Air Force Lt. Colonel Theodore N. Wells Jr. is one of a handful of people in the U.S. to serve in three branches of the U.S. military. In addition to the Air Force, he served in the Army and Navy and built a solid record of achievement.
He was instrumental in establishing the nation’s northern most aerial defense system, the Northeast Air Command in Greenland, Newfoundland and Northeast Canada, and was a tireless advocate for maintaining benefits for veterans and their dependents.
Wells, a widower, is now 88 years old living comfortably in a garden home at American Village in the Broad Ripple area of Indianapolis. He continues to stay abreast of military issues and supports causes that fight to prevent government waste.
“All veterans are called heroes, but very few are. Each one just does his duty, whatever that may be, wherever it may be,” said Wells who served in active and reserve service for 42 years. “We deserve respect, but not worship. Serving one’s country is both a responsibility and an honor – a citizen’s duty.”
While Memorial Day recognizes veterans who died in military service, Veteran’s Day – observed around the globe on Nov. 11 – honors living men and women who have served in the military. Recognition is given not only to those who saw combat but also to those who did not, which is the majority of servicemen, said Wells.
Shortly before graduating from Arsenal Technical High School, Wells joined the military as a private and retired as a lieutenant colonel. He held top secret clearance. He was among the original cadre to implement the Air Force Reserve.
Wells served during World War II, the Korean War, the Cuban Missile Crisis, Vietnam and the Cold War. His five children were each born at a different military base.
After fulfilling his commitment to the Navy, he joined the Army National Guard in October 1947 and later he joined the newly created U.S. Air Force as part of its first officer cadet class.
He taught ROTC at Purdue University where some of his cadets went on to create the nation’s space program – NASA.
He remained in the Air Force until 1987 and retired with numerous honors. In civilian life, he was a teacher and businessman. He also volunteered in the community and his church.
Retirement gave him time to continue his service. He was a founding member of the Indiana Military Coalition, a consortium of Indiana military organizations. He was elected by four military organizations to represent them before Congress considering changes to military benefits provided by Tri Care for Life. Eliminating this provision would have deprived retirees and their widows of significant medical, pharmacy and commissary benefits.
“As a result, nearly two million military retirees and widows were immediately helped, as well as all subsequent retirees and widows,” he said.
He also fought to have Indiana provide a $5,000 annual tax deduction for anyone with qualified military service.
Wells was interviewed for the Veterans History Project created by former U.S. Sen. Richard G. Lugar. His interview is part of the Library of Congress/American Folklife Center National Veterans History Collection.
In a letter to one of Wells’ grandchildren who nominated him for the project, Lugar wrote: “You should be proud of your grandfather’s service to our country. Today’s generations and future citizens have much to learn from those who served.”