For Immediate Release
June 17, 2010
Family Reunion Honors the Legacy of a Dad and Vietnam
War Hero July 4th As the US and Vietnam Commemorate the
15th Anniversary of the Bilateral Trade Agreement
Many Families Continue to Heal From War
(San Francisco - June 17, 2010) This
July, the U.S. and Vietnam are commemorating 15 years of the
establishment of the Bilateral Trade Agreement. This July is also the
first anniversary of the death of Vietnam War era Secretary of Defense
Robert S. McNamara. And this July, beyond the headlines and
ongoing global impact of the U.S. Vietnam War, a family gathers in San
Francisco over the July 4th weekend to honor the legacy of their
own family's Vietnam War Hero.
Specialist 5 Wyley Wright was just
two weeks shy of returning to the U.S. when he was killed on March 9,
1964 during his last mission as an honor guard for then Secretary of
Defense Robert S. McNamara who was visiting troops in Vietnam. Wyley was
survived by his wife, Ouida (29), and their four children, Jackie (10),
Joe (8), Stanley (6) and Phyllis (6 months).
Hand painted photos by Vietnamese artist at a Saigon studio commissioned by
Sp5 Wright & presented as anniversary gifts for wife Ouida, shortly
before his death.
Over 46 years later, the children of Sp5 Wyley Wright and Ouida F.
McLendon Wright, will honor their father and his legacy during The
Simmons Family Reunion at the historic Westin St. Francis Hotel in San
Francisco, July 1-5, 2010.
When the four Wright siblings moved
to the San Francisco Bay Area during the early 80's and '90's from
Georgia, they had no idea that San Francisco would have been the first
city in the contiguous United States their father would have returned to
after his service in Vietnam.
The Wright children, Jackie Wright
(56), Joe Wright (54), Stanley Wright (51) and Phyllis Cameron (46), are
hosting the reunion to honor their father and celebrate the
extended Simmons/Wright family members they have discovered over the
"Our Dad was an only child. We were
blessed to be reconnected to his uncle, James Wright, and cousins of his
extended family at the biennial Simmons Family Reunion," said Jackie
Wright, who began attending in 1996.
Jackie, the eldest of the
Wrights, who knew their father was among the first war heroes who were
called "advisers" and ordered to Vietnam by then President John F.
Kennedy, began finding out more about her father and the unit he served
with via the Internet. She found a website for the 114th Aviation
Company that had been based in Fort Knox, Kentucky and served during the
Vietnam era from 1963-1972. "It was amazing to correspond with
soldiers from my father's unit many years after his death," said Wright.
"The respect and honor and compassion they expressed over 40 years
later was healing for me, a grown woman, who still feels the pain of not
seeing my father walk through the door when I knew he had completed all
of his missions and was just two weeks from returning home, said
After months of corresponding off
and on with various soldiers beginning in 2008, Wright discovered that
the Vinh Long military compound renamed "Shannon Wright" had been named
in honor of her father, a helicopter crew chief, and Lieutenant Kenneth
Arthur Shannon, both of whom died in March 1964. They were the first
casualties of the 114th Air Mobile Company, "Knights of the Air."
The fact that Sp5 Wyley Wright, Jr.
was just two weeks shy of returning home to the U.S. with orders to fly
to Ft. Hamilton, New York, but died on his last mission as an honor
guard for Secretary of State McNamara's tour of Vietnam, created a great
deal of media attention. The tragic story about their father's death
became national news and headline news in both Phenix City, Alabama,
where they resided at the time, and Jacksonville, Florida, their
father's home of record.
article tells the story of Sp5 Wyley Wright Jr. & PFC John Francis
Shea of Connecticut who died in the helicopter accident while serving as
honor guards escorting Sec.Defense Robert S. McNamara in Vietnam March
9, 1964. (Photo courtesy of Jim Haslitt & 114th Aviation Company.)
remember seeing Walter Cronkite on CBS News reporting as the wreckage
of the helicopter was being pulled out of the Saigon River all the time
hoping my father had escaped somehow and would be found alive in the
jungles of Vietnam," Jackie said. The media coverage had an impact on
her to become a three-time Associated Press Award winning journalist and
a media activist, who now owns her own public relations firm, Wright
Enterprises, based in San Francisco (www.wrightnow.biz). "We hope our story of courage on
the homefront will inspire those in the early stages of the pain of loss
from the current wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and elsewhere to live
life to the fullest with faith, hope and charity (love)," added Jackie.
The power of the Internet that provided the Wrights with more details
about their father's death years later, also confirmed the unspoken
concern that the Wright's did not have to lose their father. According
to the account written in the "Gold Book" by Commander George J. Young,
it was failed helicopter equipment coupled with the hubris of a "green
pilot" that resulted in the untimely deaths of Wyley Wright Jr., 32 and
John Francis Shea, 20 of Willimantic, Connecticut.
"It all began with my sister first
finding out that our father's name was on a microchip that had been sent
out to space by NASA. Shortly afterwards, she found the 114th Aviation
Company website and established contact with soldiers who had served in
my Dad's unit. From that link, soldiers we did not know
began giving us bits of our father's history and information that we
were not aware of such as photos we had never seen of our father and
scenes of the wreckage from the incident that McNamara had witnessed. We
learned that the Cobra Helicopter was named by our Dad," said Joe
Wright, a veteran who served in the U.S. Army for eight years and now
drives for MV Transportation helping people with disabilities.
Having begun to find out new and significant details of their father's
history, Jackie posted a tribute to him at their family's
blogspot in 2008. Since then, she found out that
their father was honored with a base being named after him. "This
experience, especially over the last two years, is calling me to write
and develop a documentary," said Jackie Wright. "This was reinforced on
March 9th of this year as I purposely decided not to focus on our Dad's
sacrifice on the anniversary of his death. That day I got an email from
the son of a soldier who too had lost his father around the same age I
was at the time our Dad died. He said that our family's story of faith
in the Lord Jesus Christ helped him overcome some of the pain of the
loss of his own father. The previous year in March 2009, I found a
letter sent to our
Ouida F. Wright, widow of Sp5 Wyley Wright Jr. written by Commander
George J. Young March 13, 1964.
from our Dad's Commander George J. Young dated March 13, 1964 with an
address APO 157, San Francisco. Six years to the day after our Dad died,
our beloved mother died of cancer on March 9, 1970 at the age of 35,
around noontime, the same hour as our father.
The eldest of four siblings who were
now war orphans, Jackie was only 10 when her Dad died and was at the
tender age of 16 when her mother died. At the age of 20, Jackie took on
the role of family matriarch and raised two of her three younger
siblings, Stanley and Phyllis. While working her way through the
University of Georgia, she continued to raise her sister along with her
own young daughter, Tiffanie, after her marriage to her high school
Jackie is considered the family
historian. "I am being drawn to tell our story," she said. "Our
family's story represents the thousands of families that have suffered
losses due to war that through faith and hard work overcome many
obstacles. Despite having lost our parents at very young ages, the
values they instilled in us and the foundation they provided, set us on a
course to achieve in life. People like my brothers who work in the
transportation industry, who take care of their families, and my sister
who is an accomplished business woman, mother and wife, are rarely given
recognition. My sister, Phyllis, is a marvel. She was six months old
when our father died and he never even had a chance to hold her in his
arms. She was only six years old when our mother died, yet she grew up
to get a college degree and has been a productive citizen all of her
life," said Jackie.
The Wright children will share the beauty of San Francisco and
accentuate the positive legacy of their father and of his family. Close
to 100 family and friends are expected to enjoy the Simmons Family
Reunion of extended relatives. Most of the people arriving will be
coming from the Eastern Seaboard and the Southeast and will be visiting
San Francisco for the first time. Plans include a barbecue, tours of the
Bay Area, a family and friends talent show at the banquet planned for July 3rd
at the Empress of China Restaurant
and a July 4th family prayer breakfast at San Francisco's hometown favorite Lefty O'Douls Restaurant
followed by worship at New Birth California
in Pittsburg . The more daring among family and
friends will also try to squeeze in a day trip to Los Angeles.
"We are so pleased to have our brother Stanley (the first to have moved
to the Bay Area) and his family join us from his current home in
Orangeburg, South Carolina, and the founders of the family reunion, our
cousins and elders Annie Mae Bordeaux (72) and Ida Mae Bennett (70), who
are sisters from Jacksonville, Florida, and all the family that will be
gathering, some from Germany and returning from Iraq," said Phyllis
"This time of family and friends gathering is so significant being
shortly after Father's Day, during the Independence Day celebration, and
the one year anniversary of McNamara's death at 93 on July 6th," said
Stanley Wright. "Our Dad served in the Korean War and died in the
Vietnam War serving this country. In our last family meeting with him,
he told us he was going off to war to help bring democracy to the people
of Vietnam. We are so honored that our family will be gathering for fun
and affirmation and that we can welcome them to the City in which our
Dad would have landed before embarking on his journey home to us," he
Vinh Long Gate in South Vietnam named in honor of Vietnam Heroes Lt.
Kenneth A. Shannon and Sp5 Wyley Wright, Jr.
(Courtesy of the 114th Aviation Company, Air Mobile Light).
For more information about the
114th Aviation Company-Air Mobile Light, , visit http://www.114thaviationcompany.com/
Wrights extend special thanks to Jim Haslitt, Charles T. Brown, Terry
Dell, John Nichols, Noah Dillion, Jeff Carr and all the "Knights of the
Air" with a special salute to their families.
# # #
Editors: For interviews or additional information, contact GSA
Communications at 415-563-7064, or call Jackie Wright directly at