Writer / Kara Kavensky
Photographer / Brian Brosmer
Retired U.S. Army Brigadier General Chet Wright recently celebrated his 100th birthday. He is a 1936 graduate of Ben Davis High School. At the time of Wright’s graduation, the school had 400 students. It is now among the largest high schools in the state. “I’ve witnessed a lot of change to this area in my lifetime,” states Wright, who grew up in Avon and has lived here for nearly a century.
During the Great Depression, his family was hit hard by the economic circumstances of the time, losing their home. Not able to afford college, Wright got a job after graduation. He worked at the Gibson Company, an auto parts manufacturer, earning $12.50 per week.
Wright worked at the Gibson Company for four years before registering for the draft. “My boss called me in and said I was up for a promotion, but that I was going to be drafted, and they couldn’t invest any more in me until I got my military service out of the way, so I enlisted for one year,” recalls Wright. His active duty period lasted a bit longer than expected.
In January of 1941, then Private Chet Wright reported to Camp Shelby in Mississippi. As a recruit, he earned $21 per month. During his time at Camp Shelby, he participated in the largest Army training exercise in history. The U.S. Army CHQ Maneuvers of 1941 lasted three months and extended across Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas. Wright was a member of the 139th Field Artillery Battalion, 38th Infantry Division.
Wright was sent to the South Pacific in 1943 for over three years. He served in combat in New Guinea and the Philippines as well as Luzon. Known as the “Avengers of Bataan,” Wright’s unit supported the infantry in the Battle for the return of Bataan.
The 38th Infantry Division were exposed to 115-118 degree heat and rain with little to no field rations. When Wright left for the South Pacific, he weighed 170 pounds. When he returned home, he weighed 128. “It’s hot, people are shooting at you and it makes you lose weight,” states Wright, who does not recommend that type of weight loss strategy.
Wright’s prior employer, the Gibson Company, hired him back. Not long after, Wright received a call requesting his involvement with organizing the Indiana National Guard. Wright was hired full-time, retiring as a Brigadier General. Earning a red stripe up the side of his pants just as the rest of the men who served in artillery, Wright made his way up the ranks.
“General Chet Wright is the truest example of a Hoosier Soldier and Patriot,” says Veteran Events coordinator Jill Fewell. “We all owe a debt of gratitude for his many years of service and sacrifice to make our Hoosier State safe.”
“At night, I take off my glasses, my hearing aides and my partials, and there’s more of me on the nightstand than in the bed!” jokes Wright.
Wright and his beautiful wife Velma married on July 4, 1941. They have three sons – all of whom are veterans – as well as six grandchildren, 16 great-grandchildren and 3½ great-great-grand children. Wright and his wife raised their boys in Plainfield. When they moved there, the population was 1,800 in 1947, and now the number has climbed to over 30,000. Velma passed in 2001, missing their 60th wedding anniversary by less than six months.
A surprising honor bestowed upon Chet Wright is that his likeness was used by the Town of Avon on their WWII Memorial. Sculptor Bill Wolf created a 6’1” likeness of Chet Wright, forever immortalizing the Brig. General. The World War II Memorial Park is at the northwest corner of the roundabout at Dan Jones Road and County Road 100 South.
“One of the town managers called me and said, ‘We understand that you were in WWII’ and asked me to serve on the committee,” says Wright. “I missed one meeting and found out later my likeness would be used for the statue. I never missed another meeting.”
When asked for his advice to younger generations, Wright says, “Accept responsibility and do what you’re told.”