In January 1968, the 602nd Tactical Fighter Squadron (Commando) flew their A-1 Skyraider attack planes from Udorn Royal Thai Air Force Base on missions against the communist enemy in Vietnam. They were most typically used for close air support and as escorts on search and rescue missions for downed airmen.
On January 16 & 17, 1968, Colonel Robert Frederick Wilke was supporting an ultimately successful mission to rescue two downed fliers. He placed his aircraft at extreme risk to accomplish the mission and was shot down. For his gallantry, he was decorated with our Nation’s second-highest honor: the Air Force Cross.
From Military Times’ Hall of Valor:
The President of the United States of America, authorized by Title 10, Section 8742, United States Code, takes pride in presenting the Air Force Cross (Posthumously) to Colonel Robert Frederick Wilke, United States Air Force, for extraordinary heroism in connection with military operations against an opposing armed force as an A-1E Skyraider pilot of the 602d Tactical Fighter Squadron (Commando), Udorn Royal Thai Air Base, Thailand, in action 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 in the face of hostile forces, Colonel Wilke reflected the highest credit upon himself and the United States Air Force.
Robert Wilke’s remains have never been recovered. He is listed on Panel 34E, Line 65 of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. In addition to his Air Force Cross, he was also decorated twice with the Distinguished Flying Cross for his skill in aerial combat.