SD Vietnam War Memorial Dedication Please Support the Memorial Soldiers, Heroes, and teachers information



In Memory of U.S. Army First Lieutenant

James Paige Wright

Custer, South Dakota, Custer County

November 3, 1939 – June 26, 1964

Died of Injures Received in Hostile Action in Vietnam

James Paige Wright was born in Highmore, South Dakota, on November 3, 1939, to James and Florence (Henderson) Wright. His siblings were a brother, Jackson, and a sister, Judy. He went to school in Highmore until he and his family moved to Custer. James was a basketball player and graduated from Custer High School in 1957. He attended Rapid City School of Mines and Technology; while in school he was married to Donna Lee Landis on June 7, 1959. They lived at the School of Mines campus while James was a student; he earned his Bachelor of Science degree in Electrical Engineering in 1961. Upon graduation, he was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the US Army, Corps of Engineers.

James Wright entered the service February 23, 1961, in Rapid City, South Dakota. He took basic training at Fort Belvoir in Virginia. His first assignment was at Fort Benning, Georgia; then he completed flight school at Fort Wolters, Texas, and final helicopter training at Fort Rucker, Alabama. According to his widow, Donna, “Lt. Wright and his best friend, Bob, had received orders to report to Germany for duty. They called the Pentagon during their lunch break to get their orders changed for a tour of duty in Vietnam.” When they were sent overseas to Vietnam, they were attached to the114th Aviation Company.

Army 1st Lieutenant James Paige Wright was killed, along with his best friend, in the crash of their UH-1B helicopter around Tra Vinh, Vinh Binh Province in the Republic of Vietnam. They were transporting South Vietnamese troops to an area a couple miles to the west of Tra Vinh for an assault against the Viet Cong. Lieutenant Wright died on arrival at the medical center. His body was returned to the United States and he was buried on July 10, 1964, at the Black Hills National Cemetery with a flag-draped casket and a three-helicopter flyover in missing man position.

Lieutenant Wright received many awards. Among those awards were the Parachute Badge, the Army Aviator Badge, the Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal, the Purple Heart, the Air Medal with First through Ninth Oak Leaf Clusters, and the Distinguished Flying Cross. The citation for his Distinguished Flying Cross reads as follows:

While flying as aircraft pilot, Lt. Wright’s mission was to secure a landing zone for incoming troop carrier aircraft. He was unwavering in his determination to carry out his mission despite the fact that he had already flown five combat assault missions that day, during one of which the plexiglass bubble of his helicopter was shattered by hostile fire.

On his sixth mission he was conducting a reconnaissance along a canal which was located directly beneath the proposed route of the troop ships when he received heavy automatic weapons fire. Realizing that the troop ships were near and the possibility of disaster due to their low air-speed and altitude at the point at where the automatic weapons were located, he chose to engage the target alone rather than wait until additional help could arrive.

With complete disregard for his personal safety, Lt. Wright attacked the automatic weapons position and completely annihilated it. In so doing he made himself vulnerable to other small arms weapons located further up the canal. His ship was hit and crashed. Lt. Wright gave his life in order to provide security to his military comrades. This unselfish and heroic act reflects the greatest credit upon himself, his unit and the United States Army.

Additionally James Wright received several medals posthumously from the Republic of Vietnam and a Freedom Bell from Berliners in Germany. He was also honored with, “Flowers which have been planted in the traffic island in front of Surbeck Center” and a “bronze memorial was dedicated to graduates of the School of Mines and Technology who gave their lives in cold war activities,” according to a newspaper article. James’s name was the first to be inscribed on the memorial

Surviving Lt. Wright are his sister, Judy Stender of Custer and his brother, Jackson Wright of Custer. Additionally he is survived by his widow, Donna L. Wright Knutson, Moorhead, Minnesota; son, James J. Wright, Denver, Colorado, who graduated from the US Naval Academy in 1983 and received a masters degree in electrical engineering in 1989; and grandson, Christopher Paige Wright.


This entry was respectfully submitted by Molly Zebroski and Natasha Sprigler, 8th Graders, Spearfish Middle School, Spearfish, South Dakota, February 6, 2006. This information was provided by Jackson L. Wright, brother, Custer, South Dakota, and an application for a South Dakota Vietnam Veterans Bonus. Profile was approved by Jackson Wright. Subsequent additional information by Donna Knutson.


State of South Dakota Main Web site    |     SD Department of Military (site coming soon) and Veterans Affairs

Pierre Area Chamber of Commerce Web site


Copyright 2005 State of South Dakota - Bureau of Administration
All Rights Reserved

Free DHTML scripts provided by

Dynamic Drive

Photos courtesy of the U.S. Army, the National Archives and Records Administration,
the Dedication Committee, and veterans who have submitted their photos for use
in conjunction with the Vietnam War Memorial Dedication.

Music "Mod Indigo" licensed by the State of South Dakota from
Freeplay Music

 free script provided by JavaScript Kit