Harlan James Bakke was born in Hutchinson, Minnesota, on December 16, 1928, son of Edgar N. and Alice (Anderson) Bakke. He attended Gustavus Adolphus College, St. Peter, Minnesota (1946-1947), prior to entering the US Naval Academy, Annapolis, Maryland, on appointment from his native state in 1947. Graduated and commissioned Ensign on June 1, 1951, he subsequently advanced in rank to that of Commander, to date from August 1, 1965. In the fall of 1970, he was selected for the rank of Captain.
Following graduation from the Naval Academy in 1951, he reported onboard USS Cushing (DD-797) and in June 1952 was detached for flight training. Designated Naval Aviator on July 3, 1953, he then joined Patrol Squadron THREE, operating from the Naval Air Station, Jacksonville, Florida to Iceland and Argentia. Transferred in October 1955 to Heavy Attack Squadron ONE, also based at Jacksonville and later onboard USS Forrestal.
He was an Instructor at the Jet Transitional Training Unit, Naval Air Station, Olathe, Kansas, from November 1957 to October 1959, then became an Instructor with Heavy Attack Squadron THREE, attached to the Naval Air Station, Sanford, Florida. He joined Heavy Attack Squadron ELEVEN (Sanford, Florida and USS Franklin D. Roosevelt) in October 1960 and in October 1961 transferred to Heavy Attack Squadron SEVEN (Sanford, Florida and USS Enterprise). He continued service with that squadron until October 1963, when he was assigned to Reconnaissance Attack Squadron, Florida.
Ordered to London, England, he had instruction (Exchange Pilot) at the Royal Air Force Staff College, from October 1965 to January 1967 and in March of that year reported as Executive Office of Reconnaissance Attack Squadron FIVE. He assumed command of that squadron in January 1968. In May 1969 he reported as Operations Officer of USS Ticonderoga (CVA-14) and is entitled to the Ribbon for and facsimile of the Meritorious Unit Commendation awarded that attack aircraft carrier for meritorious service while engaged in combat operations in Southeast and Northeast Asia during the period February 18 to September 7, 1969.
In February 1970 he reported as Electronic Warfare Project Manager at the Naval Air Systems Command Headquarters, Washington, DC.
In addition to the Meritorious Unit Commendation Ribbon, Commander Bakke has the Navy Occupation Service Medal, Europe Clasp; National Defense Service Medal with bronze star; Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal (Korea) and the Vietnam Service Medal. He also has the Republic of Vietnam Campaign Medal.