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Utah Air National Guard mourns loss of base's namesake; local WWII hero

Roland R. Wright stands next to the P-51 Mormon Mustang he made his name flying in over Europe in WWII. Wright shot down three enemy aircraft during the war.

Roland R. Wright stands next to the P-51 Mormon Mustang he made his name flying in over Europe in WWII. Wright shot down three enemy aircraft during the war.

Retired Air Force Brig. Gen. Roland R. Wright addresses a group of community and military guests at a ceremony to rename the Utah Air National Guard Base in his honor held in Salt Lake City, Utah on Nov. 18, 2014. Wright, a combat pilot with a distinguished military career spanning more than three decades served as Utah's first Chief of Staff for Air. (Air National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. Annie Edwards/RELEASED)

Retired Air Force Brig. Gen. Roland R. Wright addresses a group of community and military guests at a ceremony to rename the Utah Air National Guard Base in his honor held in Salt Lake City, Utah on Nov. 18, 2014. Wright, a combat pilot with a distinguished military career spanning more than three decades served as Utah's first Chief of Staff for Air. (Air National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. Annie Edwards/RELEASED)

Salt Lake City -- Retired Brigadier General Roland R. Wright, a combat pilot with a distinguished military career spanning more than three decades, died Monday, surrounded by family in his home, at the age of 96.

The Utah Air National Guard Base located on the east side of Salt Lake City International Airport was renamed in Wright's honor last November during a formal ceremony which more than 350 military and community guests attended, including Wright and his family.

General Wright flew more than 200 hours in the P-51 Mustang with the 357th Fighter Group and is credited with the destruction of three enemy aircraft in aerial combat.

"Brigadier General Roland Wright was a great patriot who has served this country with distinction during times of war and peace," said Major General Jefferson Burton, Utah Adjutant General. "To those of us in uniform, he was truly a Giant and his legacy will continue on at the Air Base where he so faithfully served our state and our nation."

After his active duty service, Wright became one of the first pilots to enlist in the 191st Fighter Squadron when the Utah Air National Guard was created in 1946. A command pilot in multiple aircraft, he logged 7,800 flying hours during his military career, approximately 4,000 of which are in various types of fighter aircraft.

As an Air Guardsman, he served as a fighter-aircraft flight lead, squadron operations officer, squadron commander, and group commander, to include flying a number of missions to Vietnam. He also served as Chief of Staff for Air (Utah) from 1969 to 1976.  In 1972, he was appointed to the Air Force Reserves Policy Committee, which included meetings with the Secretary of the Air Force, Air Force Chief of Staff, and other distinguished leaders.

In his civilian career, he graduated from the University of Utah College of Law in 1958 and practiced in Salt Lake City until 1991.

Colonel Julie Anderson, 151st Mission Support Group Commander, who credits Wright with teaching her about the heritage of the Utah Air National Guard, considers him an indelible mentor.

"His integrity was second to none; I've never met anyone who lived the core values like he did," said Anderson. "He truly believed everyone had something to offer to make the Air Guard successful -- I'd be honored to walk away from my military career with a fraction of his leadership and vision." 

A memorial service will be held for General Wright on Monday at noon at Monument Park 2nd Ward, 1005 S. 20th East, Salt Lake City. He will be buried with full military honors at Wasatch Lawn Memorial Park, 3401 E Highland Dr., Salt Lake City.

To reach General Wright's family directly, please call (801) 427-8557.