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Top secret work

Veteran receives recognition for military and volunteer service

Created date

October 23rd, 2015

Greenspring resident

On June 6, 1944, at the height of World War II, Allied military forces coordinated a surprise attack on the beaches of Normandy, France. It was the largest military operation by sea in history, weakening German forces, giving the Allies momentum on the continent of Europe, and ultimately shortening the war.

Code-named Operation Neptune, the landing, which will forever be remembered as D-Day, was successful, in part due to superior U.S. intelligence and the interception of critical communication between Germany and Japan.

Vint Hill Farms Station in Warrenton, Va., played a pivotal role in providing this intelligence. In 1943, the station intercepted a message from the Japanese ambassador in Berlin to his superiors in Tokyo. The message included a detailed description of Nazi fortifications along the French coast, a significant contribution to the D-Day invasion at Normandy.

“Decryption of that message proved to be so significant that Gen. Omar Bradley, U.S. Army combat corps commander during WWII, personally visited Vint Hill to thank those involved in the intercept,” says Bob. “Soon after, Gen. Eisenhower visited our headquarters to thank us, too. It was quite a feather in everyone’s hat.”

Place in history

According to the Fauquier Historical Society, the Vint Hill Farms Station site was purchased by the U.S. Army in 1942 and operated as a cryptology school and intelligence gathering station, eventually employing more than 2,000 military and civilian employees.  

“Bob was one of the very first soldiers to help open up Vint Hill Farms Station as the nation’s first listening post,” says Col. Rick Davis, U.S. Army (ret.), former commander of Vint Hill Farms Station from 1991 to 1993.  

“He was a key player during those early days at Vint Hill Farms Station, and during his wartime tenure there, he steadily climbed the ranks of both responsibility and importance,” says Davis.

In 1945, Bob left Vint Hill and was sent to its sister station, Two Rock Ranch Station in Petaluma, Calif., to learn Katakana, a Japanese method of sending codes. A year later, he had the honor of assisting Gen. George Marshall with his duties overseas in China. In 1948, Bob was commissioned and in 1962 retired with the rank of major in the U.S. Army. 

Upon his retirement, Bob chose to continue his service to the Army, working as a civilian for the Army Security Agency.

Secrets revealed

For nearly 50 years after WWII ended, Bob and his colleagues were unable to tell their family and friends about their service during the war.

“In preparation for celebrating Vint Hill Farms’ 50th anniversary in 1992, a major portion of Vint Hill’s history was declassified,” says Davis. “Among the data uncovered and declassified were the names of those soldiers who had originally served at Vint Hill.”  

That data included the name of Bob Zikowitz.  

“Because everything we did during our service at Vint Hill Farms was highly classified, even after the war we were not allowed to talk about what we had done, nor was I allowed to travel to Germany because of what I knew,” he says.

Once the events of Vint Hill Farms were “open-sourced,” or declassified, Bob initiated the creation of an intelligence letter, written once a month, and shared with the men he worked with during the war.

“It was a great release to finally talk about what we did, what we discovered, and what our colleagues did,” he says. “We’ve had a lot of ‘Oh yeah, I didn’t know that’ moments in our discussions.”

Honors bestowed

This summer, 73 years after reporting to duty at Vint Hill Farms, Bob returned for a dinner hosted by the Fauquier Historical Society.  

“I thought I was invited to reminisce with others who had served at Vint Hill Farms,” he says. “Then lo and behold, President Obama’s principal intelligence advisor [James Clapper, the director of national security] is giving me an award and thanking me for my service. I was very surprised and quite pleased.”

Previously, Bob received recognition for his service by the U.S. Army Intelligence and Security Command. 

Still giving

However, to his friends and neighbors at Greenspring, Bob is best known for his tremendous dedication to volunteer work. After moving to the community in October 2002, he began volunteering his time at the in-house cable television station, Channel 6. 

He hosts a number of shows, including a popular sports program, provides voiceovers, and operates cameras for live productions. He also runs the Saturday night movies and the monthly foreign films. As a member of the entertainment committee, Bob helps plan for the many shows and performances that come to Greenspring and often serves as master of ceremonies.

“When I’m not needed as an MC, you can find me back in the control room running the lights or audio,” he says.

In 2013, Bob was presented with the President’s Lifetime Service Award, bestowed on individuals giving more than 4,000 hours of volunteer service.  He is one of only 26 residents at Greenspring to have received this award since the program was initiated in 2007. 

“Greenspring is such a great place to live. I sing its praises every chance I get,” he says. “I love it here.”

Bob is also happy to live in a community with so many other U.S. military veterans. 

“There’s something special about being able to share your experiences,” he says. “I was unable to do that for a long, long time. Since the records at Vint Hill Farms were open-sourced, I’ve been happy to talk about what we did and what we learned.”