Some U.S. service members do the four years of their enlistment contract and get out as soon as they can. Others stick around for 20 years before getting that sweet retirement pension. But an extraordinary few continue to serve with the military in or out of uniform until the end of their lives.

Sarkis Tatigian, who began his Navy career at the age of 19 during WWII and didn’t end it until he passed away earlier this week, was one of those extraordinary few: his 78-year career sets the record for the longest serving civil servant in Defense Department history, according to Naval Sea Systems Command.

“Mr. Tatigian truly lived a life dedicated to advocacy and the service of others,” said NAVSEA executive director James Smerchansky in the release. “His decades of work oversaw the expansion of the small business industrial base and more than $100 billion in contracts awarded to diverse, small businesses. As we bid fair winds and following seas to Mr. Tatigian, NAVSEA will greatly miss his presence but we will never forget the positive impact he made on this command and the entire U.S. Navy.”

Tatigian started his Navy career in July 1942 as a civilian junior radio inspector at the naval aircraft factory in the Philadelphia Navy Yard and at the Navy Office of Inspector of Naval Aircraft in Linden, New Jersey. He entered the uniformed Navy as an active-duty sailor in March 1943, and in June 1944 he started working as an aviation electronics technician’s mate.

Once there, he helped develop the Navy’s first guided anti-ship munition, the ASM-N-2 “BAT” glide bomb, which became operational by the end of WWII.

Navy photo

The war ended in 1945, but that didn’t mean the end of Tatigian’s time in the Navy. In 1946, he left active duty and worked with the Bureau of Ordnance helping develop the Navy’s first generation of guided-missile systems. From there, he “moved on to his life’s passion, helping small businesses, as a small business analyst for the bureau,” according to NAVSEA.

Tatigian made a small business mobile exhibit and traveled coast-to-coast with it, an effort for which he received congressional recognition. In June, 1979, Tatigian was appointed NAVSEA’s associate director of what came to be known as the Small Business Program Office, where he continued to serve until this week.

In 2012, the Navy celebrated Tatigian’s 70 years of service by naming a Small Business Award named after him. Five years later, the Navy created a one-of-a-kind service pin to celebrate his 75th work anniversary.

“I was retirement eligible in October 1973,” said Tatigian at the 75th anniversary ceremony. “But when you don't have something to wake up for, that's when you start to decline. And, if you love what you do and derive a sense of personal worthiness, it's not really work.”