Dieter Friedrich Uchtdorf is German and was born on 6 November 1940 in Mährich-Ostrau, Czechoslovakia to Karl Albert Uchtdorf and Hildegard Else Opelt. At the time of his birth, the area in which the family lived was in the Nazi -occupied Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia (now Ostrava, Czech Republic). He is a former aviator and airline executive, and currently serves as the Second Counselor in the First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
When President Uchtdorf was a child, and during the time his father was recruited in the German army, his family moved to Zwickau in Eastern Germany, often traveling through areas that were being bombed. It was due to his grandmother’s encounter with an elderly Latter-day Saint woman in a soup line that the Uchtdorf family was introduced to the gospel of Jesus Christ and became members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints while he was still a young boy.
The family was reunited after the war. When he was about ten years of age, his father was labeled as a “dissenter” because of his political beliefs which were incongruent with Soviet rule, and thus his and the life of his family were in peril. As a result, the family fled East Germany, leaving all of their possessions behind, and resettled in American-occupied West Germany in the city of Frankfurt.
At the age of 18 he began studying mechanical engineering, but later studied Business Administration in Cologne, Germany and graduated from Institut pour l’Etude des Methodes de Direction de l’Entreprise (today the International Institute for Management Development) in Lausanne, Switzerland with an MBA degree. During the April 2009 graduation ceremony at Brigham Young University he received an honorary Doctorate degree in International Leadership.
In 1959 at the age of 19, rather than being recruited into the newly formed Bundeswehr (German for “Federal Defense Force”), President Uchtdorf chose to volunteer for the West German Air Force to become a fighter pilot. Due to a reciprocal agreement between the West German and United States governments, he trained as a fighter pilot in Big Spring, Texas. There he excelled and earned the coveted Commander’s Trophy (USAF) for being the best student pilot in his class. After earning his wings from both the German and United States Air Force, he served for 6 years as a fighter pilot in West Germany. It is also of interest to note that while President Uchtdorf was in Big Spring, Texas he helped build a meetinghouse for the local branch of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. And in February 2011, he returned to Big Spring to rededicate the renovated meetinghouse.
He left the military in 1965 to join Lufthansa Airlines, and by 1970, at the age of 29, he had obtained the rank of Captain. In 1972 he was made manager of the 737 fleet. In 1975 he was appointed as Director of Lufthansa’s Arizona Training School. In 1980 he was made Chief Pilot and head of cockpit crews, and in 1982 he became the Senior Vice President of Flight Operations. In 1996, two years after being called to the Quorum of the Seventy for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, he left Lufthansa Airlines.
The following is an account of one of the challenges that President Uchtdorf faced and conquered during his time as a pilot for Lufthansa Airlines. This account is taken from the official Church website – LDS.org, from the “Prophets and Apostles Speak Today” section:
On December 17, 1973, the president of Lufthansa German Airlines received alarming news. Five terrorists had hijacked a Lufthansa 737 jet in Rome, Italy, and were making their way to Athens, Greece, with hostages on board. In an instant, Lufthansa’s president ordered into the air his chief pilot for the 737 fleet. Thirty-three-year-old Dieter F. Uchtdorf was to take a small group of emergency personnel and follow the hijacked plane wherever the guerrillas took it. In every setting possible he was to negotiate for the release of the plane, the pilots, and the hostages. Then, when all of this had been accomplished, he was to fly the hijacked 737 back to headquarters in Frankfurt.
With fortunately no more bloodshed, this mission, like so many others he had been on personally and professionally, was successfully accomplished. Unknown to him at the time, it was a portent of more important missions yet to come.
In the midst of all of his increasing responsibilities, Dieter Uchtdorf continued to serve faithfully in the Church being called to serve as the President of the Frankfurt Germany Stake, then as the President of the Mannheim Germany Stake. On 2 April 1994 he was called to serve as a General Authority in the Church with an assignment to the Second Quorum of the Seventy. On 7 April 1996 he was called to serve as a member of the First Quorum of the Seventy, and then on 15 August 2002, he became a member of the Presidency of the Seventy.
President Uchtdorf was called and sustained as a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles on 2 October 2004. He was ordained an apostle on 7 October 2004 by then Church President, Gordon B. Hinckley. Both Dieter Uchtdorf and David A. Bednar were called to fill the vacancies created by the July 2004 deaths of quorum members David B. Haight and Neal A. Maxwell. As an apostle, Latter-day Saints sustain him as a prophet, seer, and revelator. On 3 February 2008, President Uchtdorf became the Second Counselor to President Thomas S. Monson in the Church’s First Presidency.
President Uchtdorf met his wife, Harriett Reich while they were attending meetings of the Church’s Mutual Improvement Association. They were sealed on 14 December 1962 in the Bern Switzerland Temple. Together they have two children who are now married, Guido Uchtdorf and Antje Uchtdorf Evans. Both Guido and Antje learned the importance of time together as a family from their parents.
President Dieter Friedrich Uchtdorf has lived a life that has truly been blessed of the Lord. From his earliest days of a challenging childhood to his risk-laden life as a fighter pilot and then as an airline executive, it is not per chance nor by accident that this Czechoslovakian-born child of a convert family, through his faithfulness, diligence, and obedience as a servant of the Lord Jesus Christ, would be called to serve as the Second Counselor in the First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Of his remarkable life, Elder Russell M. Nelson of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles has said, “The Lord has known and loved this special man from before the world was formed. Yes, he has been foreordained for his duties as a leader in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.”