Uncle Sam's secrets, kept for a lifetime: 100-year-old veteran reveals her World War II work

By MICHAEL ROKNICK | The Herald, Sharon, Pa. (TNS) | Published: November 13, 2018

SHENANGO TOWNSHIP  — Wars have many secrets, and West Middlesex native Dorothy Jones has kept one for more than 70 years.

Jones served in the Navy during World War II and was involved in classified communications. Her work was so secret that she never talked about it to anyone outside of her family -- and even then only sparingly.

In those days, Jones said, members of the military involved in secret operations weren't required to sign a document pledging their silence.

"We were told to keep quiet. That was enough," she said.

But after turning 100 this October, Jones decided it was safe to talk about her experience. She remembers much of her work. And this past week, while visiting her daughter, Susanne Jones, in Shenango Township, she decided to share a little bit of her story.

After graduating from Farrell High School in 1936, Jones attended a local business school to become a secretary, graduating in two years. From there she worked at a relative's Youngstown grocery store. The skills learned at both endeavors served her well in the military.

Immediately after the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, the U.S. entered the war, and Jones wanted to serve her country.

"Everybody was trying to be in the service," she said.

Jones was attracted to the Navy as that service touted travel.

"I liked to move around," she said.

Shortly after graduating boot camp from Hunter College in New York City, Jones was placed in the Navy Reserve under its WAVES program for women. She then was transferred to Navy operations in Georgia.

"They told you where you were going," Jones said of the Navy. "I went where they sent me."

Jones, along with other members of the WAVES, underwent skills testing. She didn't know it at the time, but her secretarial skills learned at the business school and organizational abilities gained at the grocery store were perfect for handling secret wartime communications.

"I must have done well on those tests, because they were looking for very bright people for that work," Jones said.

She then found herself on a train bound for New York City.

"I didn't know what I would be doing until I got there," she said.

Jones along with three to four other women were placed in a tiny office above a New York City post office. Once there she underwent intensive training for her job.

She never was involved in creating or deciphering coded information. Rather, her job was to take secret coded communications from the military and using a teletype to send that message off to its final destination.

"You never knew what the communication said because it was coded," Jones recalled. "We were replacing the men sailors who had done the work. And we were told to never, ever tell anyone about our work."

Her work was so sensitive Jones was told by commanders not to develop friendships with civilians.

"And the Navy was constantly doing background checks on us, our families and any past friends we had," Jones said. "And there were always Navy guards posted at our office."

A slip up would result in an immediate transfer, she said.

"The communication was so important it really meant do or die," she said. There was another reason she adhered to the rules.

"I didn't want to go back to the Navy barracks," she said with a smile.

Jones said that part of what she did can be found in the first several chapters of "Code Girls" by Liza Mundy. The book details the work of women in the military involved in secret communications and decoding.

When the war ended in 1945, the Navy found they still needed her.

"They asked me to stay on for another year," Jones said. "And I was glad to do it."

During this period she met her future husband, Bernard.

"Initially he was in the Merchant Marines, but then was transferred to the regular Navy," Jones said.

After the war, the couple got married and moved around a bit. Bernard died when he was 57, but his now-single wife wanted to stay busy. Living outside of New York, she worked for a transportation company for 17 years then worked at a local cemetery for 31 years. She "retired" at 92 from the cemetery. But it wasn't her decision.

"I wanted to work some more, but the cemetery people called a bunch of us in one day and fired us," Jones said with a chuckle.

Although she enjoyed her work with the Navy, Jones doesn't have any romantic thoughts about the war.

"I lost relatives in that war," she said. "They were very, very young fellows."

She continues to live by herself in her home in Pleasantville, N.Y., 20 miles from New York City.

"I was happy I was doing it and would do it again," she said.

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