Retired Air Force Col. Robert E. Orem, 58, active for the last five years in real estate in Northern Virginia, died Saturday while helping to rescue a person from heavy ocean surf at Manahawkin, N.J., where he was vacationing.

At his retirement in 1972, he was assistant deputy chief of staff, personnel, USAF Systems Command at Andrews Air Force Base. He had held that assignment since 1963.

Before that, Col. Orem had been with the Air Force personnel directorate at the Pentagon for three years.

Since retiring from military service, he had worked in real estate. He was an active member of the Northern Virginia Board of Realtors and an officer of its credit union.

Born in Valley Stream, N.Y., Col. Orem graduated from Franklin and Marshall College in Lancaster, Pa.

He graduated from the Pan American Airways School of Navigation in Coral Gables, Fla., in December, 1942, and was commissioned in the Army Air Corps.

Col Orem was assigned as a navigator to the ferry command and flew to all theaters of World War II. His decorations included the Legion of Merit.

He is survived by his wife, Rita, and two sons, Robert E. Jr. and Michael L., all of the home in Annandale, and a brother, James W., of Red Bank, N.J.