Submitted by Jim Uken
Not too many people are called upon to fight in three different wars, but Helmuth Uken did just that as a Bombardier/Navigator in WW II, Korea, and Vietnam. Known locally to family, friends, and Springfieldites as "Hemmy", throughout his military career he was known as Ken. Turning 18 in March of 1943, Hemmy signed a delayed enlistment with the Army Air Corps and after graduating Springfield HS was shipped to Texas for basic training. As with all trainees he was given a battery of tests which revealed a strong aptitude for math. This resulted in his being selected for flight training as a Bombardier.
After completing flight training and getting checked out in the B-25, he was sent to the Pacific where he and his squadron mates were involved in a practice known in the Air Corps as "island hopping." Essentially, as the Allies made advances in the Pacific, the islands and runways taken from the Japanese were soon occupied by US forces who continued their advance toward mainland Japan. By late 1944 they found themselves on Tinian Island; did an in place conversion to the newer, higher altitude and longer range B-29 "Strato Fortress"; and became a part of the famous 505th Bomb Group. Tinian Island was significant for two reasons; with the B-29 it was the first time land based bombers were able to strike Japan itself and it's from Tinian Island that Col Tibbets and the B-29 "Enola Gay" were able to deliver the first atomic bomb on Hiroshima.
On a particularly harrowing mission over Japan, and despite being under constant attack by Japanese fighters and sustaining battle damage, Lt Uken's crew successfully struck a high value target for which they were awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross. While he flew many missions overall in the Pacific theater of operations, Ken totaled 27 missions over Japan. Between Jan and Aug 1945, his unit lost 28 B-29 aircraft and 187 aircrew.
Like so many returning from WWII, when released from the Army Air Corps in July 1946, Ken used the Boot Strap Program to attend college and returned to Springfield to enroll at Southern State Teachers College. After graduating from Southern, he taught in Geddes, SD, but was recalled to the active duty by the Air Force in 1952. After getting re-qualified in the B-29 it was off to Korea for combat missions there throughout most of 1953. As hostilities subsided in Korea, he was given the option of remaining on active duty or returning to civilian life. By now Captain Uken, he chose the former.
The following years brought assignments to Mather AFB, CA, where he was a Navigator Instructor; Tinker AFB, OK, where he checked out in the newest jet bomber, the B-47; the new US Air Force Academy where he was in the initial instructor cadre and taught math and navigation, and Rhein-Main AB, Frankfurt, GE, from where he flew high altitude reconnaissance missions in the RB-57 at the height of Cold War tensions (1960-3). Requesting an assignment close to Springfield, he thought the Air Force would send him next to Offutt AFB in Omaha, but "surprise" he was assigned to South Dakota State Univ. in Brookings as Assistant Professor of Aerospace Studies (AFROTC).
But, the Air Force had one more war they needed him to fight. With Vietnam ratcheting up in the mid 1960s and the Air Force fielding the F-4, their newest fighter; based on his previous reconnaissance experience, Major Uken was in the first cadre of Navigators selected to fly in the back seat of the reconnaissance version of the F-4, the RF-4C. Completing training at Bergstrom AFB, TX, Ken was again on his way to a combat zone, this time flying from Udorn AFB, Thailand. His 100th combat mission over Vietnam completed by May 1968, he returned stateside to George AFB, CA, where he was an F-4 Instructor until his untimely death in Sep 1969. Hemmy was interred at the Springfield cemetery with full military honors to include a grave side Honor Guard and the missing man formation flown by F-100s from the SD Air National Guard.
As a veteran of three conflicts, Ken received numerous personnel decorations, unit citations, and campaign ribbons. Chief among these were the Distinguished Flying Cross, the Air Medal with 17 Oak Leaf Clusters (OLC), the Meritorious Service Medal, Aerial Campaign Medal w/ 4 OLC, and the Air Force Outstanding Unit Award.
Hemmy is survived by his four children Jim, Karen, Wanda and Eric, sister-in-law Mardell Uken, sister Betty Nadinicek, and brother Dr. Dennis (Donna) Uken.
Submitted by James "Uke" Uken and Dick Martin
Jim Uken, nicknamed “Uke“ in one of his earlier assignments, was commissioned a 2nd Lieutenant, USAF, in December of 1974 through the AFROTC Program at South Dakota State University. He then reported to Mather AFB, Sacramento, CA, for flight training where he earned his Navigator wings and subsequently completed a specialized school for training Electronic Warfare Officers.
While the U.S. has established and maintained a veritable dominance in the realm of air superiority since the Vietnam era, by no means has the threat to U.S. assets diminished. Few countries around the world have the ability to match the U.S. and its vastly capable forces in strictly air-to-air combat, but there remains a credible threat from the ground in the form of the Integrated Air Defense Systems, or IADS. While the last U.S. air-to-air combat loss was a sole F-18 Hornet during Desert Storm, many more losses have occurred due to surface-to-air missile systems (SAMs) and radar guided anti-aircraft artillery (AAA). The ground-based threat to aircraft is becoming increasingly relevant to modern air combat, especially given the advances in technology and the enemies cost effectiveness of employing IADS systems. (See Appendix)
Jim completed F-4 training at MacDill AFB, FL, an aircraft he was to fly in various models for 20 years. Operational assignments to Keflavik Naval Air Station, Iceland; George AFB, CA, “Home of the Wild Weasels”; Nellis AFB, NV; and twice to Spangdahlem AFB, Germany, followed.
By now a seasoned Major, Uke was ready the morning of 17 January 1991 when, flying with his squadron commander, they led the first four ships of attack aircraft to penetrate Kuwaiti airspace ahead of the coalitions 2000 aircraft attacking Iraqi targets in Kuwait and Iraq. The first Gulf War ended on February 28, 1991 with Major Uken and the rest of the Wild Weasel Crews credited with destroying more than 250 enemy SAM sites.
Lt Col Uken’s last flying assignment was as Commander of the 561st Fighter Sq. “Black Knights”, Nellis AFB, NV. After promotion to Colonel and his flying days now over, Uke had amassed almost 4000 fighter hours with 2668 of these hours in the F-4G Wild Weasel, 141 combat missions, and 447 combat hours. He was selected to attend the senior officer Air War College (1997) and spent the rest of his career in staff jobs at NATO and as Director of the Goldwater Range complex in Arizona. Nearing mandatory retirement in 2004, he gladly accepted the Wing Commander’s request he maintain the same position as a Civil Servant which he did until full retirement in 2012.
During Colonel Uken’s distinguished career he was individually awarded the Defense Superior Service Medal, Legion of Merit, Distinguished Flying Cross (for his first Gulf War mission), Air Medal with 7 Oak Leaf Clusters (OLC), Joint Meritorious Service Medal w / OLC, USAF Meritorious Service Medal w/ 4 OLC, and Aerial Achievement Medal w/ 3 OLC. His units were awarded the Presidential Unit Citation, the USAF Outstanding unit Award with Valor Device and 6 OLC. He was also honored as Aerospace Defense Command Junior Officer of the year for 1977 and selected in 1982 to attend the prestigious F-4 Fighter Weapons School (FWS), akin to the Navy’s “Top Gun” school, where Uke graduated with 9 out of 14 who began the school.
Jim and his wife, Marilyn, currently reside in Phoenix, Arizona.
By Dick Martin and Jim “Uke” Uken
Appendix - History of the Wild Weasel Program
In March of 1965, an aerial interdiction campaign against ground targets in North Vietnam – Operation Rolling Thunder – got underway. In response, the North Vietnamese began strengthening their air defenses, but not without help. In May 1965, reconnaissance flights over North Vietnam revealed the first surface-to-air (SAM) sites.
U.S. military strategists quickly took notice when on July 24, 1965, the new technology shot down a USAF F-4C Phantom II. It was the beginning of a chilling twist in air warfare; even the very next day, an SA-2 brought down an American reconnaissance drone flying at 59,000 feet. The game had irrevocably changed.
Retaliatory strikes were directed at offending SAM sites, but were met with failure as the North Vietnamese often substituted fake missiles and used dummy sites as a ploy. The losses continued to mount as the threat of the radar-guided missiles forced strikers down to low altitudes within the effective range of the dense enemy anti-aircraft artillery. In October 1965, a group of ten specially-selected United States Air Force aviators were gathered at a remote part of Eglin Air Force Base in the Florida panhandle. This highly-classified operation, called Project Weasel, was designed to develop new equipment and tactics to counter the SAM threat over Vietnam. As a result, installed in their North American F-100F Super Sabre aircraft were radar homing and warning receivers designed to locate the signal emitted by the SAM radar operators. The aircraft also featured SAM launch detectors, which would notify the crew if a missile had been launched.
Within a month, aircraft were deployed in complete secrecy to Korat Royal Thai Air Base, arriving in theater Thanksgiving Day of 1965. The deadly cat-and-mouse game between the “Wild Weasels” and the North Vietnamese air defenses had started, beginning with flights near the border region of Vietnam and Laos, scoring the first kill on a SAM site in history during a mission on December 22. A later effort was made to shift the objective from suppression to the outright Destruction of Enemy Air. The Weasels would again purposely entice the SAM operators to shoot at them, and once the emitting signal was initially found and fixed by the F-100s, it was subsequently finished by the F-105s.
By the end of Vietnam, the Wild Weasels had lost dozens of aircraft and forty-two aircrew had been killed, declared missing, or became Prisoners Of War (POWs). It is estimated the group destroyed (or helped to destroy) over 40 SAM sites; however, the threat of Weasels prowling the airspace caused untold numbers of SAM operators to shut down their radars, allowing U.S. aircraft to operate in an environment relatively sanitized from ground-based threats. Over the next 15 years the Wild Weasel mission and aircraft were updated to counter the evolving Warsaw Pact threat.
Taken from and edited by Dick Martin from “A History of the Wild Weasel Part I and II” by Scott Wolff and Jonathon Dearden