DOROTHY BRADEN BRUCE
THE UNTOLD STORY OF AMERICA'S
WOMEN CODE BREAKERS
At our February 25 breakfast, Jim Bruce and Nancy Bruce Robertson will tell us the incredible story of their mother, Dorothy "Dot" Braden Bruce. Dot is an American hero and a central character in Liza Mundy's book Code Girls The Untold Story of the American Women Code Breakers of World War II .
Dot and the other young women code breakers from all over America lived and worked in Washington, DC, but they helped cripple the Japanese military in the Pacific. Their work is credited with shortening the war by two or more years and saving millions of lives.
“We sank a lot of Japanese ships,” Bruce said shortly before her death last year. “I don’t even like to think about it.”
But their story was largely unknown even to family and friends until recently. Each code breaker was sworn to secrecy "for life" when they left the project and virtually all details of their work had been classified for more than 70 years until the National Security Agency declassified the information just a few years ago.
As part of her research for her book, NYT best-selling author, Liza Mundy approached Dot for an interview, but she refused to talk unless her son, an attorney from Washington, DC was present. That is when Dot's children and even her husband first learned the details and the impact of the work she and the code breakers had done.
America's Women Code Breakers
In 1942, the U.S. military quietly recruited Dot Braden and over 10,000 other young women, mostly recent college graduates and school teachers, promising them only a role in the war effort. The code breakers “manned” a vast, top-secret code breaking operation that deciphered Japanese and other enemy war messages from around the globe. By the end of the war, the information supplied by the code breakers helped the U.S. Navy pinpoint and sink more than 60% of the supply ships heading to the Philippines or the South Pacific. Their work was vital to the success of the battle of Midway, and eventually cut-off the supplies and fuel to the Japanese fleet ultimately leading to their surrender.
A 70 Year Secret
Keeping the code breaking efforts secret was critical, and the code breakers were sworn to secrecy under the penalty of death for treason. Even after the war, the code breakers knew there would be severe consequences if they revealed the true nature of their work. For over 70 years, these courageous young women were prohibited from telling their story to anyone, even their husbands and children. Dot's family still has a letter sent to her from the War Department in 1946 that states, “You must never disclose this to anyone in your lifetime.”
The size, scope and impact of their story was first revealed when Liza Mundy published "Code Girls" in 2017. When Mundy reached out to Dot to set up interviews for her book, Dot went from retired suburban wife, schoolteacher and real estate agent to a life of interviews and guest appearances as a wartime hero seven decades earlier.
Dorothy “Dot” Braden Bruce
Dot, a Lynchburg native, graduate of Randolph Macon Women’s College, and long-time Richmond resident, passed away last June at age 99. After graduating from college and spending a year teaching high school English, History, French, Physics, and Composition, Dot was ready to change her career. She heard that the U.S. Army and Navy were recruiting women who had recently graduated college for jobs in the war effort. The details of the jobs were not disclosed, and even after a strange interview at a Lynchburg hotel, she still didn’t quite understand what she was getting into.
She took a train to Washington, D.C., arriving at Union Station with her suitcase and an Arlington County work address, but no lodging arranged. She hailed a cab for the first time in her life and told the driver to take her to the address she had been given. She remembers the cab pulling up to a building called “Arlington Hall”—a large, nondescript building surrounded by barbed wire fences and teeming with armed guards. It was a jolting introduction to wartime Washington and experiences unimaginable in her Lynchburg life.