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Military

By Army SSgt. Carl Hudson

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World War II Veteran Receives Recognition For Role In Code-Breaking
(April 8, 2011)

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Jean Watters, a resident of Omaha, Neb., recieves a certificate signed by former British Prime Minister Gordon Brown from Adm. Robert F. Willard, commander of U.S. Pacific Command, for her role in the "Enigma Project" on Mar. 2, 2011. Following her enlistment in 1943, Watters was assigned to the Government Code and Cypher School where she joined the Top Secret ENIGMA code-breaking program. Photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Danny R. Hayes
Jean Watters, a resident of Omaha, Neb., recieves a certificate signed by former British Prime Minister Gordon Brown from Adm. Robert F. Willard, commander of U.S. Pacific Command, for her role in the "Enigma Project" on Mar. 2, 2011. Following her enlistment in 1943, Watters was assigned to the Government Code and Cypher School where she joined the Top Secret ENIGMA code-breaking program. Photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Danny R. Hayes
 HONOLULU (April 4, 2011) – A longtime resident of Bellevue, Neb., and World War II veteran who worked on the Top Secret ENIGMA code-breaking program received a rare recognition in Honolulu, Hawaii, March 2.

Adm. Robert F. Willard, commander, U.S. Pacific Command, presented Jean A. Watters, a British Royal navy veteran, a badge and a certificate signed by British former Prime Minister Gordon Brown in recognition of her efforts supporting the deciphering of Nazi Germany's ENIGMA operational codes during World War II. Both the badge and the certificate bore the emblem of the Government Code and Cypher School, the British intelligence branch where Mrs. Watters served during the war. Her son, Rear Adm. Robin M. Watters, Willard's chief of staff and graduate of Bellevue High School and the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, was present for the ceremony.

During World War II, the Government Code and Cypher School was home to much of the vital and groundbreaking work conducted to break the German ENIGMA code – work that proved crucial to the Allied war effort.
“The Germans thought their encrypted messages were absolutely impossible to decode,” said Mrs. Watters. “The Germans were doing very, very well in the war [at the time] and mainly at sea.

“They were sending U-boats and sinking [British ships] terribly fast. They had to be stopped somehow.”

A teenager at the time, Mrs. Watters recalled the atmosphere during the first years of the war.

“England had [joined] the war in 1939,” she said. “There were ships going down. There were countries fighting for their lives... it was a [time of] complete war.”

Despite having attended the Cambridge Art School for two years and being offered a ‘teacher deferment', Mrs. Watters declined the opportunity to remain in school and enlisted in the British Royal navy. In recounting her decision to enlist, she described a sense of duty to her country.

“Everyone wanted to do something in the war,” said Mrs. Watters.

Following her enlistment in 1943, Watters was assigned to the Government Code and Cypher School where she joined the Top Secret ENIGMA code-breaking program. In a windowless building, she worked with a team sworn to secrecy, tirelessly decoding encrypted German messages.

“It was very difficult to break because about 13 times a day, [the encryption] would change,” she said.

Watters and the rest of the ENIGMA team continued their critical contributions to the war until May 8, 1945. Known as ‘V.E. Day,' for ‘Victory in Europe,' it also marked the end of the Government Code and Cypher School's ENIGMA program. With no German forces sending coded messages, the program was abruptly discontinued.

“It was the most extraordinary day and a very strange day,” Watters recalled. “We were all terribly busy. [When VE Day] was announced, just like that, it was shut down. The messages stopped coming and it was the end of the European war.”

With the end of the war came a chance for the intelligence sailor to separate from the Royal navy and marry her American husband, John Watters, who served as a B-17 Bombadier/Navigator in the U.S. Army Air Corps and retired as a colonel after 30 years of service in the U.S. Air Force.

Though she had left the military, she kept her Top Secret role in World War II from her husband for decades until the project was declassified in the 1970's, an event that Mrs. Watters described as a shock.

“The ENIGMA [project] was a state top-secret for 30 years. It suddenly exploded in the newspapers, and I couldn't believe it.”

Over 65 years after her secret service, Watters sat on the sofa in her son's office after the ceremony. Holding her badge, she read the words delicately inscribed in gold, “We all served.”

“Looking back now, I'm so pleased that I was able to do something that helped the war,” she said. “It was duty.”
By Army SSgt. Carl Hudson
Pacific Command
Copyright 2011

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