Monday, June 16, 2008

Tribute to Sp5 Wyley Wright for Father's Day '08

(The photos are copies of the hand painted photos of Sp5 Wyley Wright's wife, Ouida Fay McLendon Wright and a portrait of Wright. He had a Vietnamese artist enlarge the photo he carried around in his wallet to 8.5x11 and He had the artist take a photo of him. He sent the gift of the hand painted photos as a tribute to their love to his wife for their anniversary several months before he died in Viet Nam. I love this photo of my mom, she has the demeanor of Mona Lisa, yet more beautiful).

My Dad Was amazing! And My Mom, an amazing woman, helped him stand his ground by loving him and supporting him even when he battled against the injustices of the military, the U.S. Army that he so loved. He loved being a warrior and helicopter crew chief. He served in the Korean War and his last war, Viet Nam. I take this Father's Day to begin to pay tribute to him and the millions of Black fathers, who love and care for their children. The picture of fathers like mine are rarely seen in the media and as a result there is a distorted picture of Black families.

(2010 note on media response:
Although over 200 Mainstream news media received this news release:
Click Link for news release. Asian Week was the only Bay Area news outlet to pick up on this story:Click Link for Asian Week Story. Most will focus on negative stories in communities of color but will rarely pick up on the thousands of positive stories and role models that exist.)

I take this space and time to share our story (Jackie, Joe, Stanley and Phyllis born to Sp5 Wyley Wright, Jr. and Ouida Fay McLendon Wright). Below is newsletter article I submitted to my father's company, the 114th out of Fort Knox, Kentucky.

114th Website Helps Family Come to Terms with Loss

by Jackie Wright, March 10, 2008

The call of my elder brother, Joe, who is two years younger than me, was for the four of us to go to church and give honor to God who kept us in the absence of our parents. March 9th marked the anniversary of their passing into eternity 44 years and 38 years ago respectively. Sp5 Wyley Wright Jr., and Ouida Fay McLendon Wright, both died on Monday, March 9 during the noon hour. In 1964, our father died in Viet Nam, after completing all of his assignments and having received the Purple Heart and other commendations. He was a Helicopter Crew Chief, a role he deeply loved. He was due home in just two weeks when he was chosen to be an honor guard escorting then Secretary of War, Robert S. McNamara. During that mission the helicopter he was riding in crashed into the Saigon River and he and an 20-year old John Francis Shea of Willimantic, CT. died.

It seemed to me that the deaths of young Shea and my father were as the “Two Witnesses” in Revelation. Why didn’t McNamara take it as a sign to halt instead of escalate the war? 58,000 men and women were sacrificed unnecessarily and that theme of vain sacrifice was indicated from the deaths McNamara witnessed in his first tour of the troops in March 1964. I have not the stomach to see “The Fog of War” about McNamara and the Viet Nam War because I know personally the early signs were there that the Viet Nam War was a mistake. My father’s commander, George J. Young in writing of his first war casualty in the “Gold Book” intimated that the incident 62-01961was unnecessary. I found his entry on the internet:

It’s also found in “Knights Over the Delta,” edited by Steve Stibbens. All is forgiven. My family holds no bitterness toward anyone about the fatal accident. We just still feel the loss as if it had happened yesterday.

Three of us sat around the table with my brother’s wife and youngest son and spoke candidly at a restaurant about the effect of our parents' death. It was the first time we had gathered together and dealt with our “inconvenient truth.” Our brother Stanley, the first to move to the Bay Area in the eighties with me being the last in the nineties, had moved to South Carolina but was there with us in spirit. So Joe, Phyllis and I sat at “Home Town Buffet" after worshiping at Jubilee, coming together for the first time to acknowledge our parents passing, in a very public place. We talked about our false bravado when it came to Mother’s Day and Father’s Day and the school events with parents. We talked about how people felt uneasy around us, almost embarrassed because they didn’t know what to do with this brood of four without parents. We talked about how we encouraged our peers to make the most of their relationship with their parents. We talked about dreams and visions God had given us to make it through the dark times.

I guess it was appropriate to be in public because it helped stem the emotions that had been buried for so long. It was inappropriate to cry the deep cosmic howls that our souls had not released all these years. So we talked with teary-eyes, fighting, still fighting back the tears and finally almost losing it when our baby sister, now in her forties, who was just six months old and six years old respectively when our parents died, began sobbing. Finally, a mother herself after 18 years of marriage, she thought of mother as she cried, “How hard it must have been to have to leave her four babies,” said Phyllis. “She knew she was dying.” I responded by saying, “yes, but I saw mother with her Bible reading everyday.” Joe nodded and said “that big white Bible.” “Yeah, that’s the one,” I added as I thought but did not share that I still have that Bible. “Mother, put us in the hands of the Lord. That’s all she could do. She trusted in Him to take care of what belongs to Him.” Joe began to recount how the Lord had kept us over the years. Mother died of pancreatic cancer and after reading some books on the subject, I felt the trauma of dad’s death was the root cause.

There were many who had parents, who didn’t make it for one reason or another. He spoke of a childhood friend, a handsome, happy-go-lucky fellow, “Monroe, they hand-cuffed him and shot him in the head.” I remember Monroe and Joe used to work together at a shoe store and they had dreams leaving Columbus and going to Atlanta to model. They were both handsome young men. We talked about how the Lord had blessed Joe and Stanley, who had not always walked in the paths of the Lord, but He kept them. Joe had even served in the army overseas in Korea, where our father faced his first war experience. Stanley had survived several accidents as a trucker.

Through it all we have been blessed. Four Black kids without parents growing up as people fought for civil rights, we faced racism and the social and economic impact of not having the help of a mother and father. We prevailed growing up to be good citizens. We all have outlived our parents lives on earth, with them dying at 32 and 35 years of age. We all have children now and Joe and I have grandchildren. We’ve lived to see our grandchildren. We have many blessings that this space will not allow. As a young divorced woman, I raised my elementary age daughter and my teenage sister, while working my way through the University of Georgia receiving two degrees, a BA in Drama and Journalism. Both my daughter, Tiffanie and Phyllis received their BA degrees and are accomplished businesswomen.
The children of Sp5 Wyley Wright found out about the camp tribute in honor of their father and another 
fallen hero, Lieutenant Kenneth Arthur Shannon via the Internet more than 40 years after the fact.
(Photo by Commander of the 114th, Major George J. Young)

I’d like to thank the 114th Aviation Company Webmaster and the historian and all the people that are working to keep the memory alive of the Knights of the Air. I came across the website last August and I believe it was a birthday present from God for me and my brother Joe, both born in August. As a result of the website I have encountered some great soldiers, Jim Haslitt, Charles T. Brown Jr., Noah Dillion, John H. Nichols (John, thanks for sending us a photo of our Dad that we had never seen), and Jeff Carr. I hope I have named everyone. None served with my father but they knew of him. I didn’t understand why until I realized the photo of the camp at Vinh Long, Vietnam had a banner, “Shannon-Wright.” Although I had seen the photo on the site several times, it was several email discussions later that I asked and was told that the Wright stood for my father, Wyley Wright and Shannon stood for a lieutenant who had also died early in the War. Wow, that was mind-boggling. After 40 years and I had no idea that my father had been honored in such a way. Also I found out that my father thought of the name “Cobra” for the fighting helicopters and that Bell Helicopter contacted the 114th to ask permission to use the name.

The blessings continue, I got an email the night of the California primary while volunteering at the “Obama White House,” a grassroots campaign office in Bayview Hunter’s Point, not far from an old army base, from John Nichols giving me information about a captain, a Black captain, now retired Lieutenant Colonel that my dad served with for six months in Viet Nam. I called Dave M. Johnson immediately and the first thing he mentioned was my dad naming the Cobra Helicopter. As I told my family as we gathered for our commemoration, that that moment of speaking with someone who served with our dad was like a child finding a treasure. I had found a big diamond ring and I knew it was a treasure but could not comprehend the total value. That was a rich moment. And so it has been with the recent interaction with the Knights of the Air, a treasure. I know I will continue to find gems to help give focus to our family legacy. We have been blessed to so see photos of our father we had never seen before, hear of his accomplishments that we didn’t know and meet his comrades who shared his love of flying and the helicopter. We are looking forward to the next reunion.

God bless all the families of 114th and all the families that sacrificed loved ones in Viet Nam and all wars including the present Iraq and Afghanistan wars. Thank you 114th for keeping the memory of our loved ones alive!

Below is the first Internet posting on 114th Website August 2007 that resulted in the Wrights finding pieces of their family history through people who had served in the same company as their father, most at different times. Several Soldiers emailed in response to this posting below.

I am the oldest child of Spc5 Wyley Wright,Jr's four children. He was married to Ouida F. McLendon Wright. My father died in Viet Nam March 9, 1964. I was ten years old, my brother Joe, 8, My brother Stanley, 5 and my sister Phyllis was 6 months old. My mother was pregnant with Phyllis when Dad was shipped to Viet Nam from Fort Knox, Kentucky.

His death while an honor guard for Secretary of War, Robert S. McNamara was a shock to us. He was only two week away from returning home. He had already received several medals during his tour. He had completed his missions and was chosen to be an honor guard. He and a young 20 year old John Francis Shea died in that role as as honor guards. My father's loss has always been great pain for me and my siblings. One that we have never really faced head on. Our mother died six years after our father on the same day, date and month, Monday, March 9th, the day after my brother Stanley's birthday.

My father was 31 when he died and my mother 35. Thanks to the Lord Jesus Christ, my siblings and I have all outlived the number of years that our parents spent on this earth.
Sp5 Wyley Wright Jr., Helicopter Crew Chief!
My father loved his work as a helicopter crew chief. He loved the people of Viet Nam and wrote to us about their beauty and industry. He was an honorable man who spoke his mind. As a proud Black man that is something that kept him from being promoted to the level he worked for. I remember when we were in Germany, we were denied base quarters because my father spoke the truth to a superior, so we lived off base. It was fortunate for me because I learned to speak German to the degree I would translate for my mother and her friends when they went shopping. I only remember a few words now.

I am pleased I found this to write just a little in honor of my father. He deserves more. I found the following internet posting: It confirmed what I always felt, my father had died unnecessarily. All because Mr. McNamara and unfortunately an inexperienced pilot wanted to show off. God have mercy on us all for such fleeting moments of pride that result in lasting pain. May it not be named among us. Nothing to be done...but to cry sometimes. So much lost! My father was a brilliant soul who loved everyone that came in his path as long as they meant no evil toward him and his family. I miss dancing on his boots as he whirled me around and his running races and jump rope with the kids in the neighborhood. No other Dad on our block stopped after a hard day's work to play with us. But my Dad did. It was a celebration when he came home. All the kids (mostly White..only 2 Black families on our block) used to love to hang on to Dad, but we Wright kids were lucky he went home with us at 5337 G Brett Drive, Fort Knox, kentucky.

We have grown and even now, two of us have the pleasure of seeing our grandchildren, something our parents did not see. God is good all the time! All the time God is good! He is to be praised always and forever.

I, Jackquelyn, called Jackie grew up to work in media, for the Red Cross, and a school district. Joe, served in the U.S. Army as an infantryman based at Forg Benning and served in Korea. He now drives for the disabled. Stanley, has owned his own business and now drives 18 wheelers. Phyllis, the baby, after 18 years of marriage finally had a daughter two years ago. The baby had a baby. Phyllis, so striking in appearance like our Dad, has worked in insurance and real estate. My parents have 8 grandchildren and 4 great-grandchildren at the time of this writing.

So the four of us are productive citizens and have done well considering we were orphaned as children. We are a Black family working hard to raise our children as God intended. We have survived and have character in spite of the odds we faced including racism. It's amazing to experience racism at the hands of those that our father died for. He fought for democracy and his children have been denied opportunities simply because of the color of their skin. Due to the poison of limited media coverage of Black people, only focusing on the negative news, people are robbed of a balanced picture. There are many Black families who do not know the life of pimps, drug addicts, etc. except what we too see on television.

To the Knights of the Air, I pray the best to you and your families. My father, Specialist 5 Wyley Wright, Jr. stood proud among you and took his place with honor and loved serving with you.

Jackquelyn Wright
Eldest child of Wyley and Ouida Fay Wright

Congratulations to Noah B. Dillion, one of the kind soldiers who began corresponding with me after I posted on the 114th Website. He has written a book, A Narcoleptic in the United States Army:

Tribute added January 2009

Family Honors Vietnam War Hero Fourth of July Weekend 2010