SD Vietnam War Memorial Dedication Please Support the Memorial Soldiers, Heroes, and teachers information



In Memory of U.S. Air Force Captain

Willis Grant Uhls

 Spearfish, South Dakota, Lawrence County

November 26, 1946 – February 11, 1971

Killed in Action in Laos, FAC, 56 Special Operations Wing, “The Ravens”


Willis Grant Uhls, known to family as “Grant,” was born on November 26, 1946, in Pueblo, Colorado, to William and Dorothy (Brown) Uhls. Soon after the family moved to South Dakota where Dorothy’s dad, Emery Grant Brown, was a manager for a cattle ranch. After about six months, the family moved to California. Grant’s father, who was in the Army reserves, was called up to active duty in October of 1948. At the same time, Grant’s only sister, Norrienne, was born prematurely. The family followed William to Fort Lewis, Washington, after Norrienne was released from the hospital. In 1951, William went to Korea and the family returned to California where Grant went to Kindergarten. After William’s return, the family moved back to Colorado. The next move was during Grant’s third grade year when he, his mother, and sister moved to Buffalo, South Dakota to be with Dorothy’s parents while William was deployed to Iceland. After William returned home, the next assignment was in Kansas, where the family stayed for five years before being transferred to Dachau, Germany when Grant was a freshman. Grant attended Munich American High School. Although a regular overseas tour is three years, William extended for a year so Grant could graduate. Dorothy remarked, “Being a military family isn’t easy and usually entails lots of moves when you make a career of it. Even though Grant went to many different schools, he always took it in stride.”

When he was young, Grant was a Cub Scout and played Little League baseball. While in high school, Grant was active in football, wrestling, and baseball. He even made the Munich All Stars baseball team. He also loved airplanes. He once was a member of a model airplane club; they would spend the week fixing up airplanes and then on weekends would fly them. He graduated from high school in 1964 and the family returned to the United States to Spearfish, South Dakota, where Dorothy’s parents were living. From there Grant entered the United States Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colorado, having received his appointment through South Dakota’s Congressional delegation.

Grant’s mother, Dorothy, described him as “easy going yet diligent.” He always paid attention and did well in school, partly because of his military upbringing. Grant had lots of friends and enjoyed life. At the Air Force Academy Grant participated in intramural sports until he hurt his leg and knee in wrestling, which scared him because he didn’t want anything to stop him from becoming a pilot. Grant graduated from the USAF Academy in June of 1968 and was commissioned as a second lieutenant. He went on to a year of pilot training at Luke Air Force Base in Arizona where he was promoted to first lieutenant on December 5, 1969, just prior to being sent to Vietnam on December 11, stationed at Cam Rahn Bay Air Force Base, Republic of South Vietnam as a Forward Air Controller (FAC) in the 21 Tactical Air Support Squadron. After he completed his first tour, he was asked to extend to become a Forward Air Controller in the 56 Special Operations Wing, the Ravens, based out of Udorn RTAFB, Thailand. Their highly dangerous, classified, covert operation was to fly into Laos to support Laotians who were engaged in a struggle with the invading North Vietnamese. A book called the Ravens by Christopher Robbins chronicles their story.

Captain Willis Grant Uhls was shot down over Laos on February 11, 1971, and was first declared missing in action. His family waited and waited for any further word on his fate. Six months later, they decided to have a memorial service for him at the Air Force Academy. His mother remembers that they had barely returned to California when they received the telegram that his body had been recovered and sent back to Oakland. His family returned once more to the Academy when Grant Uhls was buried with military honors in a small private service.

Among his many honors, Captain Uhls was awarded the Purple Heart with an Oak Leaf Cluster, the Air Medal with three Oak Leaf Clusters, the Silver Star with an Oak Leaf Cluster, and the Distinguished Flying Cross with an Oak Leaf Cluster. There are many remembrances at in honor of Grant Uhls; this one was posted by Jim Mittica:

Grant and I were classmates at Munich American High School, Munich, Germany during the school year 1963-64. We were also on the wrestling team together. I remember Grant as a mature, serious minded young man whom all his classmates genuinely liked. He was an intense athlete and performed very well on the wrestling mat. He went on to graduate from the U.S. Air Force Academy, become a pilot and give his life for his country. I am proud to have known him for that brief time so long ago.

Grant Uhls is survived by his mother, Dorothy Brown Uhls, Florence, Oregon; and his sister, Norrienne Uhls, Twin Falls, Idaho. His father, William, passed away in 1988. Dorothy wrote in closing, “Needless to say it has been a devastating experience and it is as bad today almost as it was when it happened.”

This entry was respectfully submitted by Julia Hennen and Keeva Grass, 8th grade, Spearfish Middle School, Spearfish, South Dakota, on April 24, 2006. Information for this entry was provided by and Dorothy Uhls, mother. Profile approval by Dorothy Uhls.


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