Travis Air Force Base, Calif. – U.S. Air Force retired Brig. Gen. Larry Wright was inducted into the Georgia Veterans Hall of Fame, Nov. 6, 2021.
Gen. Wright commissioned into the Air Force in 1960 through the Air Force Reserve Officer Training Corps program at the University of Maryland. Some of his highest decorations include the Air Force Distinguished Service Medal, the Silver Star, the Legion of Merit with a Bronze Oak Leaf Cluster and the Distinguished Flying Cross.
The general was a command pilot with 7,400 flying hours, including 1,874 combat flying hours and 533 maintenance test flight hours.
Though heavily decorated, he is a family man at heart. His wife, Gretchen, and he recently celebrated 55 years of marriage. They have four successful children, Teresa Marie, Pamela, Heather and John – and to this day, he continues his passion of aviation.
“The best things about the Air Force are the airplanes,” said Wright. “They are the mortar that holds all of the Airmen together.”
Wright began his career as a young lieutenant at Travis Air Force Base, California, after he finished flying training at Craig AFB, Alabama. His first assignment at Travis AFB was as a C-133 Cargomaster pilot, as well as an instructor and maintenance test pilot.
U.S. Air Force retired Brig. Gen. Larry Wright, wearing Colonel at the time of this photo dated Feb. 2, 1981. (Photo courtesy via DIMOC)
Then in 1965, his life changed forever that December when he met his wife at Travis AFB, he recalls in his memoir:
“It was the 19th of Dec. 1965, the time was 5:15 p.m. I remember it exactly.
She was in my apartment and I walked into my living room. I saw her. She was standing on a chair, decorating a Christmas tree that wasn’t there (before). As a matter of fact, she hadn’t been there either.
She had short, neat auburn-colored hair. Her eyes were large and dark.
She saw me and turned. She had a tree decoration in one hand and a bottle of Chivas Regal in the other. She (had) a brilliant smile that caused the whole room to light up. ‘Hi, I’m Gretchen. Merry Christmas.’”
After Gretchen and him were married and they started a family and moved on base, Gretchen started a tradition.
“One of the neatest things Gretchen would do at each assignment was plant a tree when we moved in,” he said.
At Travis, he completed combat flight school, where he received honor graduate – which isn’t a first for his educational journey. Throughout his journey into education, whether if it was for higher education or military training, he always graduated with honors, the top of his class or cum laude.
U.S. Air Force retired Brig. Gen. Larry Wright, flew the Douglas C-133A Cargomaster during his career in the Air Force, dated March 10, 2015, a C-133A on display in the Cold War Gallery at the National Museum of the United States Air Force. (U.S. Air Force photo by Ty Greenlees)
An educated officer in the Air Force, his command started putting him on combat missions into Vietnam with the C-133 from Travis AFB from 1965 to 1968 until he was deployed there in 1969.
In 1969, he earned his Silver Star, but it wasn’t a single thing that happened that got him to the mission in which he earned it. Wright said that being an honor graduate from combat flight school was the ripple effect that brought everything into place. He received honor graduate, then he was named chief of aircrew standardization in Vietnam, then he was sent on one mission that he completed, under heavy fire, when he was awarded the Silver Star.
The mission wasn’t simple.
Fly a C-7A Caribou into a heavily fortified enemy territory, no landing lights, very little cover – and during a heavy rain storm. He and his copilot flew the C-7 above the landing area, waited for the ground grew to ignite a few small lights for landing, quickly landed under fire, unloaded the equipment and resupply for the ground troops then took off under heavy fire.
“The C-7 was the only military aircraft that was never rated for commercial flight,” he said. “This is still one of the only aircraft you rip into reverse to sit it down, or land.”
U.S. Air Force retired Brig. Gen. Larry Wright flew C-7A Caribou aircraft in Vietnam in 1969 to 1970. This photograph is from Jan. 1, 1967 and was used for airlifting supplies to forward outposts in Vietnam. With a maximum payload of three tons, the C-7A can take off and clear a 50-foot obstacle in about 1,200 feet. The aircraft, used for landing at short, unimproved airfields, can land on a 1,000-foot runway. (Photo courtesy via DIMOC)
This cold and rainy Oct. 30 mission was also the inspiration for why Mrs. Wright felt compelled to nominate Gen. Wright for the Georgia Hall of Fame.
“His mission that he got the Silver Star for made a difference in a lot lives,” she said. “If he didn’t land with the ammunition and things the army needed there, a lot of those men wouldn’t have made it out.”
The citation describes the thunderstorms and darkness, which caused two other aircraft with supplies to turn around, but Wright went forward.
He also received the Distinguished Flying Cross for another mission while in Vietnam where he had to avoid friendly and hostile fire to deliver essential supplies.
After arriving home in 1970, Wright was then stationed at the Air Force Academy where he served at the 4th Squadron commander. While in Colorado, he completed his first Master of Arts degree and, along with his wife, adopted their son.
U.S. Air Force retired Brig. Gen. Larry Wright, second from left in the center row, seen in his yearbook, Polaris 1971 from the U.S. Air Force Academy, Colorado Springs, Colorado, screenshot taken Nov. 9, 2021. (U.S. Air Force courtesy photo)
His Next assignment was to Charleston AFB, South Carolina the quality control officer and the Avionics Maintenance Squadron commander and eventually assistant chief of maintenance. He flew C-141 Starlifter at Charleston.
On flying the C-141, Wright recalls in his memoir:
“Off to fly C-141’s at Charleston AFB. The C-141 is a big, powerful, four-engine jet. It’s a tough, reliable aircraft that got the job done. It had a decent performance cruising at .74 mach. When the Air Force first got the C-141 in 1965 they had the original aluminum finish with the tops painted white. Now, eight years later, we were in the process of painting them all the NATO olive drab, camouflage colors. It was a good move. Charleston kept two aircraft with the aluminum and white paint for sensitive missions, where we didn’t want to look ‘warlike.’”
U.S. Air Force retired Brig. Gen. Larry Wright flew Air Mobility Command's, 60th Military Airlift Wing's C-141 Starlifter during his time in the Air Force. Here the C-141 is seen in the air Oct. 10, 1981 after takeoff from Travis Air Force Base, California. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Rose Reynolds)
At Charleston, too, Wright exceeded, graduating top of his class in the pilot course that would qualify him to fly his new office there: the C-141.
Wright has story after story he remembers from each base because each assignment was special to him.
“Charleston was good to us. The wing there does well – they always have because of the people,” he said. “I was promoted to lieutenant colonel while there and received my appointment to the National War College in Washington, D.C.”
The general is always quick to give credit to the men and women that worked for him, but a follow-on assignment to the National War College was another educational opportunity he was both excited and nervous for because only 160 people, including civilians, received such a prestigious appointment. The school is focused on government education and broader priorities with military planning and logistics from a federal and nation-wide perspective.
Directly following his appointment, Wright moved over to the Pentagon to work directly for the Joint Chiefs of Staff as an action officer in the Logistics, Planning and Review Branch for Strategic Mobility.
U.S. Air Force Retired Brig. Gen. Larry Wright flew President Ronald Reagan and his wife, Nancy, in to Washington, D.C., the day of Reagan's first inauguration Jan. 20, 1981. Here Reagan and his wife wave to the public as they ride in the presidential car during the Inauguration Day parade. (Photo by Ward, provided via DIMOC)
Andrews AFB, Maryland, was next for him and his family. He took command of the 89th Military Airlift Wing in June of 1979, where he flew Vice President Walter Mondale and the First Lady, Rosalynn Carter.
He said this assignment was memorable because of the presidential flights, but the particular elation for the assignment was because of the election year he was there and being able to fly President Ronald Reagan for his first inauguration.
He received the Legion of Merit for his successful missions supporting the President, Vice President, members of Congress and other prominent national and international leaders.
U.S. Air Force retired Brig. Gen Larry Wright, former commander of the 89th Military Airlift Wing at Andrews Air Force Base, Maryland, flew former President Jimmy Carter's wife, Rosalynn, left, along with former Vice President Walter Mondale, second from right, and his wife, Joan. Here the Carters and Mondale's depart Andrews AFB at the conclusion of President Ronald Reagan's inauguration ceremony, Jan. 20, 1981. (Photo by Clawson, provided via DIMOC)
After Andrews, the general went further northeast to McGuire AFB, New Jersey, where he feels he did a lot as a wing commander.
“Gen. Wright was the kind of leader who knew how to lead and change the scenery,” said retired Col. Harvey Haas, an officer that worked for Wright during his time at McGuire and is a friend to him to this day. “It takes a fearless warrior with courage and the ability to make the correct choices under stress.
“He was a person that looked after his people,” Haas said, laughing. “He set up a volleyball game for the colonels to play against the junior officers – where the junior officers just crawled all over each other, trying to be the superstar, but under Wright’s leadership, us older guys tore up the young ones because we came together as a team.”
Haas was quick to credit Wright for his leadership and attitude about his people.
Putting the maintenance Airmen’s safety first, Wright escorted congressional delegates, business owners and CEOs of various companies onto McGuire to show how the base’s small hangars were not sufficient in sustaining the base’s robust mission set.
Wright brought all of the visitors on a bus, took them out to the McGuire flight line on a cold Jan. day.
“I wanted to show them the hangars we had,” he said. “They were built for smaller aircraft and how a C-118 Liftmaster and C-141 were only able to fit up to the wing and was too dangerous to do maintenance on.”
The general had it in his mind to keep his Airmen on McGuire safe, so that’s what he did. Shortly after Wright’s departure, the base built hangars large enough for the bigger mobility machines. He’s also proud that three of his squadron commanders from McGuire were promoted to General as well.
U.S. Air Force retired Brig. Gen. Larry Wright flew C-118 Liftmaster aircraft while in the Air Force. This C-118 takes off from Naval Air Station, Keflavik, Iceland, Jan. 1, 1988. (U.S. Navy photo by P.H.C. Brookins, provided via DIMOC)
Wright also started an aviation museum while there, collecting seven aircraft – the first of which was one of his favorites, the P-38 Lightning.
While at McGuire, he earned a Bronze Oak leaf Cluster in lieu of a Second Award of the Legion of Merit for his accomplishments there.
In 1983, General Wright went on to Scott AFB, Illinois, where he became the deputy chief of staff for logistics at Military Airlift Command headquarters, but was there for a short amount of time because he was promoted to Brigadier General, which out-ranked him for the position he was in. He promoted June 1, 1984, with date of rank Oct. 1, 1983.
He and his family headed back to Travis AFB, but this time, he would be the vice commander of the 22nd Air Force, Military Airlift Command. It was one of three combat-ready strategic and tactical airlift arms of the Military Airlift Command.
“Returning to Travis was nostalgic for my family and I,” he said.
Their first time at Travis, Mrs. Wright planted a small palm tree in their front yard. When they returned, the family went to their old address to find it tall and growing healthy.
U.S. Army General William J. Livsey, center left, 8th U.S. Army commanding general, greets Brig. Gen. Larry D. Wright, center right, U.S. Forces Azores and 1605th Military Airlift Support Wing commander, during Exercise Team Spirit, in Pohang, Republic of Korea, March 1, 1986. This was Wright's final tour before retiring later that year. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Danny Perez, provided via DIMOC)
First arriving to Travis as a lieutenant and then coming back as a general humbled him and reminded him how small one’s career can be, or how much of an impact one can make in their career.
His assignment at Travis earned him the Air Force Distinguished Service Medal. In the absence of the commander, Gen. Wright directed strategic and tactical airlift capabilities for half the globe, said the award citation. His leadership was essential for readiness exercises in 1985 and 1986 which meant a stronger United States strategic military partnership in the Korean theater.
Wright capped off his career with a year-long assignment to U.S. Forces Portugal and returned to Charleston afterwards.
His retirement wasn’t in the slightest a forgettable one – in Charleston, South Carolina. While there, him and his family evacuated for Hurricane Hugo that hurricane made the Isle of Palms almost disappear.
Afterwards, in 1989 he went on to complete his second Master’s degree in history at The Citadel in Charleston and went on to teach U.S. history and national security policy at The University of North Florida and Jacksonville University until 1999.
Wright’s journey, 22 years later, brought him to the Saint Luke Ministry Center in Columbus, Georgia for his induction to the Georgia Veterans Hall of Fame, Nov. 6.
“What strikes me from the ceremony was the dinner,” he said. “Sitting there, listening to stories from other inductees – there were men there with the Medal of Honor, four Silver Stars – there wasn’t a dry eye in the house.
“To sit with those heroes – to be there with them – that was the real honor.”
U.S. Air Force retired Brig. Gen. Larry Wright, dated 1984. (Photo courtesy af.mil)
The General has over 22 decorations which include: the Silver Star, Legion of Merit, Distinguished Flying Cross, Defense Meritorious Service Medal, Meritorious Service Medal, Air Medal with five oak leaf clusters, Air Force Commendation Medal with oak leaf cluster, Presidential Unit Citation Emblem, Air Force Outstanding Unit Award Ribbon with three oak leaf clusters, Combat Readiness Medal, National Defense Service Medal, Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal, Vietnam Service Medal with 11 service stars, Republic of Vietnam Gallantry Cross with palm and Republic of Vietnam Campaign Medal.
Editor’s note: Portions of this article have been researched and gathered from various websites, awards citations, other online articles, yearbooks and revised sections of Brig. Gen. Wright’s memoir. Information has been presented to Brig. Gen. Wright and credited to him to be factual.