Leondas V. Wright Sr., a retired Air Force master sergeant who reached out to service members as a leader in the Veterans of Foreign Wars, died June 16 after recent years of declining health, his family said. He was 83.
Mr. Wright was 17 when he joined the Army Air Forces in 1946. After retiring at McClellan Air Force Base in 1975, he earned two bachelor's degrees, in sociology and social welfare, from California State University, Sacramento.
His military experience and education prepared him to help other veterans as a leader of VFW Post 4647 in Antelope, one of the largest in California. Besides serving as a post chaplain, secretary and commander, he was district commander for the 17th Division.
He worked to revitalize the aging VFW by attracting younger members. He helped veterans apply to schools, find jobs or receive benefits. He traveled to military gatherings and proudly wore his uniform at community events to spread the word about the organization. In 1995, he was honored as an aide-de-camp by the national VFW leadership for his recruiting efforts.
Mr. Wright also devoted himself to the memory of men and women who served their country in uniform. He organized and marched in Post 4647's annual Memorial Day parade for many years. He comforted families and helped arrange honor guards at veterans' funerals, and he drove to cemeteries on patriotic holidays to place flowers and flags on their graves.
"He was always there caring for families," said Ed Herberger of Herberger's Elk Grove Funeral Chapel. "If he could get up and walk, he'd be there. He was just very proud to be a veteran and wanted to honor their service."
Leondas Vincent Wright Sr. was born in 1928 in Norfolk, Va. The third of eight children raised by a railroad worker and a housekeeper, he joined the military in search of educational opportunity.
He served in the Korean War, worked as a flight mechanic and crew chief at bases in several states, and spent tours from England and Greenland to Australia, Japan and Wake Island. He received the Purple Heart, Air Force Commendation Medal and Korean Service Medal with two battle stars.
Mr. Wright raised five children with his wife of 60 years, Mozella, and lived in North Highlands since 1968. Besides the Lions Club, the Elks and Masonic groups, he belonged to the American Legion and Tuskegee Airmen Inc.
He valued the friendships and opportunities to help others that came with belonging to the VFW and other civic and fraternal groups. In 2002, he expressed concern to The Bee that there would be fewer members to carry on in the VFW after members of his generation die.
"We need people for our replacements while they're young and bright and able to learn the organization," he said.