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“Mormon Mustang” pilot valiant in war, faithful in Church

Captain Moroni’s example guides 90-year-old veteran

“Mormon Mustang” pilot valiant in war, faithful in Church

Captain Moroni’s example guides 90-year-old veteran

Years after his last flight piloting his "Mormon Mustang," 90-year-old retired Brigadier General Roland R. Wright headed for the clouds and an aerial view of the farm hills and temple in Rexburg, Idaho, on Oct. 23. Brother Wright, who has flown P-51 Mustang planes in three separate wars, gladly accepted the invitation for another chance to fly in the restored plane.

"I had over 2,000 flying hours in that plane," Brother Wright said. "The engine had it's own sound and everyone that knows it knows you can't get enough of it."

Four planes flew that fall day over Rexburg, but the plane carrying Brother Wright has significance because of the inscription on the side of the plane. "Mormon Mustang" it reads, just as it read on Brother Wright's first plane flown in World War II.

Brigadier General Roland Wright stands in front of a P-51 Mustang in Rexburg, Idaho Oct. 23, 2009. T

Brigadier General Roland Wright stands in front of a P-51 Mustang in Rexburg, Idaho Oct. 23, 2009. The "Mormon Mustang" is the same kind of plane he flew in World War II, the Korean War and Vietnam.

Photo by Liza B. Wilson

"I was always really proud and glad to tell others what I was," Brother Wright said. "I felt that I was doing what I wanted to do and bringing the Church out of obscurity."

Private owners of the P-51 Mustangs learned of Brother Wright's story and invited him to fly in the restored "Mormon Mustang." For Brother Wright, it was a delight.

"It was a great day," he said. "I love flying airplanes and that was the ultimate fighter plane in World War II."

Brother Wright grew up on a farm in Blackfoot, Idaho. He remembers at a young age looking to the sky at the birds and having a strong desire to fly. When he was 14 years old, barnstormers came to town offering anyone a flight for 10 dollars. Young Roland scraped his money together and was able to take his first flight. From then on, he had a burning desire to become a fighter pilot.

Although his dream of becoming a pilot was important, Brother Wright knew he needed to serve a mission prior to his service in the armed forces. So when the time came, Brother Wright accepted a call to the Northern States Mission.

"The decisions you make have such an impact on the rest of life," he said. "The decision for me [to serve a mission] involved a seminary teacher. I had contemplated a mission and pursuing education. I had to make a decision. I was concerned about time. My teacher told me that the Lord makes up the time you spend on a mission, and to not worry about that. That changed my whole life."

Before he left, he received a gift that has forever stayed with him.

"When I went on my mission my older sister and her husband gave me a triple combination [of scriptures]," he said. "She wrote on the inside, 'Within the covers of this book you will find answers to life's greatest questions.' . . . I still find that all the answers you need are in those scriptures."

Toward the end of his mission, Brother Wright heard of the bombing at Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, and recognized the need for enlisted men. He still had his dream of becoming a pilot; upon returning home he enlisted. He looked to the scriptures in preparing for transition from mission to military service.

"Captain Moroni helped me to make the transition of being a missionary to going to war," he said. Many of the principles Brother Wright learned as a missionary he applied as he enlisted to serve his country. The returned missionary learned that being a missionary continues beyond the mission field. He recognized that missionary work is an attitude of mind, and decided he would continue being a missionary long after his full-time mission.

After returning home from his mission, and only three weeks before entering military training, Brother Wright met Marjorie McDonough, who, after three years of correspondence, became his wife.

"In my mind I decided I'm taking no chances and I'm going to marry someone that is strong in the gospel," he said.

Not only did he want to continue strong Church service in his family life, he also wanted to continue serving in all aspects of life.

Because of this strong desire to continue missionary work, he decided to place the words "Mormon Mustang" on the fuselage of each of his P-51 Mustang planes. The plane represents, like qualities of a good missionary, strength, stamina and endurance.

After proper training, Brother Wright went on to serve in World War II, the Korean War and Vietnam. With every plane he flew, he lifted his own "Title of Liberty," declaring his plane a "Mormon Mustang."

Although he retired from the Air National Guard in 1976, Brother Wright carried with him the lessons he learned as a pilot as he continued to serve his country and in the Church. He and his wife faithfully served in many capacities the Church including president of the New York New York Mission from 1977-80 and director of the Washington D.C. Visitors Center from 1991-93. Sister Wright passed away in 1994.

When he served as mission president, he shared many stories of when he was a fighter pilot. He felt that they were great teaching tools that enabled many missionaries to strengthen their testimonies and become better.

Now a sealer in the Salt Lake Temple, Brother Wright still finds great joy in the gospel and continues to serve in the Church today.

Although he hasn't piloted a P-51 Mustang since 1954, he still finds great joy in remembering his time spent in the air in his "Mormon Mustangs." His experiences in the air and on the ground have given him a great appreciation for life and, most important, a deeper testimony of the restored gospel.

"I've written my own obituary," he said. "I've put in there an abundant and eventful life."

Liza B. Wilson contributed to this article.

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