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WWII Navy WAVE Vet (100) Remembers Where It All Began
by U.S. Navy Petty Officer 3rd Class Oliver Serna
 December 22, 2021

Ruth E. Black Koczela, a 100 year-old World War II Navy veteran, visited the chapel at her former duty station, the Nebraska Avenue Complex (NAC), formerly the Naval Communication Annex on December 14, 2021 where she married a fellow naval officer in 1946.

December 14, 2021 - Ruth Koczela holds a wedding portrait of her and her late husband, Leonard “Paul” Koczela. Ruth Koczela and Leonard Koczela met before their time in the service, having both attended North Adams State Teachers College, which is now a part of the University of Massachusetts system. (U.S. Navy photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Oliver Serna)
December 14, 2021 - Ruth Koczela holds a wedding portrait of her and her late husband, Leonard “Paul” Koczela. Ruth Koczela and Leonard Koczela met before their time in the service, having both attended North Adams State Teachers College, which is now a part of the University of Massachusetts system. (U.S. Navy photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Oliver Serna)

Koczela and her family visited the chapel where she married her late husband Leonard “Paul” Koczela, also a WWII Navy veteran. Jack Koczela, son of Ruth and Paul Koczela, said the family requested to visit the NAC following a walk last summer near the facility. The visit marked Jack Koczela’s first visit to the place of his parent’s nuptials.

“If you happened to observe her, she was almost literally ‘marching' from the car to the entrance of the Chapel,” said Jack Koczela in an email. “One could easily say that she was marching down memory lane and contemporaneously ‘reverted' to her years as a U.S. WAVE. She stood upright and made her own way!”

The Koczelas met before their time in the service while attending North Adams State Teachers College, which is now a part of the University of Massachusetts system. After a year of teaching elementary school in Monroe, Massachusetts, Ruth Koczela was commissioned in the Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service (WAVE).

While serving at the Navy Communication Security Section, Koczela and her fellow WAVES worked on deciphering enemy correspondence. Due in part to the efforts of her unit, the Allies broke the German Enigma code in 1944, ultimately paving the way for the Allied victory. The Koczelas married in the Naval Chapel on Nebraska Avenue Aug. 27, 1946, while both were stationed in the Washington D.C. area. Lt. Ruth Koczela’s military service ended in 1947 when she was honorably discharged as a lieutenant with the Navy Unit Commendation, American Campaign Medal and the World War II Victory medal.

During her visit Koczela was escorted by two women currently serving in the Navy, Lt. Cmdr. Julie Gillespy of Naval District Washington, and Seaman Josephine Rojas of the U.S. Navy Ceremonial Guard. Gillespy presented a coin and a letter signed by Rear Adm. Michael Steffen, commandant, Naval District Washington.

December 14, 2021 - Lt. Cmdr Julie Gillespy, Naval District Washington Deputy Staff Judge Advocate, hands a letter to Ruth Koczela on behalf of Rear Adm. Michael Steffen, Commandant, Naval District Washington. In a letter signed for Mrs. Koczela, Rear Adm. Michael Steffen expressed his gratitude for her contribution to global peace and security in service of the U.S. Navy. (U.S. Navy photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Oliver Serna)
December 14, 2021 - Lt. Cmdr Julie Gillespy, Naval District Washington Deputy Staff Judge Advocate, hands a letter to Ruth Koczela on behalf of Rear Adm. Michael Steffen, Commandant, Naval District Washington. In a letter signed for Mrs. Koczela, Rear Adm. Michael Steffen expressed his gratitude for her contribution to global peace and security in service of the U.S. Navy. (U.S. Navy photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Oliver Serna)

“It is my sincerest hope that during your visit to the place of your nuptials and former duty station you recall happy memories of those years,” wrote Steffen in a letter to Koczela. “Our nation is eternally grateful for your entire generation’s contribution to global peace and security.”

The federal government acquired the land for the NAC on July 20, 1943, where the Navy conducted intelligence operations until moving their work to Fort Meade, Md between 1968 and 1995. The facility has been renamed multiple times-- to the Naval Security Station in 1952, and then to the Nebraska Avenue Complex in 1998. The Department of Homeland Security took over the NAC in 2003, and still operates there today.

Naval District Washington is the regional provider of common operating support to the Navy’s shore installations, provides ceremonial support for the Navy and national leadership, and supports Joint Force Headquarters National Capital Region.

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