Obituary: Bob Wheeler
Bob Wheeler, beloved husband, father, grandfather, brother, veteran and friend, passed away at the age of 72 on Sept. 4th at UC San Francisco Medical Center. He was diagnosed with Pulmonary Fibrosis in March and was awaiting a lung transplant.
A Celebration of Life was held at the Hyatt Regency Lake Tahoe Resort Ballroom on Sept. 13. Pastor Brett Franklin of Cornerstone Church and General Joe Shaefer officiated the highly decorated service that was attended by an estimated 500 people. The ballroom was filled with many loved ones and members from the community, along with fellow Pararescuemen, including Senior Master Sergeant John Pighini and Major Neil Black who was the longest held captive POW from the Vietnam War. They shared stories of Bob’s Air Force career and the elite group of servicemen to which he was an integral part.
Born in Philadelphia on Feb. 6, 1943, Bob joined the Air Force at the age of 19 in 1962. His rapid promotion to Chief Master Sergeant in less than 20 years is a rarity and is not only a testament to his incredible physical abilities, but also his character as a man.
From parachuting to help distressed seamen to rescuing downed aviators in Vietnam, Bob is credited with saving 28 lives throughout his military career. His military decorations include the Distinguished Flying Cross for Valor, Airman’s Medal, 17 Air Medals, multiple Commendation Medals and SEA Services ribbons. His distinctions include Master Aircrew Member Wings, Master Parachutist Badge and the US Navy Scuba DIVER badge.
During the height of the Cold War between the US-USSR, Bob performed a high-risk, life-saving mission, which earned him the admiration of Yugoslavian President Tito and the Yugoslav people. It took special authorization from the US President and the Department of Defense for him to receive the Yugoslavia “Nation’s Life Saving Award.” Bob was one of two men to ever receive this highly decorated award.
Bob first discovered his beloved town of Incline Village in the most unusual of ways.
Instead of driving into the area by car, he actually parachuted in as a member of the US Air Force’s Elite Pararescue unit in 1965. While Lake Tahoe has a profound effect on most everyone who sees it, Bob never forgot the incredible beauty the alpine region had to offer as he served out the rest of his 20-year service.
Bob retired in 1982 when he was unable to achieve the flight physical requirements after suffering a life-threatening injury while testing new parachute technology. It was a most unfortunate incident as it not only almost killed him, but also meant he had to give up the one thing he enjoyed most in life: serving this great country.
Despite traveling the world, Bob knew exactly where he wanted to spend the rest of his life. In 1983, he packed up his belongings and moved to Incline Village. Soon after he met his future wife, M.J., and together they opened Wheeler Associates Real Estate Services in 1986.
As a valued member of the business community, Bob had 30-plus years of real estate sales and service in the area and was recognized as Citizen of the Year for Incline Village Crystal Bay Chamber of Commerce, Realtor of the Year for the Incline Village Board of Realtors and the recipient of the Don Beck Award for his efforts to protect property rights.
Bob was currently the managing Broker of Sierra Sotheby’s International Realty. One of the owners, Peter Strand said it well, “The world is a much better place for Bob having lived his life the way he did. Bob had a great impact upon everyone he met. In a lifetime, there are very few people we meet who are truly special. Bob was one of those very few people.”
To add to his long list of accomplishments, Bob was President of the Tahoe-Incline Rotary Club where he was a member for 22 years, President of the Incline Village Crystal Bay Veterans Club and Historian for the USAF Pararescue Association. He also held a position in Senator Dean Heller’s Veterans Administration advisory group and was recently honored as Nevada Veteran of the Month (July, 2015) by Governor Brian Sandoval.
For the 2010 Fourth of July celebration, Bob organized a symbolic event very dear to his heart – he put on a pararescue demonstration in front of Incline Beach featuring the 129th CA Air National Wings fixed and rotary wing aircraft and a precision parachute jump into Lake Tahoe. Incline Village residents also had the opportunity to get up-close to the HH-60 Pave Hawk helicopter on the Village Green.
Bob’s passion to honor our veterans has made these inspirational military-oriented events the highlights of the annual “Red, White, and Tahoe Blue” celebration on Independence Day. He was honored as the Grand Marshal of the RWTB Fourth of July Celebration in 2012.
Bob will most be remembered for his devotion to his family and country, and, of course, for his sense of humor. Not a day went by without at a joke by Bob and a laugh by at least one member of the Incline Village community.
A loving father and husband, Bob not only raised three beautiful daughters, but also introduced them to the real estate industry upon their graduation from college. A proud grandfather of six, Bob attended numerous soccer, volleyball, baseball and dance recitals over the years! They, along with his loving wife, were dedicated to Bob and at his side throughout his battle with Pulmonary Fibrosis.
Bob is survived by his wife, M.J Wheeler; his three daughters, Jamie Golden, Kristi Fisher and Laura Bose; son-in-laws, Boyd Golden and Brian Bose; grandchildren, Megan Golden, Lauren Golden, Morgan Fisher, Kamryn Fisher, Hayden Bose and Avery Bose; siblings, Lynne Slough (Wheeler), Judy Moberly (Wheeler), Lee Wheeler and Lou Wheeler.
Memorial contributions are welcome and should be sent to the Bob Wheeler Memorial Fund at IV/CB Veterans Club, 980 Incline Way, Incline Village, NV 89451. The funds will serve the many local programs that Bob was so passionate about.
Bob’s decorated career has earned him the honor to be interred with many other great American heroes. His final resting place will be Arlington National Cemetery.
One of Bob’s favorite quotes, “For those that have fought for it, freedom has a flavor that the protected will never taste.”