Charles “Chuck” R. Onken, LCDR USN (Ret.), 82, of Lemoore, California, passed away on April 30, 2022. Just like he dealt with all experiences in his life, he managed his illness with strength, grace, and a stubborn determination. During the final days of his life, he was surrounded by his family and died a true old warrior’s death – he was not defeated, he simply laid down his weapons and ceased to fight.
After a scholastic career that included serving as the student body president, being an All-Southern Indiana Athletic Conference football star, attending the Missouri School of Mines, and earning an Associate of Arts degree from Santa Monica City College, he enlisted in the US Navy in 1960. He served for 31 years and held ranks ranging from E-1 to E-9, W-1 to CW04, and Lieutenant JG to his retirement rank of Lieutenant Commander. Some highlights from his much-storied career include serving nine shore commands; seven squadrons; one carrier wing; deployment on 15 cruises aboard four carriers, including the USS Ticonderoga (CV-14) with wooden decks and 10 cruises aboard the world’s first nuclear-powered aircraft carrier, the USS Enterprise (CV-65); two major staffs; and culminating in retirement from COMNAVAIRPAC staff on February 1, 1991.
On January 14, 1969, while serving aboard the USS Enterprise during a disastrous fire that has been categorized as one of the worst catastrophes in modern Naval history and resulted in the deaths of 28 sailors and injury of 314, he demonstrated courageous leadership and bravery when he marshalled personnel and successfully removed ordnance from surrounding aircraft, thereby eliminating the threat of further explosions and injury to firefighters. After this was completed, on his own initiative, he commandeered a forklift and pushed burning planes overboard to reduce the spread of the fire, saving numerous lives. His actions that day are well-chronicled in history books about the event and resulted in him being awarded two medals for heroism.
In all, he was awarded the Navy/Marine Corps Medal; the Navy Commendation Medal (3); the Meritorious Service Medal; five personal medals; numerous campaign/unit awards, including the Humanitarian Service Medal for his actions in the Saigon evacuation and the Vietnam Service Medal (nine stars); four civilian awards; and was inducted into The Association of Aviation Ordnancemen “Hall of Fame” in 1994. Notably, he was recently honored as the number one “Hall of Fame” inductee.
In addition to his duty, he was dedicated to teaching and fostering the careers of others. He implemented changes, designed Aviation Ordnance Career Progression programs, wrote teaching manuals, served on selection boards, and generously offered unfettered advice to numerous enlisted personnel and officers alike.
After active duty, he continued to serve the US Navy in the civilian ranks for another 23 years and worked in Lemoore as Aviation Weapons Specialist supporting the fleet. Additionally, he was active in the Association of Aviation Ordnancemen, holding the offices of National President (2) and Vice President (2) and serving on the Board of Directors. He was also an active member of organizations supporting others who had served in our armed forces, including the Fleet Reserve Association, the Veterans of Foreign Wars, the American Legion, the Navy Mustang Association, the National World War II Museum, and the Disabled American Veterans. Somewhere along the way he discovered another area where he could assure things “were being done fairly” and became a qualified official of the National Amateur Sports Association and the Southern Metro Officials Association. In this capacity he traveled the Southern California area officiating various sporting events, including basketball, football, baseball, and softball. He specifically relished his selection to umpire the ASA Women’s Softball Championship.
While he loved the US Navy, his first love was his wife and family. He was a devoted and loving husband to his true love, his wife, Beverly, whom he had known since the age of sixteen. They continued to share a secret humor, enjoy the company of good friends, and provide an example of unconditional love up until his last day.
Always one to support his granddaughters and his “adopted” grandchildren and great-grandchildren in Lemoore, he was a reliable supporter at their sporting events and derived tremendous pride from their accomplishments. A man of many talents, he loved woodworking and could construct anything, from crafting a unique wooden stool to singularly building a complete addition to a home from foundation to roof. He was an avid reader and curious about many subjects. His time in the US Navy exposed him to many faraway lands, including Africa, Australia, and many parts of Asia. When he returned home, he and Beverly loved to “hit the road,” travelling extensively within the United States to spend time with and visit family and friends whenever possible. As an outdoorsman, camping and fishing brought him great joy and he was an early adaptor of conservationist behavior.
In addition to his wife, Beverly, he is survived by their son, Greg, and his wife, Tina, along with three granddaughters: Natalie, Isabella, and Gabriella.
Visitation will take place on Friday, May 13, from 5:00-7:00 PM at Phipps-Dale Funeral Chapel, 420 West D St., Lemoore. Services will be held at 9:30 AM on Saturday, May 14, at South Valley Community Church, 1050 W. Bush St., Lemoore, after which a full military burial will be conducted at Sunflower Fields Cemetery, 9660 18th Ave., Lemoore. A reception will immediately follow at Sidewinder Field, 18353 Grangeville Blvd., Lemoore.
In lieu of flowers, the family requests that donations be made to the Association of Aviation Ordnancemen Scholarship Fund in honor of Charles R. Onken at www.redshirtnation.com or by calling Todd Pendleton at 360-632-7828.