The pandemic has revealed just how many Americans won’t take steps to protect others, even if those steps are only mild inconveniences.

They should talk to Jane Case and Leona Wright.

Case, 98, of Scarborough, and Wright, 97, of Cornish, both were honored last week, on the 80th anniversary of the bombing of Pearl Harbor, for their roles as “Code Girls,” pioneering women who worked tirelessly to decipher enemy messages during World War II.

Case, Wright and the rest of the 10,000 or so Code Girls saved countless lives and played a critical role in winning the war. They did so anonymously, as the work required, and with great skill, even as they went unrecognized, and often disrespected.

The story of the Code Girls and their incredible part in the war wasn’t told until 2017, when author Liza Mundy released her book “Code Girls: The Untold Story of the American Women Code Breakers of World War II.

Mundy told how the U.S. military began secretly recruiting women college students strong in math and science to be codebreakers in 1941, as war seemed unavoidable. The effort became more urgent after the attack on Pearl Harbor.


The codebreakers worked out of two offices in Washington, D.C., working 12 hours a day, seven days a week deciphering messages sent by the Japanese and Germans.

Their work helped sink all Japanese transport ships late in the war, sealing the fate of their army. In the lead-up to D-Day, the codebreakers were among those who sent out fake messages, causing the Nazis to believe the attack was landing somewhere else.

It was tough, mind-numbing work with the highest stakes imaginable. “They were very aware that if they made a mistake somebody might die,” Mundy told Smithsonian Magazine.

And they did so even while their work, and their place in the military, was largely unappreciated and unacknowledged.

At first, the women were only allowed to work as civilians, not as members of the military. When that changed, the women still were paid less and given what were seen as the most menial tasks.

Those that signed up faced discrimination, not only within the ranks but from their own families and communities, who did not believe the service was the right place for a woman.


Once joined up, some were allowed to serve just two years, and when they got out, they found it difficult to use the skills they had earned to get the highly-skilled jobs they were cut out for.

Still, they did the work, and by doing so saved American lives. They were pioneers, trailblazers and patriots.

All these years later, though, Case doesn’t see it as all that special. Everyone she knew was signing up, so she did too.

There was a war, she told Hannah LaClaire of the Press Herald, and she would do her part, whatever it was.

As the U.S. faces a war of a different kind, with more than 1,000 Americans dying every day of a preventable illness, we could use a few more people who feel the same way.

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