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Utah Air National Guard renames base in honor of local WWII pilot

SALT LAKE CITY — Retired Brig. Gen. Roland R. Wright is a combat pilot with a distinguished military career spanning more than three decades.

Tuesday, the Utah Air National Guard Base was renamed the Ronald R. Wright Air National Guard Base in his honor.

As a child, growing up on a farm in southern Idaho, Wright dreamed of flying a fighter airplane.

“When Pearl Harbor happened, my dream was to be a pilot, and I was able to realize that dream,” Wright said Tuesday.

The pilot, now 95 years old, flew 200 combat hours in three different P-51s with the 357th Fighter Group; all were named “Mormon Mustang.”

“It was the main fighter airplane at that time that turned the war around, really,” he said.

On one mission, a German pilot lured Wright and a fellow pilot over an airbase, where they ran into heavy ground fire.

"He was shot down, I saw him get hit. They missed me and I think they thought they got me because he made a turn and I nailed him,” he said with a laugh.

Wright has witnessed many changes in air warfare in his military career and always cherished his bond with the airmen of this base.

"This has been a great part of my life, and I was able to be in it from the beginning,” Wright said.

After his active duty service, he was one of the first pilots to enlist in the 191st Fighter Squadron when the Utah Air National Guard was created in 1946.

He also served as the first chief of staff for air (Utah) from 1969 to 1976. In 1972, he was appointed to the Air Force Reserves Policy Committee, which included four meetings annually with the secretary of the Air Force, Air Force chief of staff, and other distinguished leaders.

He logged 7,800 flying hours during his military career, about 4,000 of which are in various types of fighter aircraft.

"Brigadier General Roland Wright is a great patriot who has served this country with distinction during times of war and peace," Maj. Gen. Jefferson Burton, Utah adjutant general, said in a prepared statement. "As a fighter pilot during World War II, he represented the best America had to offer demonstrating great skill and valor in the face of danger. Following the war, he was an aviation pioneer here in Utah providing tremendous leadership in the Utah Air National Guard for decades.

"To those of us in uniform, Roland Wright is truly a giant; and it's only fitting that this air base where he so faithfully served our state and our nation be named in his honor."

Wright still visits the base and talks with Brig. Gen. David R. Fountain, assistant adjutant general for the Air National Guard, "about what's going on in the Air Force, and in the Air National Guard, of the issues that we're dealing with, and quite frankly, some of the history of the organization,” Fountain said.

The guard held the ceremony Tuesday, Nov. 18, because that's the date 68 years ago that marked the beginning of the Utah Air National Guard and its 191st Fighter Squadron.

"I really feel overwhelmed that this is happening. I hope I can be around a little bit longer because it's really fun to be out here,” Wright said.

In his career outside the military, he graduated from the University of Utah College of Law in 1958 and practiced in Salt Lake City until 1991. Wright and members of his family still reside in Salt Lake City.

Contributing: Viviane Vo-Duc

Email: jboal@deseretnews.com