World War II ‘Code Girls’ recognized on 80th anniversary of Pearl Harbor attack
SCARBOROUGH, Maine (Tribune News Service) — When Jane Case enlisted as a "Code Girl" to make and break codes for the United States Navy WAVES in World War II, she was sworn to secrecy.
Even now, almost 80 years since her service as a cryptologist, and several years since the information was declassified, she's never breathed a word. She never will.
"I took an oath," she said simply.
Case, 98, was recognized for her contributions to the United States' effort in World War II, and to women's roles in the military thereafter, in a small ceremony at Piper Shores retirement community in Scarborough on Tuesday, the 80th anniversary of the bombing of Pearl Harbor.
Leona Wright, 97, another of the estimated 10,000 Code Girls credited with helping the Allies win the war, also was honored in a ceremony at her home in Cornish.
Case was presented with a certificate from the U.S. Library of Congress, named an honorary Enlisted Information Warfare Specialist and given a quilt from the Quilts of Valor Foundation.
She said he was both moved and overwhelmed by the recognition.
"I didn't expect all of this," Case said.
Joy Asuncion, a retired U.S. Navy Senior Chief and Maine State Ambassador for the Women in Military Service for America Memorial, said Case, Wright and the other Code Girls played a pivotal role in helping the Allies win the war.
They cracked a crucial Japanese code that gave the U.S. the advantage in the Battle of Midway, helped orchestrate the invasion of Normandy, and provided information that helped the Allied forces gun down planes and sink enemy ships, Asuncion said, calling the women one of the best-kept secrets in history.
But not only that, "they were trailblazers for all of us, especially women, that wanted to serve in the military after World War II," said Asuncion, who organized the ceremonies.
Master Chief Petty Officer Sandra Turner, who along with Chief Petty Officer Alyssa Sasnett flew from Maryland for the ceremonies, agreed and said Case set the stage for future generations of cryptologists in the military.
"Without you, I would not have been able to serve 29 years of service in the Navy as a cryptologist," she told her.
When Case served, the Code Girls worked for two years and then were dismissed.
"That no longer happens," Turner said. "They value the service that we as women give to the Navy and to our nation, and it's all thanks to you."
Case has never considered herself a trailblazer — the fact that she might be had never even occurred to her, she said, but she's glad to have played her part.
The Code Girls were generally recruited right out of college. The Army and the Navy were looking for well-educated women who were particularly good at mathematics and had a knack for other languages.
For her part, Case had studied music, and the connection between music and math made her a good fit.
They were reportedly asked two questions: if they liked crossword puzzles and if they were engaged to be married. Those who said yes to the second question were seen as potential security risks.
She enlisted in 1943, when she turned 20 and was old enough. She served for two years.
"I didn't tell my mother until after I signed up because I knew she wasn't going to like it too much," Case said. "When I came home for Christmas her remark to me was, 'Oh, dear, I wish you could wear something nice.' There was a big difference between what she thought girls (and boys) could do."
Sitting by was never in the cards for Case.
"Ever since I was a little girl, this country has meant everything to me," she said, tearing up. "This was a war, this was people bombing us."
Everyone she knew was joining the service. So when she was eligible, she did too.
The untold story
The story of the Code Girls was largely unknown until author and journalist Liza Mundy stumbled upon a cache of newly declassified documents at the archives of the National Security Agency.
Mundy's book, "Code Girls: The Untold Story of the American Women Code Breakers of World War II," was published in 2017 and brought to light the achievements of the, until then, almost entirely unknown group of women.
She interviewed several of the women, including Case.
But unlike several others, who after decades of silence were finally able to share their stories, Case was not willing to divulge any information. She hasn't even told her family.
After the war, Case, who is originally from New York, got married and had children. She moved with her husband to Piper Shores almost 21 years ago from Massachusetts.
Her son, Chris Newcomb, has tried to get even a little bit about her experience out of her, like if she ever saw patterns, but "she won't say a word," he said.
Growing up, Newcomb had no idea the role his mother played in the war.
She's a talker, and a storyteller, he said. She would share funny stories (she told the small group gathered on Tuesday of the frustrations of only having one washing machine for 100 women to wash their uniforms), but never anything serious, and so he always believed she worked more on the sidelines.
It wasn't until a few years ago, when he had to get her discharge papers that he realized, "Oh, she really did this," he said.
Case always considered herself the least intelligent of her brothers and sisters, Newcomb noted, so for her to be honored for her service and work breaking codes in the war was something special.
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