Joseph Strnad, 83, a career Army officer and a former senior official at the Department of Health and Human Services, died Sept. 22 at his home in Chevy Chase. He had pancreatic cancer.
Col. Strnad's military career lasted from just before World War II to 1968. He chose to retire as a colonel after figuring that if he stayed in the service, he would be sent to Vietnam, a war he opposed.
He was born in Omaha as a second-generation Czech American and was a gymnast, champion debater and class president in high school. He attended the University of Nebraska at Lincoln on an academic scholarship.
College was interrupted when his Army Reserve unit was called up for active duty in December 1940. Just before that tour was up, Pearl Harbor was bombed and his unit's tour was extended for the duration of the war. Col. Strnad served in the Medical Supply Corps, based in the United States, until nearly the end of the hostilities.
His postwar job was to get medical supplies to the displaced persons in camps in the Ruhr industrial valley of Germany.
"The camps were used to house slave labor that had been brought there from the countries in central and Eastern Europe," Col. Strnad said in an autobiography he wrote for his family. "Included was a camp with a lot of Czechs that I was able to help with supplies." That work prompted the new Czech government to give the Czech American a special citation of gratitude.
Col. Strnad served in Japan after World War II and attended the Industrial College of the Armed Forces. He received a bachelor's degree in 1963 and a master's degree in 1966, both from George Washington University, while on active duty.
He transferred to the Ordnance Corps in the late 1950s and specialized in nuclear weapons, which allowed him to witness an atomic bomb explosion at a testing site east of Las Vegas. He served in South Korea for a year as a supply officer and then at Fort Lee, Fort McNair and the Pentagon. His military decorations included the Bronze Star.
In his second career, Col. Strnad became manager of the URS Systems Corp. office in North Arlington. In 1972, he worked as an information systems manager for now-Vice President Cheney at the old Cost of Living Council. He followed Cheney to what is now the Department of Health and Human Services, becoming director of state systems.
In 1982, he received a Superior Service Award from Health and Human Services. He was a consultant for Maximus Inc., a Reston government contractor, from 1983 until he retired in 1998.
He served on the board of the Chevy Chase Fire Department for many years. He was an avid reader and nature enthusiast.
Survivors include his wife of 61 years, Esther Strnad of Chevy Chase; four children, Jane Strnad of Alexandria, Diane Strnad of Washington, Lisa Allen of Martha's Vineyard, Mass., and Anthony Strnad of Point of Rocks; and four grandchildren.