St. Helens woman helps break Japanese code in World War II
If you ask Georgie DeLashmutt, 94, of St. Helens, what she was doing between 1944 and 1945 at the tail end of World War II, she will respond in a soft-spoken voice, with some reservation.
One look at a certificate of appreciation from the Military Intelligence Division War Department thanking her for her loyalty and devotion to service, however, and the significance of her role during the war becomes clearer.
DeLashmutt, who goes by the nickname "Jimmy," was one of thousands of women who worked in secrecy to break Japanese encryption codes used to mask messages about military movement during WWII.
Tammy Taylor, DeLashmutt's youngest daughter who now lives in Beaverton, said she and her siblings always knew their mother had worked as a decoder, but they knew little about the exact nature of her service. Both of her parents seldom spoke about their experiences during the war, Taylor explained.
"A lot of veterans from World War II didn't talk much about World War II," Taylor said. "I think that was pretty common."
At the time, it was expected Americans would do whatever they could to be patriotic, DeLashmutt noted of her service more than 70 years ago. That's just the way it was, she said.
Call to service
After her coworker and friend, Elaine Lundgren, brought a newspaper advertisement to her attention, DeLashmutt left her job as a hairdresser in her home state of Nebraska at the age of 20 and took a job working in Washington, D.C., with the U.S. Army Signal Corps. Lundgren joined her on the journey.
At the time, DeLashmutt didn't know what she was signing up for.
She was assigned to work on a codebreaking team. The women worked in groups of 15 for eight-hour shifts, each using a small machine to decode messages.
"Of course, we had such a little bit of what we knew, we didn't really know what we were doing," DeLashmutt said. "But the whole process was to break Japanese code."
Beth Hunnicutt of Columbia City, one of DeLashmutt's longtime friends, said she suspected DeLashmutt played a role during the war, but DeLashmutt would never spare any details about her service.
"She was always saying things in our bridge groups like, 'loose lips sink ships,' which you know was a saying in World War II," Hunnicutt noted. "And finally, she told us she worked as a codebreaker."
DeLashmutt recalls hearing lectures once a week when she was in Washington about the importance of not telling anyone about the work the women were doing. They were even restricted from discussing it with coworkers or roommates.
But the restrictions on speech didn't stop her from making quick friends with the other women. During downtime, she recalls visits to Arlington National Cemetery and walking across the nearby Washington Street Bridge from the housing barracks to get to downtown.
She also recalls the intelligence of the men she worked alongside.
"You always had admiration for the kind of guys that were there, and you'd realize they were the cream of the crop," DeLashmutt said.
It was during her time in Washington when DeLashmutt met her late husband, Jack, who had just returned from deployment in the Pacific as a sailor in the U.S. Navy.
The two were married in 1947 and moved to Oregon. DeLashmutt worked full time as a hairdresser while Jack was in school earning his degree. Later, when DeLashmutt had her four children — Cheryl, Doug, Brian and Tammy — she stayed at home to take care of the family. Jack later went on later to teach in the St. Helens School District.
DeLashmutt said she never really made a big deal about talking about her experiences in the war. Life moved on and so did she.
Now, Taylor has taken the time to ask her mother more about her service to her country. Learning about the patriotism of her parents has always made the family proud.
"It was always very interesting to know about," Taylor said, "And we were proud that both of them had served the country."
Today, if you ask DeLashmutt what she was most proud of, her answer is simple.
"Well, I think just that I had nerve enough to go," DeLashmutt said. "I don't think I was too scared. I had my friend with me and you sort of clung to each other and you make quick friends when you're around so many girls of the same age."