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Centennial woman recalls her role as a WWII codebreaker that helped win the war

Posted at 6:46 PM, Sep 02, 2020
and last updated 2020-09-03 00:55:15-04

CENTENNIAL, Colo. --- Tuesday marks 75 years since World War II ended, when Japan formally surrendered aboard the U.S.S. Missouri on September 2, 1945.

For one Centennial woman, the start of the war was also the start of a secret she would keep for nearly 70 years.

“Actually, I wanted to go overseas. I wanted to be in the Red Cross, I thought. But my mother talked me into staying in the country because the men in my family were already overseas, so that's what I did,” said Nancy Thompson Tipton. "I was recruited at the University of Missouri on September 15, 1944.”

Tipton moved to Washington D.C. where she lived and took an unmarked bus to work at Arlington Hall every day. She became a cryptanalyst, working to decipher Japanese code.

She was sworn to secrecy, taking an oath of silence. Her work was not even discussed with her roommates for the two years they lived together.

"If I got a hit and was able to match things, I gave it to the captain. And of course I don't have a clue what happened after that. In those days you didn't ask," said Tipton about her job. "I just did what I was told."

Tipton was still living in Washington when the war ended.

"I don't remember an announcement, but I just remember the word got around, and everybody was cheering. We walked down to the White House and there were a lot of people around and a lot of cheering and yelling," Tipton said. "On the way home, we got some champagne and we got two days off and went right back to work."

After the war, she and her husband moved to Colorado. She began working at The Denver Post as a columnist and didn't speak of her time in Washington.

“We couldn't talk about it. After the war, the men came home and the women, we just want to get on with our lives. There are a lot of people that haven't talked about it or didn't talk about it.”

For years, their stories were almost forgotten, but are now recognized in a book by Liza Mundy called Code Girls: The Untold Story of the American Women Code Breakers of World War II.

Tipton was able to meet more women who did similar jobs at an event for the book's release last spring.

Women and men from all over the nation who worked as cryptanalysts were unable to speak of their work for many years, as it was considered classified information until only recently.

Now, 75 years later, Tipton is taking time to reflect on her role in the war and what it means to finally be able to share her story.

"It's wonderful. I hope the younger generations know about it. That's the important thing, that they know what people went through,” she said.