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Bob Workman continues to pay tribute to his beloved Coast Guard

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February 14th, 2017
Bob Workman, pictured here with his book Float Planes and Flying Boats, now in its third printing, and two of his models currently under construction in the Ashby Ponds woodshop.

Bob Workman, pictured here with his book Float Planes and Flying Boats, now in its third printing, and two of his models currently under construction in the Ashby Ponds woodshop.

For Bob Workman, service in the United States Coast Guard was a calling and lifelong passion that saved hundreds of lives. 

Attending the highly competitive Coast Guard Academy and serving for 25 years, Bob now diligently recreates models of the Coast Guard aircraft he once piloted. He has also written a hugely popular book, Float Planes and Flying Boats, on the history of the Coast Guard. He donates both the models and the proceeds from his work to support the Coast Guard.

“I’m one of those guys who believes that if you want to do something, just do it,” he says. “I never say I can’t.”

A man true to his word, Bob has accomplished many feats over the years, often refusing to accept the obstacles in his path.

Distinguished career

On July 25, 1956, as a cadet at the Coast Guard Academy, Bob was diverted from a training mission to help in the rescue of passengers and crew involved in the collision of the Italian ocean liner Andrea Doria and the Swedish ocean liner Stockholm, 45 miles south of Nantucket, Mass.  

“It was my first experience helping people out of the water,” he says. 

As the result of rescue efforts throughout the night, all 1,660 people who survived the initial collision were rescued.

Years later, as a lieutenant, Bob received the Distinguished Flying Cross for the January 27, 1967, rescue of four adults and two children from the Cecil Anne, which sank 120 miles northeast of St. Petersburg, Fla. 

As the aircraft commander of an HH-52, Bob led the team throughout the rescue, despite the fact that his aircraft was only built to rescue four people. The rescue tested the aircraft’s capabilities.

“As we pulled up the sixth passenger, I told my crew, ‘As long as he’s coming up faster than we are going down, let’s proceed,’” he says.

When presented with the Distinguished Flying Cross, it was noted that, “Lieutenant Workman displayed expert airmanship and dauntless valor throughout this perilous rescue mission. His skill, courage, sound judgment, and unwavering devotion to duty reflect the highest credit upon himself and the United States Coast Guard.”

“It’s funny,” Bob says. “At the time I thought, ‘Well, I’m either going to be court martialed or receive a medal for this.’” 

Several months later, the rescue was detailed in the July 7, 1967, edition of Life magazine.

Bob retired from the Coast Guard in 1986 and continued to work for the next ten years in positions that supported the defense of the United States. In 1995, he and his wife Gail retired in Lake Gaston, N.C. 

In May 2015, the couple moved to Ashby Ponds, the Erickson Living community in Ashburn, Va., to be closer to their son and daughter, seven grandchildren, and three great-grandchildren living in Northern Virginia.

The birth of a new passion

“I loved my time in the Coast Guard, and I miss it greatly,” Bob says. “That’s why I began building models of Coast Guard aircraft.” 

Each replica, built entirely to specification and completely from scratch, takes Bob two and a half years to build, with the exception of the P5M-2G, which took five and a half years to complete.

“I donate them all to the new, national Coast Guard Museum in New London, Conn.,” he says. 

Currently, Bob is working on two new models, which he will donate to the museum. He builds in the Ashby Ponds woodworking shop. 

“It’s a labor of love,” he says. “I use the engineering specifications I was given as a pilot to create the models. Every last piece is made by me. It’s a time-consuming process but one that I love.”

In his own words

Since his retirement, Bob has also written a complete history of the Coast Guard, another time-consuming effort. 

“A book of this type did not exist, so I figured that, rather than complain, I’d do something about it,” he says.

Bob spent ten years researching and writing the book. Almost three of those years included intense research at the National Archives, the FDR Presidential Library, the Naval History Center, and conducting detailed discussions with the Coast Guard historian.

Once again, his hard work paid off. Both the first and second printings of Float Planes and Flying Boats, published in 2012 by the Naval Institute Press, quickly sold out. This spring, the book will be republished both in paperback and as an e-book. 

Bob donates all proceeds from the book to the Coast Guard Aviation Association for the restoration of Coast Guard aircraft for museums. For more than 12 years, Bob worked with the Steven F. Udvar Hazy Center to obtain a Coast Guard aircraft for the museum’s collection. Royalties from his book were used to help restore an HH-52-A that was inducted into the museum last April.

“I’m a lucky man, a very lucky man,” he says. “The Coast Guard has given me so much. I am glad I can do my part to give back.”