Bobby Charles Wilks was born on 12 May 1931 in St. Louis, Missouri. He graduated from Harris-Stowe Teachers College in 1954 and enlisted in the Coast Guard Reserve in 1955. He was ordered to Officer Candidate School soon thereafter and was commissioned as an Ensign in the Reserve in 1956.
He attended flight school at Pensacola and received further training at Naval Air Station Corpus Christi from 1956 to 1957, earning his wings on 25 March 1957, He was designated as Coast Guard Aviator Number 735. He qualified for helicopters in 1959 and became Coast Guard Helicopter Pilot Number 343. He transferred to the Regular Coast Guard in 1960 with the permanent rank of Lieutenant.
Captain Wilks saw distinguished service at many Coast Guard Air Stations during his career, including oversea tours of duty at Coast Guard Air Detachment Sangley Point, Philippines and at Naples, Italy. He participated in many search-and-rescue cases, including one in which he earned the Air Medal. He was promoted to the rank of Captain in 1977 and two years later assumed the command of Coast Guard Air Station Brooklyn.
Captain Wilks retired from the Coast Guard in 1986 with over 6,000 flight hours in 21 different types of aircraft. During his career he established a number of "firsts", including:
Another of his important contributions to the Coast Guard was his service as a mentor for younger African-American Coast Guardsmen, many of whom have noted the positive impact Captain Wilks had on their careers.
Captain Wilks crossed the bar on 13 July 2009. The Vice Commandant, Vice Admiral Vivian Crea, who was also the Coast Guard's Ancient Albatross at the time, wrote about his memorial service on the iCommandant Blog:
Today I had the privilege of representing the Coast Guard
at CAPT Bobby Wilks' memorial service. I learned so much about this amazing
man from the outpouring of friends and family. He was the consummate Coast
Guard aviator, accumulating over 6,000 hours in 18 different types of
aircraft including both helos and the HU16 Albatross. A wonderful story
shows up when you search his name on the internet, about one of his rescues
landing the venerable Goat in high seas off Miami. I think RADM Erroll Brown
captured the essence of CAPT Wilks in his eulogy today, describing the first
time they met. CAPT Wilks visited the Academy when RADM Brown was a cadet,
took the minority officers aside and talked to them about integrity, the
responsibility they were assuming as Coast Guard officers, and the very high
expectations he had of them. As RADM Brown said most eloquently, there are
many firsts, and many pioneers, but few legends; and the definition of a
legend is one who leaves a positive life-changing impact on those who
follow. CAPT Bobby Wilks is truly a Coast Guard legend.
VADM Crea, Ancient Albatross #21
Bobby Wilks Reserve Recruit Class.
Wilks is in the back row, second from the right.
Lieutenant Bobby Charles Wilks, U.S. Coast Guard
No date (probably 1960).
Lieutenant Bobby Charles Wilks, USCG (center); PO1
Robert Spitalon (left);
LCDR Leo Donohue (right).
Official caption: "Commander Bobby C. Wilks, a top aviator and highest ranking African-American in the U.S. Coast Guard, in his role as Operations officer at Coast Guard Air Station, Barber's Point, Hawaii, maps out a patrol assignment for other aviators at the station. CDR Wilks, in addition to his desk job, puts in many flight hours on patrols and rescue missions." Photo dated 9 September 1971 (release date).
Official caption: "Commander Bobby C. Wilks, highest ranking African-American in the Coast Guard, became an Aviator less than two years after he entered the Coast Guard Reserve in 1955. He transferred to the regular Coast Guard in 1960. He has carried out many rescue flights from various Coast Guard Air Stations during his military career. CDR Wilks is shown here preparing to pilot a helicopter on a patrol mission out of the Coast Guard Air Station, Barber's Point, Hawaii, where he also served as Operations Officer." Photo dated 12 October 1971 (release date).
Commander Bobby C. Wilks, USCG
12 October 1971 (photo release date).
Commander Bobby C. Wilks, USCG
Photo dated 7 October 1971 (release date).
Captain Bobby Charles Wilks, USCG
Official portrait, no date.