Hero in our midst: Laying to rest an American hero and Tahoe icon
Nearly everyone in town knew, or at least had heard of, Bob Wheeler.
In addition to being an active managing broker and real estate agent at the time of his death in September of last year, he also served as President of the Tahoe-Incline Rotary Club, President of the Incline Village Crystal Bay Veteran’s Club and he held a position in Senator Dean Heller’s Veterans’ Affairs Committee advisory group.
Bob was well-known about town and liked to begin most encounters with a joke. Comfortable in his friendly demeanor, most people would not be aware of the daring and dangerous feats Bob performed before retiring from the Air Force and taking up the role of real estate agent in Incline Village.
While serving in the Air Force, during a training exercise parachuting into Lake Tahoe, Bob fell in love with the area and vowed to retire here.
In 1982, after 20 years of service and having achieved the rank of Chief Master Sergeant, Bob retired from the Air Force and moved to Incline Village, soon met M. J. and made her his bride. He had an instant new family, which included three daughters.
He dove into the role of family man as husband and father with relish, helping his twin daughters, now known as Jamie Golden and Kristi Fisher, through college and introducing them to the world of real estate upon graduation.
Being a veteran himself, Bob became passionate about doing all he could to honor and help local veterans. He was instrumental in bringing to the Incline Village 4th of July celebration a Pararescue demonstration and precision parachute jump into Lake Tahoe in front of Incline Beach.
Named Citizen of the Year, Realtor of the Year, Veteran of the Month of the State of Nevada awarded by Governor Sandoval, and having received the Don Beck Award for protecting the rights of property owners, he was quiet about his achievements during his service in the Air Force, which included the Pararescue division with the motto: “That others may live.”
Bob Wheeler was credited with saving 28 lives under dangerous circumstances throughout his military career.
While Bob was stricken with pulmonary fibrosis and awaiting a lung transplant, his daughters began to learn about things he had done during his military career. Bob received numerous emails and cards during his short stay in the hospital, many of which were read to him by his loving daughters.
Unfortunately, Bob passed away on Sept. 4, 2015, before receiving the transplant. His daughters remembered him saying that he was not done yet, he still had more work to do for the veterans.
A family friend suggested that Bob be interred at Arlington National Cemetery in Washington, D.C. The girls, determined to carry on Bob’s legacy, began the process and paperwork to make that happen.
They connected with Honor Flight Nevada, an organization that transports veterans to Washington, D.C. to view the memorials pertaining to the war in which they served. Donations are welcome at honorflightnv.org.
It was decided that an Honor Flight would be dedicated to Bob Wheeler’s memory and that the entire Wheeler clan would fly with them.
The flight took place this past May. Family and friends, along with 35 fellow Vietnam veterans, including five from Incline Village, left Reno at 6 a.m. on May 19.
When they landed in Baltimore, the veterans debarked to a silent terminal, rows of people lining the walkways. As they made their way through the terminal, people began to clap, tears were shed — some with hands over hearts, others saluted. The entourage walked through the halls lined with solemn people, there to honor the incoming veterans.
The ceremony at Arlington the next day was elaborate, moving and surreal to the family members. Senator Dean Heller was in attendance, and mentioned Bob in an address to the Senate a week later, recognizing him as a “true innovator in his leadership position (with the Pararescue division) … his 20 years of service and bravery will never be forgotten.”
The Wheelers have memories that will never fade from the experience and a renewed determination to carry on Bob’s work.
Jamie and Kristi, teaming up with the Incline Tahoe Foundation, held their first Bob Wheeler Memorial Golf Tournament in September, attracting 140 participants, raising money to bolster three of Bob’s passions: the Nevada Honor Flight, the Pararescue demonstration on the 4th of July in Incline Village, and the creation of a veterans and first responder’s memorial in Incline Village.
Having served in the military, Bob Wheeler knew first-hand the sacrifice made by this country’s veterans. One of Bob’s favorite quotes: “Freedom has a flavor the protected will never taste.”
This Veterans Day, take a moment to ponder the life of Bob Wheeler, the sacrifices he and other veterans have made for our country. And consider the words of the late Muhammad Ali: “Service to others is the rent you pay for your room here on earth.”
Toree Warfield is an avid nature lover, and writes this column to teach and stimulate interest in the marvels that surround us. Visit saveourplanetearth.com to read columns and to find links to bird song recordings, additional photos and other content.