“How important it is for us to recognize and celebrate our heroes and she-roes!”
. . . . Maya Angelou
There are watershed moments in all of our lives that are permanently etched in our hearts and minds. These are the defining moments for us and for our families. These times are not always pleasant, but they are always momentous and can not only transform us personally, but our communities, our families and our nation.
So it was when PFC Paul Thomas Wright of Upper Moreland Township was killed in Vietnam in 1968.
Paul Wright grew up on Willow Avenue, between Easton Road and Broadway. He was a responsible kid and held down a daily paper route at the young age of 10. In the old neighborhood, he was well-liked and admired because of his easygoing and well-mannered way. Al Thomas, who was several years younger than Paul Wright at Upper Moreland High School and grew up in Paul’s neighborhood, told me that Paul Wright’s courageous service in Vietnam was one of the reasons he joined the U.S. Marine Corps out of high school.
Paul and his friends were known as the Broadway Boys, were always playing ball, hanging out and admiring cars. Paul played Little League baseball and attended Upper Moreland High School as part of the Class of ’65. He was a good student who ran track and enjoyed dance. Polite, respectful, mild mannered and courteous, he was the kind of kid parents could be proud of. It was clear to everyone that Paul’s parents did a good job raising him, his brothers Bill and Charlie, and his sister, Betty.
A woman in Paul’s circle of friends said her very protective parents didn’t mind her dating Paul, as he was such a decent and earnest young man.
During high school and after graduation, Paul and his friends congregated at Dutch’s Diner (now Lancers) on Easton Road. They’d meet behind the restaurant and talk about cars (Paul was proud of his blue and white Corvette), and especially the Phillies, who had just come off the collapse of 1964.
Within this circle of friends was Hatboro’s Ronnie Smith, who would also serve in Vietnam.
Paul landed a good-paying job with Acme Markets upon graduation from Upper Moreland and was doing well working at the store at 4th Street and Cheltenham Avenue.
In 1967, Paul was drafted into the U.S. Army and completed basic training and advanced training with the U.S. Army Engineers. He was trained as a mine sweeper. Paul never complained about the Army, perhaps due to the discipline he learned at home. Unbeknownst to his family, Paul converted to Catholicism while in the Army.
Paul was deployed to Vietnam in January 1968 with the elite 23rd Infantry Division, also known as the Americal Division. Paul was sent to Quang Ngai Province, a Vietcong stronghold and the location of many deadly night ambushes and attacks against the Army of the Republic of Vietnam and American troops. It was, perhaps, the most dangerous place in all of Vietnam during the war.
A soldier who was with Paul in Vietnam called his family a few years back and told them the circumstances surrounding Paul’s death in Vietnam. He said Paul and his unit were sweeping in a mine-infested sector when two American soldiers in their unit were wounded. Paul immediately attempted to reach the soldiers to render aid when he accidentally detonated a “Bouncing Betty” land mine that caused his death.
A few weeks later, his friend Ronnie Smith would also make the ultimate sacrifice.
It’s been almost 50 years, but our community has yet to permanently recognize Paul Wright for his sacrifice in the Vietnam War. We will correct this oversight on Sunday, Sept. 24, when I dedicate a portion of Blair Mill Road near his old neighborhood for this brave American soldier. This ceremony will take place at 1 p.m. at the Blair Mill Elementary School, 109 Bender Road, Hatboro. The ceremony is open to the public and all are cordially invited, especially our veterans.
It’s time to permanently recognize our brother, PFC Paul Thomas Wright, and to say thank you for his service to our nation in the Vietnam War. Please join us for this ceremony. ••