By Sgt. 1st Class Leah Kilpatrick
14th Public Affairs Detachment
FORT CARSON, Colo. — The year was 1958. The day was Aug. 25. The Queen of Outer Space starring Zsa Zsa Gabor was among the most popular movies in theaters. The president was Dwight D. Eisenhower. The average home cost $10,450, and the average income was $4,650. A loaf of bread was 19 cents, and a gallon of gas was 24 cents.
… And Roy Wright had just raised his right hand and sworn to defend this nation against all enemies, foreign and domestic.
Hailing from a farm in Missouri, 17-year old Wright wanted for more. And he found more in the Army life. Even after retirement, he has continued to embrace the life he came to love.
“I decided I wanted something better,” he said. “And when I first came in, it was a dollar a day. That’s all I got paid.”
From various jobs ranging from medic to radio-telephone operator to military police officer, Wright crisscrossed the globe from Germany to Texas to Washington State, until …
“The next thing I know I was on a ship leaving from San Francisco going to Vietnam,” said Wright, who has been employed with Balfour Beatty Communities Fort Carson Family Homes for more than 30 years. “We (were) loaded down. There (were) four ships. They had the whole brigade there — 199th Infantry Brigade. We ended up in Vietnam, and we couldn’t go into shore because of the mines and stuff, so we went on a boat.”
After a hairy ride in the back of an M35, commonly known as a “deuce and a half,” with all the Soldiers lined back-to-back down the middle, no one sitting on the outer rails, they rolled into Camp Longbình, South Vietnam.
“(There) wasn’t (anything) there but tents and people,” said the now 78-year-old veteran. “Aircraft firing. Helicopters flying all over the place. A lot of people that went with me — three got killed right beside me — in combat.”
Wright deployed as a signal Soldier, responsible for flying all over the place and setting the codes in the communications equipment and repairing equipment, when necessary.
“I made staff sergeant there, and I came back to the United States very thin,” Wright said.
After insects infested the flour used to make the bread, Wright had refused to eat anything he couldn’t purchase from the Exchange. So with a scrawny 26-inch waist, Wright completed his tour and returned home.
But deployment and critter-infested bread almost sounded better than what greeted him on American soil.
After an adventurous flight involving an emergency landing on Guam due to the loss of a motor on the aircraft and sitting around for a few days until a new motor could be installed, Wright’s plane touched down in San Francisco.
“It was pretty hard, because all the people knew we (were) in the military; we had to wear a uniform,” Wright said. “I just wanted to get some fresh air and see what it felt like being on the ground for a while, and I got jumped. I got beat up right outside the air terminal in San Francisco by three people who beat the hell out of me. I told the cops, and they wouldn’t do anything to the protestors. There (were) hundreds of them. They (were) all over the place.”
At the time, Wright was flying from San Francisco home to St. Louis, so he was alone.
“I wasn’t 20 blocks away from the airport,” Wright said. “They bandaged me all up, and I still made my flight home. That’s what we went through to be a Vietnam Soldier. It was pretty bad.”
And it only got worse.
“When I got home, other than my Family, everybody resented me, because I was in Vietnam,” he said. “It was hard to deal with, so I ended up moving away and moved here to Colorado.”
Even with the bitter, ugly reception he faced from his redeployment, Wright still holds his Army experience in high regard.
“I liked the prestige that I had,” he said. “I was (a sergeant first class), you know, but I usually ended up doing the first sergeant’s job.”
And he did that job as a single father with sole custody of his four children.
“I raised all four of them,” he said. “If it hadn’t been for the Army, I wouldn’t have been able to do it I don’t think. I wouldn’t have been ready for it and strong and ready to take chances and push on. That’s what I had to do in the Army.”
Upon retiring, Wright worked two jobs to support his Family of five until he landed a job first at Peterson Air Force Base and eventually at Fort Carson.
“The Army set aside these contracts for those people that served in Vietnam, so they could have good jobs and a place to go,” Wright said.
As the housing management on Fort Carson has gone through contract change after contract change, one thing has been constant – Roy Wright.
“I did all the glass in Fort Carson in all the housing myself for 20 years,” Wright said. “I did every bit of it, put in brand new windows and doors and everything.”
He might still be doing the glass on Fort Carson, if he had not moved over into locksmithing.
“I graduated in 1984 from locksmith school,” he said. “I think it was ’84, might have been ’94. I don’t know. Right now, I still maintain it.”
“He’s very dedicated, conscientious and takes his responsibilities for locksmithing and security of Fort Carson Family Homes very professionally and very personally,” said Jeff Karbe, Fort Carson Family Homes facilities manager and Wright’s supervisor. “He has a real devotion to what he does. And basically I think that’s derived from his background. He’s retired Army, and has a relationship with those folks out there.”
“I mean, to stay somewhere for 30 years, and obviously there’s been changes overall, but he’s been steadfast and loyal all throughout the whole thing to still today be standing here to support the mission here to support the service members,” said Christy McGrath, community manager for Fort Carson Family Homes.
In three decades working on Fort Carson, Wright has seen technological advancements and has had to remain adaptable.
“Last year or the year before, we brought in an electronic key system to account for all our keys,” Karbe said. “Before it was all on a board. In his lock shop, you can see the remnants of it. Everything was marked. Every unit had a nail. That’s how he did that and controlled it, so when we slid that over into an electronic system, at first there was a little bit of resistance. But then once he saw it, he was onboard.”
Wright might struggle remembering dates sometimes, but he has the housing units on Fort Carson committed to memory.
“When I work with him or watch him work, I really admire the way that he can keep this stuff organized,” Karbe said. “You can ask him about an address, and it’ll take him awhile, but he knows exactly where it is, and he knows exactly what the locking conditions of those units are. He knows, and that’s admirable.”
Wright has a love of this installation and a devotion to the Soldiers that keep him here.
“My experience working here at Fort Carson — it feels like when I leave my home, I come here and say, ‘Wow. Home again.’ I’ve been here so many years,” Wright said. “I feel more comfortable around the Soldiers than I do other people.”
He said he’s proud of the Soldiers of today.
“I’m proud of most of them,” he said. “When I see them they’re usually not out of uniform or anything. They’re dressed according to the regulations or whatever is supposed to be their uniform. They’re doing their physical training, and I say, ‘Man, the Army’s still got it going.’”
But most especially, he appreciates the reception that the Soldiers today get that he didn’t.
“The way they treat the troops now, bringing them back on airplanes and bringing them down there to meet their (Families) again at the gym, I think it’s just outstanding to welcome them back,” Wright said. “We didn’t have anything like that when we came back from Vietnam.”