Tahoe Pine Nuts: Bob Wheeler – I wish I could have known him
Special to the Bonanza
The Hyatt Regency Lake Tahoe ballroom was full to bursting on Sunday, Sept. 13, with most everybody in the village and many who came from afar to celebrate the life of a true American hero, Bob Wheeler.
I didn’t have the honor of knowing Bob, but had heard many stirring stories about him and his service to our country. There were several fellow Air Force Pararescuers on hand to praise Bob’s bravery in the line of duty, and every last one of them took a swipe at a moist eye.
What did Bob do to deserve all those awards for valor? He parachuted into enemy territory to rescue no fewer than 28 downed pilots — be it treetops, cliffs, or high seas, it didn’t matter to Bob. He would drop into the gates of hell to pull a comrade out of, yes, that place too.
The Pararescue Creed? “These things we do, that others may live.”
Neil Black, retired USAF Major, held 8 years as a POW in Vietnam, shared with us the fact that oftentimes while in captivity, he imagined Bob Wheeler kicking in his prison door, extending his hand, and welcoming him home to America.
Neil went on to imagine how it might be for him one day, when he gets up to the Pearly Gates himself, and that familiar hand reaches out to greet him, the welcome hand of Bob Wheeler.
Bob and Mary Jane’s three daughters shared a tribute to him that was the best tribute I ever heard, and I’ve heard a few.
One of the daughters began with a confession, “Those who know me will tell you I would rather have a pack of hyenas chew my arm off than have to speak in public.”
That was Jamie, and her well chosen words came straight from the heart to touch every other heart in the hall.
When you speak from the heart, your message will always transcend the message of the most practiced of public speakers, so don’t ever be afraid to speak at a celebration of life.
By the way, the first time Bob Wheeler saw Lake Tahoe he parachuted right into her deep blue waters.
And about his fellow veterans Bob once opined, “For those that have fought for it, freedom has a flavor that the protected will never taste.”
Accomplished bagpiper, Ryan McKenzie, closed the program with “Amazing Grace,” but prior to that, Shelia Leijon, Mark Lopez and Brad Perry sang a version of “Wind Beneath My Wings” that put an endearing Bob Wheeler stamp on that song…
“Did you ever know that you’re my hero,
And everything I would like to be?
I can fly higher than an eagle,
For you are the wind beneath my wings.”
The lady who wrote those lyrics, Bette Midler, would be proud, as Shelia, Mark & Brad were, the Cornerstone Church, and everybody else who was singing along on Sunday to celebrate the truly amazing life of an American hero, Bob Wheeler.
His final resting place, with full honors, will be Arlington National Cemetery.
To learn more about McAvoy Layne, who’s spent many of his years at Lake Tahoe impersonating Mark Twain, visit http://www.ghostoftwain.com.