June 20, 2018

Community News

Family Honors Vietnam War Hero in San Francisco July 4th Weekend
June 15, 2010

Press Release For Immediate Release
GSA Communications

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.
Wyley & Ouida Wright

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 last decade. 
"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 Wright." 
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. 
This 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.)
article about March 9, 1964 incident
"I 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
Letter to Ouida F. Wright, widow of Sp5 Wyley Wright Jr. written by Commander George J. Young March 13, 1964.
Commander Young Letter to Ouida F. Wright
Mom 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 sweetheart dissolved.
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 Cameron.

"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 added.

Photo of 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).
Vinh Long-Shannon Wright Gate Vietnam

For more information about the 114th  Aviation Company-Air Mobile Light, , visit http://www.114thaviationcompany.com/.  The 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 415-525-0410.

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