San Francisco, CA -– In the wake of 50th Anniversary of the Selma to Montgomery March and commemoration of the Civil Rights movement, with the help of White families, one Black family remembers a Viet Nam Fallen War Hero, Sp5 Wyley Wright Jr., whose ultimate sacrifice for the United States of America, is lesser known among the more iconic remembrances of the times.
Embedded in the recent Civil Rights observances is the story of Sp5 Wyley Wright Jr., who died as an honor guard for then Secretary of Defense Robert S. McNamara in Viet Nam as McNamara inspected the troops. Headlines of the time read “McNamara Watches GI Die”.
Wright’s children had him exhumed from a segregated cemetery in Jacksonville, Florida on March 3, 2014 and his wife Ouida Fay McLendon Wright exhumed from a cemetery in Columbus, GA on March 4, 2014 to have them reburied as close to the anniversary of their deaths as possible at Arlington National Cemetery. It was 50 years and 44 years respectively after their deaths Monday, March 9, 1964 and Monday, March 9, 1970.
“As we’ve shared our journey some people have said that it’s a private personal story,” said Jackie Wright, (61), a publicist in San Francisco. “But I respond that our father at the age of 32 died publically for the United States of America to protect and preserve this country, so it’s not a private story. It’s an American story. It’s an international story. When Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. gave the ‘I Have A Dream Speech,’ our Dad was fighting for “democracy” in the jungles of Viet Nam, waiting for the birth of his fourth child, who was born a little over 30 days later, a child he never held. He died a little over 90 days after his Commander and Chief, President John F. Kennedy was assassinated. We were in the midst of turbulent times.”
Wright shared highlights of the Wright Family’s Arlington journey, a few days after the commemoration:
“My sister, Phyllis Wright Cameron of Antioch, an insurance executive, was knowingly in the presence of our Dad for the first time as she was six months old when he died. He only saw pictures of her and never got the opportunity to hold his baby girl. With Phyllis’ demand to remove the burial wrapping and to see our father, we witnessed his remains that included his signature gold tooth and gold crown that always shined in the light with his laughter as I remember. There was an obvious ritualistic pinning of the army blankets he was wrapped in and there were two dog tags with his name, serial number that I recalled began with RA, his blood type O and his religion, Methodist. Jacksonville photographer and Viet Nam Veteran, Ronald Breaker told us one was intended for the family and one was to stay with the body. “It’s one of the old ones. It’s got the dent in it. They say from pushing it up against the teeth after a soldier dies,” Mr. Breaker, whispered to us. After fifty years, we finally got the memorial that was intended for us, something we did not know existed. Seeing our father’s remains laid to rest the question as to whether his body had actually been recovered. For our 50 years that was a question in the back of the mind for my brothers Joe Wright of Columbus, Georgia, Stanley Wright of Orangeburg, SC and me. As kids, we all heard whispers at the funeral that the military just weighs down the casket to make it seem like a body is inside. There was no doubt now.”
The entire article can be read online at www.wrightnow.biz/apps/articles/default.asp?articleid=80026
Wright’s update “Love Story at Arlington National Cemetery” (www.wrightnow.biz/apps/articles/web/articleid/81209/columnid/default.asp) includes photos that show the difference between the segregated southern cemetery and Arlington National Cemetery.
“One of the unique aspects I found in our story is that it’s not just a story about a Black family, it’s about the sacrifices of White families too,” said Joe Wright (59), resident of Columbus, Georgia and a transportation specialist and U.S. Army Veteran. “PFC John Francis Shea, a 20 year old from Willimantic, Connecticut, died in that helicopter crash in the Mekong Delta River near Vinh Long, Vietnam with our father.”
“It was amazing to me that George Moll, a southern White man from Houston, Texas, who was 19 when he was a gunner on our Dad’s helicopter prior to the accident, came to the ceremony in Arlington after 50 years with just a couple of weeks notice to honor our Dad,” said Stanley Wright (57) or Orangeburg, South Carolina and owner of a trucking company.
Phyllis Wright Cameron (51) added, “Ms. Ginger (Mrs. Ginger Shannon Young), the widow of Lt. Kenneth Arthur Shannon, whose husband’s name followed our Dad’s on the Wall and whose name was on the banner “Shannon Wright Compound” leading into the Vinh Long Army Base, was a gift to us. We had never met or spoken to these caring people before the day of the ceremony. That speaks volumes about race-relations and the dedication military families have to each other and our nation.”
In the aftermath of the Iraqi and Afghanistan wars, with rumors of wars looming too often, as the Wrights’ continue to come to terms with their parents’ place in history, it is their hope that Americans realize that the sacrifice of lives during war impacts families for generations.
Love Separated in Life…Love Reunited in Honor–Sp5 Wyley Wright and wife, Ouida F. Wright honored at Arlington after 50 and 44 years of death.
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