All Bob Ikelman ever wanted to do was fly.
Small planes, big planes, it didn’t matter — as long as it was skybound he’d be happy.
Recently, nearly 52 years after he earned his wings, the retired Air Force pilot was lauded as Dixon’s Veteran of the Year.
Though the distinction, bestowed at an event by the Chamber of Commerce, had nothing to do with his flying skills, Ikelman nonetheless described it as an amazing commendation.
“I think it’s a great honor to be recognized for what I did … and for what I do now for veterans in the community,” he said. “If anybody needs help I come and do things for them.”
Military service, it seems, was in his blood.
As a child, the Pennsylvania native knew two things — he would fly airplanes and he would do so for the Air Force.
He enlisted in 1961 following his graduation from the University of North Dakota, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in Mechanical Engineering. A year later, following pilot training at Moody Air Force Base in Valdosta, Ga., the twenty-something earned his wings. What came next was 28 years of airbound bliss.
“I’ve been all around the world. I’ve gone places people never go. I’ve been in Iran, Tehran, Ethiopia, Tripoli,” he said.
Ikelman also served several tours in Vietnam, flying UC-123s and C-130s in 1966, 1967 and 1968. He later earned two Distinguished Flying Crosses, 13 Air Medals, the Vietnam Service Medal and Vietnam Campaign Medal.
At some point, he also earned a Master’s degree in Public Administration, which he said helped him climb the ranks.
His missions were exciting, despite having bullets riddle his aircraft all the time, he joked.
“We hauled all kinds of stuff,” he remembered. “From tanks to toilet paper. Lots of toilet paper.”
His wife of 55 years, Donna, recalled a different export.
“He once hauled the (U.S.) president’s car to Japan,” she said.
“It was a special car,” he added, one with special safety details that reportedly included safety glass and tires that still operated when blown out.
One of the well-used planes he flew currently sits in a military museum in Dayton, Ohio.
“We called it ‘Patches’ because it was full of bullet holes,” he said. “It still has holes in it.”
After moving 15 times, the Ikelman family — which now includes four kids and 12 grandkids — settled in Dixon in 1977. The pilot finished his last assignment at Travis Air Force Base, where he flew C-5s. He retired in 1989, becoming a C-5 Simulator pilot instructor. He retired from that job in 2001 after 11 years.
In ensuing years, the retired Lt. Colonel became active with the Veterans of Foreign Wars, serving as the chaplain of VFW Post 8151 since helping found it in 1988, and the American Legion. He also serves as a director and as chaplain for the Sacramento Valley National Cemetery Support Committee, performing funeral services as well as the annual Memorial Day Ceremony and annual Wreaths Across America dedication.
As the VFW Post Poppy Fundraising co-chairman, Ikelman helped raise $49,000 during the past 12 years for the Veterans Assistance Relief Fund. Proceeds have benefited the North Bay Stand Down, Sacramento Valley National Cemetery, Travis Fisher House, USO North Bay, Veterans Wheel Chair Games, Wounded Warriors Project and Yountville Veterans Home.
Ikelman also helps coordinate the post’s annual fundraising dinner. In six years the event has raised $19,000, which supported the Dixon Dolphins Swim Team, Dixon Family Services, Dixon Little League, Dixon Toys for Tots, May Fair Parade, Rotary-sponsored July 4th Fireworks Event, Senior Health Fair, Solano County Youth Ag Day, Travis Civil Air Patrol and Vanden High School JROTC Awards Program.
In his spare time, he has worked with and supported Dixon Music Boosters and Dixon Family Services. He is a member of the Knights of Columbus and, ordained as a deacon in the Catholic Church in 1988, continues to be active with St. Peter’s Catholic Church in Dixon.
The veteran is still involved with planes, by way of model airplanes and a son with a pilot’s license.
“I miss flying something terrible,” he affirmed. “It brings back a lot of memories.”
Like his love for C-130s.
“It would do just about aAlso honored by the Dixon Chamber of Commerce was Dane Besneatte as Citizen of the Year, Don Ritchey as Ambassador of the Year and Cattlemens as Business of the Year.
Follow Staff Writer Kimberly K. Fu at Twitter.com/ReporterKimFu.