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Lodi veteran, 99, honored at his first 49ers game as team earns trip to Super Bowl

Lodi News-Sentinel - 1/31/2024

Jan. 31—It took 78 years to do it, but Lodi resident Frank Wright attended his first San Francisco 49ers game on Sunday.

Wright, a 99-year-old World War II veteran, was honored by his favorite football team during the first quarter of Sunday's National Football Conference championship game against the Detroit Lions in Santa Clara.

Wearing his dress blues, Wright stood in the end zone before 71,000 cheering people.

"I had a good time," he said. "It was a great game in the second half. The first half was weak to me and the crowd. But the coach told them what-to and made them stand in a corner, I guess."

The 49ers ended the first half down 24-7, leaving the crowd silent and worried as players headed for the locker rooms.

But the team exploded in the second half, rallying to take a 34-24 lead with minutes left in the game.

The 49ers ended up winning 34-31 and will head to the Super Bowl in Las Vegas for a rematch against the Kansas City Chiefs.

"I just remember 71,000 people out there yelling," he said. "Then when it's over, you remember you all have to go home at the same time."

Wright, a native of Arkadelphia, Ark., enlisted with the United States Marine Corps in 1942 at the age of 16 and completed basic boot camp at the Marine Corps Recruit Depot in San Diego.

He fought in battles throughout the Pacific Theater during World War II, including at Iwo Jima, where he witnessed the raising of the flag on Mount Suribachi, which has since been memorialized in Joe Rosenthal's photograph that has become synonymous with victory for American armed forces.

Wright was assigned to the 4th Marine Raiders unit out of Camp Pendleton, a special operations unit created in 1942 to conduct amphibious light infantry warfare led by Lt. Col. James Roosevelt, son of the president.

During his service, Wright fought in four major battles, traveled between islands on 11 different Navy ships, was wounded in the stomach by a bayonet while recapturing Guam, and was shot in the chest and arm by machine gun fire on the island of Iwo Jima.

He spent the last six months of his enlistment as a Marine drill instructor training new recruits.

Wright was awarded the Purple Heart with two stars, the Presidential Unit Citation with two stars, Navy Unit Commendation, the American Campaign Medal, the Asiatic-Pacific Campaign with three service stars, the Fleet Marine Force with four stars, the Marine Corps Expedition Medal, Combat Action with four stars, the Victory medal and the Good Conduct Medal.

He is believed to be one of the three last surviving members of the Raiders, and penned a memoir about his experiences in 2019 entitled "Battles in the Pacific."

He said he has been a 49ers fan since 1946, the team's inaugural season in the All-America Football Conference, adding he had never been to a game.

"The 49ers treated me exceedingly well," Wright said. "If I needed anything, they had it. I appreciate the 49ers and their invitation to have me there."

This was not the first time Wright had been honored by a Northern California sports club for his service.

Wright also threw out the first pitch at a Stockton Ports game.

He's currently working on a second book about his time in the military, and said he's just about ready to send it to his publisher.


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