Wells Eldon Cunningham

Army of the United States
19 November 1939 - 17 August 1966
St Joseph, Missouri
Panel 10E Line 015


Silver Star

Combat Infantry

Purple Heart, National Defense, Vietnam Service, Vietnam Campaign

The database page for Wells Eldon Cunningham

30 Apr 2005

Captain, U.S. Army Special Forces

Captain Cunningham was the Commanding Officer of Detachment B-25's "A" Team of Det A-253 (Duc Co), B Co, 5th SF Grp in South Vietnam. A native of St. Joseph, Missouri, he was killed during hostile action on August 17, 1966.

11/19/39 - 8/17/66

Wells Cunningham graduated from the University of Missouri in 1961. Wells was a member of Williams House, a section of a campus dormitory that housed about sixty male students. The men of Williams House were a well organized and fraternal group. Many of them, who are in their sixties now, have stayed in touch through the years. They remember Wells Cunningham. These are their comments:

Lee Tyree:

Wells and I were only in Williams House together one semester. I started college in the middle of a school year, only a couple of months after my discharge from a four year tour in the Navy. I moved into Williams House in January, 1961 as a first semester freshman. Wells was a last semester senior. I was loaded down with difficult classes, plus I had a job. I was struggling. I needed help. Wells had a reputation as someone who was good in English and I sought him out for help with my English papers. I survived that English class because of Wells Cunningham.

Wells was heavily involved with the ROTC program and was, in fact, the top officer of the Army Company that year. Wells loved all things military. I think that was one reason he befriended me, because I had already served in the military. He didn't care anything at all about the Navy, because he was a dedicated Army man. But stories about military organization and military procedure were of great interest to him.

Wells knew he would become an officer in the Army after graduation, and because of his success within the ROTC program, he knew he would probably be accorded the opportunity to go to any specialized military school he desired. He also knew he would be sent to Vietnam. He was ready for all of it, and wanted it all.

The semester ended, the summer passed, and the next school year started. I gave no thought to Wells Cunningham what-so-ever. Not immediately anyway, until one day while I was standing out in front of Williams House, and this magnificently dressed Army officer with a Green Beret, gold braid, and spit shined boots walked up the steps. He didn't look like Wells, but it was Wells. He looked tough, which was a major departure from his college days. He had gained weight, and it was all muscle. Wells was home on a furlough and had come to Mizzou to visit the campus for a day or two. He probably wanted to show off a bit, and who could blame him. Some of us gathered in a room and listened to his stories. They were exciting stories, about jungle warfare school, ranger school, jump school, etc. It seemed he had gone to every school the Army had.

Wells was headed for Vietnam immediately after the furlough was over. He figured he would be in combat soon after arriving in Vietnam, and he seemed to be genuinely excited about the prospect. Four years later, in 1966, he was killed, which I speculate must have been his second tour of duty in Vietnam. That probably means he volunteered for a second tour. It was said that he was killed trying to help one of his men, the action of a genuine hero. Where would he be today if he had survived? On the Joint Chiefs of Staff? Probably! I only knew him for a short time, but he was one of those impressive people you never forget.

John Huber:

Wells Cunningham was my friend. He loved to strum his guitar and compose new lyrics to well-known songs. Frequently I hear "Calculus Woman" playing in my head. He was gung-ho when gung-ho wasn't cool, but that didn't bother him. He loved the military and knew from day-one where he would go and why. Even today, the memory of him brings tears to my eyes. Maybe the nation gained something by his service, but I know the nation lost something from his death. His brand of humor and dedication is a rare gift. I'll think of him often, especially on Memorial Day.

Rich Groebl:

I once watched Wells sit down to an old portable manual typewriter, slip in a clean sheet of paper and ghost author a paper that received an "A" grade. He was smart and talented. He played guitar with a flamingo style with a finger on each string. He could and did play solo stuff and entertain people for hours, but I do not think he could read music. If he did not know a tune he would ask you to sing it for him. By the second line he was playing cords with you, and on the second verse he was playing the melody. On the third verse he played the melody with an accompaniment in his own style of play, picking the strings with his fingers rather than just strumming cords. And oh yes, he knew more songs and more verses to them than anyone else. For many of the goodies he knew three sets of verses; clean, bawdy, and gross; a tradition that was carried on long after Wells graduated and left Williams House. I also remember the "chrome dome", the shiny steel helmet he loved to wear to ROTC classes. I think it had to do with the Drill Team.

After leaving Missouri University I joined the Air Force. Almost half of the guys in my Flight Training Class died in Vietnam, but when asked what the biggest loss of Vietnam was my answer has always been, Wells Cunningham.

A minister once told me that we are entitled to know only a half dozen really smart people in our life. I have my list, and Wells is on it. His friends from Williams House, the University of Missouri, the State of Missouri, the United States and the US Army lost big time when we lost Wells Cunningham.

Jim Kramer:

Wells was the elected Governor of Williams house when I arrived in August 1960. He was a good house leader, a good student and big into ROTC, but it is all the fun stuff that I remember. Wells played the guitar and led the music at parties. He taught me the words and melodies to so many of the wonderful Williams House songs, the bawdy ones. Up to that time I didn't know about what "freshman never eat".

I remember the very first day I arrived. Wells led a house meeting and then the older guys took us to The Stables and I had my first "cold one". I was a green freshman! Wells was one of the fellows I looked up to. I remember being taught the 3-man blanket lift, a very useful thing to know. Once when I was walking by Wells dorm room some other poor freshman was having his drawers filled with shaving cream, but I was able to avoid it. I have told the story countless times.

Wells had the ability to hypnotize. I was present for one event in which he put one of the guys under and convinced him that his out of town girl friend had arrived for a visit. He used me as "the girl friend" and the guy started to put his arms around me when Wells snapped his fingers. We all had a good laugh.

When Wells came to visit the campus after Army Ranger training he told us how he had hurt his ankle during the training and rather than quit and start over in the next class, he had it taped up and completed his training. He was tough, and dedicated. I remember asking him to show us how his hands were a dangerous weapon and he jokingly said he'd have to kill me to do it.

I seem to remember all the corny stuff, but he was a serious man living at a very serious time. He missed so much that we have all lived through. How sad. I think of him often.

Don Holloway:

I remember Wells Cunningham very clearly. He and I both lived on the first floor of Williams House one year. I remember his amazing musical ability with the guitar and his unique style of singing and playing. He was a high ranking officer in ROTC. Military life was his total goal, nothing else. He started college as an Engineering major, but switched to Business after one year. He sold his physics book to me and I still have it.

I saw him the year when he returned from Army training and he was excited to get on with it. I have seen his name on the Memorial Wall in D.C. Some people you just don't forget.

Steve Brown:

Wells was one of the first people I met when I entered the University of Missouri in fall 1957. We were both in College Algebra and sat next to one another. I'm sure he got an "A" (he was in Engineering School at that point); I received my only college "D". As a country-bumpkin with a weak math background, I vividly remember seeing his slide-rule and wondering what it was! After that class, we went our separate ways, only to rendezvous a year or so later in Williams House. Wells was already there, and was one of the house leaders who later became the Governor.

Williams House specialized in wild parties, quick wits, sports, and believe or not, in academics. Wells's strong points were a quick wit, academics and ROTC. He also liked to party, but remained on the fringes of the rowdy stuff. Williams House stands out as a successful organization in terms of integrating and including everyone, no matter how weird (I can name several) or how straight-arrow (like Wells). I have a clear memory of Williams House sponsoring an entry in one of Mizzou's many "queen" competitions, which required some kind of skit to be performed in Jesse Hall auditorium. Wells was the center of it, with guitar blaring to "Mostly Martha," until the amplifier and microphone failed, after which the audience probably couldn't hear us beyond the fourth row. I remember Wells singing and strumming, and laughing at our ridiculous situation.

And I do remember his return to Williams House a couple of years later, complete with uniform, beret, swashbuckling moustache, and hard as a rock ... and also more serious. I was gung-ho myself in those years. I recall being somewhat non-plussed by Wells's exaggerated bravado and claims that he could destroy each of us with one karate blow, but also wise enough not to test it.

Fast forward to 1966. I was living with my brother studying for my PhD and getting ready for my final year of school. I was doing some reading when the ABC news-on-the-hour came on, and one of the stories was an on-site report about a Green Beret captain who had gone back into the Vietnamese jungle to retrieve one of his men, and who had just been killed in the process. The sergeant, who was crying while extolling the virtues of his commander, said that Captain Wells Cunningham was a soldiers' soldier, that his men loved him, and that when they brought him out of the bush he had a smile on his face. I remember standing bolt upright, shocked and feeling dizzy hearing this on network news.

I hope that our generation, in all countries, can bequeath more to the next generation than the exaggerated national sentiments that often lead to wars, and claims idealists like Wells Cunningham, who are always the first to volunteer.

Wells Cunningham is front row center,
denoting his high position in the Army ROTC
Tiger Battery at the University of Missouri.

Scabbard and Blade was and is an all-service
military honorary society. Representative of his position
with the organization, Wells Cunningham is front and center.

Wells Cunningham, far right,
with two Williams House buddies,
ready for a party.

Placed by
Lee Tyree
on behalf of Wells's many friends.
02 May 2005

A Life Long Inspiration!

Sir, You were a constant inspiration to all of us in B-3-2. In your spare and personal time in BCT, with a helluva schedule, you formed, trained and led a drill team, of which I was a mighty proud member (I don't think this had ever been done before at Fort Leonard Wood, but something like this was just you). You had us make shoulder cords out of nylon cord and polished M-14 casings. We marched separately and proudly at our graduation, with you in the lead.

You constantly "encouraged" me to apply for OCS, from which I graduated in '67. During this time, frequent thoughts of your military bearing, motivation, love of the Country and Army, Espirit de Corps, and personal demeanor was a constant inspiration for me.

During two tours in "the Nam", I frequently thought of you, I knew you were always "looking over my shoulder".

This "helped" me come home.

I have a small shrine, under an Ocotillo in the desert, here at Yuma Proving Ground, for Major Harold Kroeske, Jr. and you, the Ocotillo is blooming wonderfully right now, (I'm glad you "finally" made it "home").

You won't be forgotten. You were a Soldiers, soldier!

Thank you very much for everything, Sir. Wednesday, April 27, 2005 (My 59th Birthday)

From a friend and BCT Trainee,
Charles H. Wallis

02 Jul 2007

Wells Eldon Cunningham

I knew Wells Cunningham for over twenty years. He was a special person in my life. When he was young (six or seven years old) he would take the quarter that he was given to buy ice cream from the Good Humor man, and then buy ice cream for the kid or kids that didn't have money. His mother would see him give away his ice cream and ask why he did that. He would just beam and smile, and answer "Because they didn't have any money for ice cream and I did." At an early age he learned that it was better to give than to receive. The joy of giving to others was a hallmark for the rest of his life. That was Wells Cunningham.

I remember a cold January day and a hunt for rabbits in Northwest Missouri. His father was older than most dads (probably in his late fifties or early sixties) but liked to hunt. The wind was very brisk and the temperature at zero or below. His dad had not brought a very warm pair of gloves, and his hands were literally blue from holding that cold Model 12 Winchester. Wells unzipped his coat, pulled up his sweater, shirt and t-shirt. He placed his father's hands under his arms and lowered his hands down to his sides. They stood there face to face for five to six minutes, just as natural as could be, talking about the day's hunt and shots they had made. When his father's hands were warm, they continued the hunt. That was Wells Cunningham.

Lafayette High School (St. Joseph, MO) in 1956-1957 was abuzz with that new singer Elvis Presley. Wells had a resemblance to Presley and hair to match. He could play guitar and sing the songs that made Elvis famous, and I guess Wells was the earliest Elvis impersonator! The high school girls just went wild for Wells and the Elvis songs that he sang. He told his father about the screaming and crying that the fairer sex would exhibit when he played. His father could not comprehend people reacting this way and was sure that Wells was exaggerating. A few weeks later the school had a talent show. Wells was to sing and play the guitar. His mother and father were in the audience when the crowd just went wild with screaming and yelling for his rendition of "You Ain't Nothing But A Hound Dog". After the screaming and applause died down (four or five minutes later) Wells leaned into the microphone and said "What'd I tell ya, Dad?" That was Wells Cunningham.

Wells Cunningham was dedicated to the Green Berets, the U.S. Army, and this great country of ours. He had stars in his eyes and I am sure he would have made General rank, if the Viet Nam War had not taken his life. He was just 26 years old, a Captain of Men and Commander of a Special Forces "A" Team. I feel the real loss was what he could have done in the fields of music or politics had he lived and been so inclined. Such a unique person, such promise, such a waste, that also was Wells Cunningham.

Submitted by Boyd B. Cunningham, his younger brother, who after 40 years still grieves and could not write this with a dry eye. Time heals all wounds, but only after you also have passed.

from his brother,
Boyd B. Cunningham

A Note from The Virtual Wall

B Company, 5th Special Forces Group, was responsible for the Detachment B-25 "B" Team in Pleiku Province. In its turn, B-25 commanded a number of "A" Teams in the field, including Detachment A-253 at Duc Co.

On 17 August 1966, the Commanding Officer of Det A-253 and two men from the parent "B" Team at Pleiku were killed in an action west of the Duc Co camp. The three men were

  • MAJ John R. Pearson, Thomasville, GA, Executive Officer, Det B-25
  • CPT Wells E. Cunningham, St Joseph, MO, Commanding Officer, Det A-253 (Silver Star)
  • SP4 Allen G. Wells, Tigard, OR, Intelligence analyst, Det B-25 (Silver Star)
These men aren't forgotten:
  • Major Pearson is one of 26 men whose names appear on the Vietnam Memorial at North Georgia College (The Military College of Georgia) where they received their education, training, and commissions.
  • On another site, Roger McClurg "remember[s] him because he epitomized the soldier many of us hoped to become".
  • On 06 Dec 2002 Command Sergeant Major Mac Williamson (Ret) made a contribution to the St. Augustine (Florida) Empty Stocking Fund in memory of SP4 Allen G. Wells.

The point-of-contact for this memorial is
his brother,
Boyd B. Cunningham

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With all respect
Jim Schueckler, former CW2, US Army
Ken Davis, Commander, United States Navy (Ret)
Memorial first published on 1 May 2005
Last updated 02/13/2008