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Colonel Robert E. Work Resident of Saratoga In our time of great sadness, the family of Colonel Robert E. Work of Saratoga must advise the community of his recent passing. He died on the night of September 13, 2012 in San Jose at the age of 96 after a brief hospitalization. Colonel Work was predeceased in 2011 by his wife of 67 years, Rosalyn Mitchell Work, with whom he shared the delights of retired life in Saratoga for some forty summers. Bob Work (as he was known to his friends and neighbors) was born Heidolf Vierk in the north German hamlet of Klein Hehlen (near Celle) on August 18, 1916. As a small boy he immigrated to the United States by way of Ellis Island along with his parents and younger sister, Ena. The family settled in Willow Glen in 1923 where they resided until 1946 when they decided to acquire property "out in the country" in what was then Los Gatos. Bob was graduated from San Jose High School and went on to major in journalism at San Jose State. During his college years, he served as the editor of the Spartan Daily newspaper, managed the football team, and established the school's first flying club. He received notice in the national press for his college editorials condemning the censorship of several of John Steinbeck's novels which some deemed too lurid for the times. Dad was always proud of the series of brief letters he received from the region's literary giant. As a young aviator, Bob had hopes of becoming a combat pilot when he enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Corps in October of 1941. It came as a crushing blow when the Air Corps turned down his application for flight school based on the fact of his German heritage which some thought might cause his loyalties to waver during air engagements over his homeland. Fortunately, a group of British intelligence officers recognized his value as a native German speaker & took him under their wing. They ran him through training in the interrogation of prisoners and the principles of counter-intelligence that later shaped his distinguished military career. In an alpine villa in the lake country of Austria, then Captain Work interrogated captured German officers, scientists, and Hitler's personal pilot, Hanna Reitsch, as the war in Europe ground to an end. One of his reports from this era was presented in evidence at the Nuremburg trials as providing the final evidence of Hitler's death in the Berlin bunker. Later, he co-authored that era's Armed Forces Code of Conduct, which still serves as a guide for communication for American military personnel facing wartime captivity. Colonel Work remained in uniform after WWII and served in the defense department through the Korean War and much of the Vietnam era when he worked in the Pentagon as an expert in P.O.W. matters for the Air Force. In 1970, Bob was presented with the Legion of Merit, the highest "peace time" medal conferred by the United States military. Bob Work is survived by his two sons, Mitchell Robert Work of Lincolnshire, Illinois, and Joel Christopher Work of Saratoga, California; his two sisters, Ena Ennis of Carmichael, California and Connie Bofinger, who resides in Davis along with her husband, Ted. He is also mourned by his loving daughter-in-law, Susan Work, who has been at his bedside in recent days while visiting from Illinois.
In addition, Dad
reluctantly leaves behind his two beloved granddaughters, Jessica Work,
currently engaged in humanitarian efforts in Myanmar, and Emily Work who
lives and works in Chicago while concluding graduate studies at Northwestern.
Bob will also be dearly missed by his nieces, nephews, neighbors, and family
friends whose afternoons were often enlivened by the intriguing details of
his accounts of his career as an intelligence officer or his much-noted
success in growing iris and tomatoes. Like all who knew him well, his family
members will sorely miss Bob's constancy as a mentor and role model, his
integrity and intellect, his courage in the face of struggle. A private
memorial service and internment ceremony is being planned. Donations in
Colonel Work's memory can be directed to Holy Family School serving children
in urban Chicago or to EMQ FamiliesFirst in Campbell, California.
Published in San Jose Mercury News/San Mateo County Times on September 20, 2012
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