George Otto Bjarke: An American hero

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By Carol A. Clark

Veterans Day is a time to commemorate men and women who died while serving America in times of war. Those who gave their lives and those fortunate enough to come home deserve respect and gratitude for their sacrifices.  


 The stories of these brave men and women vary and each is a treasure to their families and friends.


One of these stories has a place in Los Alamos history. George Otto Bjarke was one of five children who grew up in Tacoma, Wash.


His parents were immigrants from Denmark and wanted a good life for their children, said Bjarke’s daughter,  Judy Bjarke  McKenzie of Los Alamos.  


“They were hard working people who taught their children to be hard workers as well,” she said.


Bjarke enlisted in the army during WWII and was sent to fight in Europe. His two brothers were serving in the military as well, said son Don Bjarke of Los Alamos.


“My father was part of the troops in the Battle at Normandy and witnessed the brutality of that memorable time,” he said. “He spent most of his service in France and Germany and the Battle of the Bulge was one of his final experiences there.”


Bjarke was wounded in France and awarded the Purple Heart, McKenzie said.  


He returned home and wanted to get a college education. He achieved that goal, attending the College of Puget Sound where he earned his degree.  


Bjarke and his wife Joan moved to Phoenix. He worked and went back to school. The Bjarkes lived for a brief time in California, before moving in 1954 with their three children to Los Alamos, a remote place in New Mexico at that time.  


Bjarke went to work at Los Alamos National Laboratory, which back then was called Los Alamos Scientific Laboratory. He and his wife had three more children.


“During this time, my father served on the Los Alamos School Board for 10 years and also served on the Los Alamos County Personnel Board,” McKenzie said. “He spent countless hours working for the Ski Club and other organizations, always trying to make Los Alamos a better place to live.”


Both children describe their father, now 85, as being loved and respected by his six children, 11 grandchildren and four great grandchildren.  


“My father is the greatest, smartest man I’ve ever known,” Don said. “He’s set a great example for the family, always being kind to people and animals alike.”


McKenzie agreed. “I think that I admire him more than anyone else I ever met because he’s always wanted people to preserve their dignity and he’s always treated people with dignity,” she said. “When he was a group leader at the lab, he always treated his coworkers with respect, just as he did with people with whom he served on boards. People have commented to me through the years that that’s what they liked most about working with him.”


This is his legacy, McKenzie and Don said of their father. He continues to have an impact on the lives of those who know him, they said, adding that George Otto Bjarke is such an honorable man - truly worthy of being honored this Veteran’s Day.