United States Air Force C-130A Crew – Vietnam War

Press Report Of October 25, 1995

After more than 25 years of wondering and waiting, William Matthes finally will attend his brother’s funeral.

US Air Force Major Peter Matthes was one of eleven US servicemen killed in the Vietnam War whose remains will be returned home for burial. The Pentagon released the names Monday. But the November 28, 1995 funeral, with full military honors at Arlington National Cemetery, will only dull the ache in his heart that started when William Matthes learned in 1969 that his brother was missing in action in Southeast Asia.

“I think everybody was holding out hope that somebody got out alive, had parachuted out,” said Matthes, who now lives in Troy, Michigan.

But despite the notification that a joint US-Laotian task force has recovered the wreckage of his brother’s plane, Matthes will see no bones, no dog tags, no tattered clothing when he travels to Washington, D. C. next month for the burial of the crew. Instead, he must rely on the Pentagon’s word that Peter Matthes was on that doomed C-130A and that he – like the seven other men aboard – failed to get out before it crashed into a Laotian jungle on November 24, 1969. The Pentagon identified the remains of at least one crewman, not Major Matthes, on the plane. Based on that identification, military officials concluded all eight crewmen perished in the crash. Since the crash, Matthes has been told the plane was seen burning and that no one saw anyone get out. A fighter pilot on the mission told him about a year after the crash that he saw no parachutes. Still, the family, like the families of the remaining 2,200 MIAs, had hoped against long odds.

“We all thought, `It’s dark and how could they see anything and it’s a big airplane and there’re lots of ways for somebody to get out,’ he said. As he plans his trip to the funeral, Matthes does so alone. His father, mother and sister have all died. His son, Craig, has the middle name Peter, after his lost uncle.

After he was called into service, Peter Matthes entered the US Air Force, became an officer and learned to fly. He was a co-pilot of the C-130A. Also on Matthes’s plane were Captain Earl Brown of Stanley, North Carolina; Lieutenant Colonel Richard Ganley of Keene, New Hampshire; Major Michael Balamoti of Glen Falls, New York; Chief Master Sergeant Rexford De Wispelaere of Penfield, New York; Chief Master Sergeant Charles Fellenz of Marshfield, Wisconsin; Chief Master Sergeant Larry Grewell of Tacoma, Washington, and Chief Master Sergeant Donald Wright of Mount Savage, Maryland.

MOUNT SAVAGE, MD: October 27, 1995:

At last, a painful chapter is closing in the lives of scattered relatives and friends of Chief Master Sergeant Donald L. Wright, a US airman from Allegany County who was killed in the Vietnam War 26 years ago.

Sergeant Wright’s remains have been identified, and he is scheduled to be buried next month at Arlington National Cemetery, about 40 years after he left this old coal-mining town in the rugged mountains of Western Maryland for a military career. “It more or less finalizes it all, I guess,” said his widow, Delores Wright, 61, during a telephone interview from her home in Fayetteville, North Carolina, the home of Fort Bragg. “All the memories are still there. But at least we know he’ll have a final resting place. He’ll finally be home.” Mrs. Wright said she has been told that she would be receiving a pistol known to be her husband’s that was found with his remains. “He only had 1 week to go and he would have been off that mission,” she recalled. “He didn’t want to go back [to the war]. He had a funny feeling about it. “I tried to encourage him. `Just think, 1 more week and you’ll be home.’ I guess you could say he had a premonition about his death.”

Sergeant Wright was one of eight airmen in a C-130A transport plane hit by a 37 mm anti-aircraft artillery shell during a forward air control mission over Ban Salou, Laos, on November 24, 1969. The plane blew up shortly before crashing, the Pentagon said. American rescuers searched 30 minutes for survivors, but found none.

The remains of the men were recovered in October and November 1993 by a joint US-Laotian search team. But their identities were not released by the Pentagon until this week. Sergeant Wright had been listed officially as dead two decades ago. “I’ll be glad when it’s all finally settled and he’s in a resting place,” said his brother, Richard Wright, who retired from the Air Force and now lives in Smyrna, Tennessee. “It’s been tragic. It was tragic when it happened. It’s been tragic for his widow, who had to raise two sons without a father. It was very difficult for her.” Mr. Wright said he, Donald and their brother Arthur, who lives in Elkton but could not be reached, joined the military after attending Mount Savage High School, in part, because their native Allegany County offered few job opportunities in the 1950s. But that era was not so long ago that folks here today, such as James Hotchkiss, a retired CSX railroad control-tower operator, can’t remember seeing a tall, dark-haired Donald Wright in his uniform. “He was very neat, very stately,” Mr. Hotchkiss said. “He was a nice guy. There wasn’t a mean bone in his body.”

Word of Sergeant Wright’s confirmed identity came just as veterans and Lions Clubs members in Mount Savage were planning to dedicate a monument honoring all war veterans from the town. The names of the 29 men “who made the supreme sacrifice” will be inscribed on plaques. Sergeant Wright is one of three from Mount Savage who died during the Vietnam War. “Gee whiz, we’re just doing last-minute cleanup on the monument and his name pops up,” Mr. Hotchkiss said. “We were all talking about it at the post last night. There were two Wright families in town. We were wondering whether his family was still around.” Enough years have passed that Mr. Hotchkiss and others have lost track of Sergeant Wright’s widow, the couple’s two sons, Donald and Mark, and other family members. Sergeant Wright’s parents, James and Christina, are deceased, his mother dying just last year. They are buried at the Methodist cemetery in Mount Savage. “It ate at his mother’s little heart, all those years of not knowing where her son’s remains were,” said Cora Carter, who owns the Varsity Pub in Mount Savage and went to high school with Sergeant Wright. “I just couldn’t believe it when I heard the news – after all this time, it’s great to know one way or another where he is.”

Sergeant Wright joined the US Marine Corps out of high school in the mid-1950s and later switched to the USAF. He married Delores, who grew up near Uniontown, Pennsylvania, in 1958 in Columbus, Ohio. The couple lived in Columbus, Guam and North Carolina before Sergeant Wright was stationed in Okinawa during the Vietnam War. Mrs. Wright has not married again. Her sons joined the military despite her objections, she said. Donald, 36, is an Air Force Lieutenant and lives in Japan. Mark, 33, is a Marine Corps Warrant Officer stationed in Quantico, Virginia.

Now headed home, the remains of Sergeant Wright, the seven men killed with him and of 3 others killed in an unrelated incident were returned Wednesday to Travis Air Force Base, 50 miles northeast of San Francisco, from Hickam Air Force Base in Hawaii. Mrs. Wright said she plans to attend the November 28 services for her husband at Arlington National Cemetery with friends and family. “This is the second time we’re going through this,” she said. “They had a memorial service for him in 1975 after they changed his status from missing in action to dead. I knew in my heart he was dead. It more or less seemed impossible that anyone would have survived. But you always hope for that little miracle.”

November 28, 1995:

Twenty-six years and four days after their plane crashed in the Vietnam War, eight airmen were laid to rest Tuesday beside an oak tree in Arlington National Cemetery.

The men were buried with full military honors. A single, flag-covered casket holding their remains was pulled slowly on a caisson by six white horses. It was followed by members of the United States Air Force Honor Guard, marching somberly, and a procession of family and friends in three buses.

The men were the crew of a AC-130 gunship that was hit by artillery fire and went down in flames in a mountainous region near Saravane, Laos on November 24, 1969. Their remains were not recovered until an excavation of the crash site in October 1993, said Beverly Baker, a Department of Defense spokeswoman. The remains then went through a lengthy identification process, she said. Myrtle Brown Waters lost her brother, Captain Earl Brown of Stanley, North Carolina, in the crash. The ceremony helped put bad memories behind her, she said. “It was something that I thought I had reckoned with,” said Waters of Lynwood, California. “And I suppose I look at it as bringing closure to some very painful years that the family has gone through.”

The other men and their homes of record were: Major Michael Balamoti, Glen Falls, New York; Chief Master Sergeant Rexford DeWispelaere, Penfield, New York; Chief Master Sergeant Charles Fellenz, Marshfield, Wisconsin; Lieutenant Colonel Richard Ganley, Keene, New Hampshire; Chief Master Sergeant Larry Grewell, Tacoma, Washington; Major Peter Matthes, Toledo, Ohio; and Chief Master Sergeant Donald Wright, Mount Savage, Maryland.

As six honor guards carried the casket toward a stand by the burial site, an AC-130 flew over. The Air Force band played “America the Beautiful.” A eulogy was followed by a 21-gun salute and the playing of “Taps.”

Michael Dimitri Balamoti

Major, United States Air Force


Rexford DeWispelaere

Chief Master Sergeant, Unied States Air Force


Charles Richard Fellenz

Chief Master Sergeant, United States Air Force


Richard Owen Ganley

Lieutenant Colonel, United States Air Force


Larry Irwin Grewell

Chief Master Sergeant, United States Air Force


Peter Richard Matthes

Major, United States Air Force


Donald Lee Wright

Chief Master Sergeant, United States Air Force


Read our general and most popular articles

Leave a Comment