Bob Wilke was born on September 14, 1925, in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. He enlisted in the U.S. Naval Reserve on May 17, 1943, and entered the Naval Aviation Cadet Program on September 8, 1943. Wilke left the program in August 1944, and remained in the Naval Reserve until September 17, 1945. He then enlisted in the Aviation Cadet Program of the U.S. Air Force on June 18, 1949, and was commissioned a 2d Lt and awarded his pilot wings on June 23, 1950. His first assignment was as a B-29 Superfortress pilot with the 370th Bomb Squadron at MacDill AFB, Florida, from June 1950 to March 1951, during which time he flew combat missions during the Korean War. Lt Wilke served as a B-29 pilot with the 364th Bomb Squadron at MacDill AFB from April to July 1951, and then attended KC-97 Stratotanker transition training from April to August 1951. He next served as a KC-97 pilot with the 305th Air Refueling Squadron at MacDill AFB from September 1951 to January 1952, followed by service as a B-29 pilot with the 364th Bomb Squadron from January to February 1952. After completing Aviation Observer School, Lt Wilke served as a B-29 pilot with the 51st Bomb Squadron of the 68th Bomb Wing at Lake Charles AFB, Louisiana, from June to August 1953, and then attended B-47 Stratojet Combat Crew Training from August to November 1953. His next assignment was as a B-47 pilot with the 52nd Bomb Squadron of the 68th Bomb Wing at Lake Charles AFB (renamed Chennault AFB in August 1958) from December 1953 to May 1958, followed by service as a B-47 pilot with the 51st Bomb Squadron from May to November 1958. Capt Wilke served as a B-47 pilot with the 657th Bomb Squadron at Chennault AFB from December 1958 to November 1959, and then served as a U-2 Dragon Lady pilot with the 4028th Strategic Reconnaissance Squadron at Laughlin AFB, Texas, from December 1959 to September 1963. Maj Wilke's next completed an Air Force Institute of Technology assignment to complete his master's degree at Texas A&M from September 1963 to July 1965, and then served as an O-1 Bird Dog pilot with the 6250th Support Squadron at Tan Son Nhut AB, South Vietnam, from July to November 1965. His next assignment was as an O-1 pilot with the 505th Tactical Control Group at Tan Son Nhut AB from November 1965 to January 1966, and then with the 19th Tactical Air Support Squadron at Bien Hoa AB, South Vietnam, from January to July 1966. Maj Wilke served as an Air Force Liaison Officer to Civil Air Patrol from July 1966 to May 1967, and then attended A-1 Skyraider Combat Crew Training from May to July 1967. He then served as an A-1 pilot with the 602nd Fighter Commando Squadron at Udorn Royal Thai AFB, Thailand, from August 1967 until he was killed in action on January 17, 1968. He was officially listed as Missing in Action and promoted through the ranks to Colonel before being declared dead on May 5, 1978. His remains have never been recovered.
His Air Force Cross Citation reads:
Lieutenant Colonel Robert F. Wilke distinguished himself by extraordinary heroism in connection with military operations against an opposing armed force as an A-1E Skyraider pilot on 16 and 17 January 1968. On these dates, Colonel Wilke participated in the successful combat recovery of two downed aircrew members and commanded an effort to recover two other downed pilots. The latter attempted recovery required a penetration of and flight beneath an extremely low overcast condition. With complete disregard for his own safety, Colonel Wilke executed a slow spiral maneuver into the cloud formation, broke out beneath the overcast, and initiated his search in mountainous terrain with extremely limited air space. As he was conducting this low level search in a heavily defended hostile environment, intense ground fire was being directed toward his aircraft and resulted in his being shot down over hostile territory. Through his extraordinary heroism, superb airmanship, and aggressiveness, Colonel Wilke reflected the highest credit upon himself and the United States Air Force.