Arlington woman helped break coded German messages, including those about D-Day
FORT WORTH — There is no question that Jimmie Lee Long can keep a secret.
For decades, Long never told anyone, not her family, children or friends, that she spent World War II in a supersecure building in Washington, D.C., helping to break the Germans’ code, known as Enigma.
“When anyone asked me what I did, ‘I made coffee and sharpened pencils,’” she said.
As one of the first women admitted into the Navy in 1942, known as WAVES, Long worked as a code-breaker in a department that eventually became the National Security Agency. Hundreds of women served with her, their efforts classified and unsung for years.
Day after day, month after month, they operated machines deciphering the German military’s messages, including many in response to the D-Day invasion 66 years ago. She even worked through the death of her first husband, Army flight officer Robert Powers, one of thousands of men killed in the opening hours of the invasion of France.
“I still feel that,” she said. “We would have been married a year on the 18th of June.”
Those at the Navy Intelligence Reserve Command, based at Naval Air Station Fort Worth, invited Long, 86, who lives in Arlington, to meet their commander, Rear Adm. Gordon Russell, and talk to the current generation of intelligence analysts. It was, they said, a rare chance for them to bond with their organization’s history.
“The work that these decoders did shortened the war 18 to 24 months,” Russell said. “You read about it, but to be able to meet one of them and ask questions is really something.”
The Navy even brought out an Enigma machine once used by the Germany navy so Long could explain how it worked. But Long took one look and said she had no idea. She’d never seen one. She’d worked only on a machine called a “bombe” that decoded Enigma’s messages.
Comment: The greatest generation are ageing. We need to learn from them now.
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