Julia Parsons volunteered for the Navy WAVES—“Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service”—in 1942 after graduating from Carnegie Tech. She studied cryptology at Naval Reserve Midshipmen’s School at Smith College, and then she was ordered to Washington, D.C. for top secret duty.
She joined section SHARK, whose job it was to de-code German U-boat message traffic sent via the ENIGMA machine. Deciphering the messages involved working with “Bombe,” one of the first computers. For most of the war, Julia knew the locations of German U-boats in the North Atlantic and, because of the personal nature of many of these messages, had intimate knowledge of enemy crews’ lives.
After the war Julia lost her job as a cryptologist, which was one of the best and most exciting she ever had, although “I never spoke about what I did for many years. Not even my husband knew what I did.” Julia finally broke her silence about her top-secret work in 1997.
This interview is a production of the Veteran Voices of Pittsburgh Oral History Initiative, in partnership with the Veterans Breakfast Club. It was recorded October 6, 2012 at Soldiers & Sailors Memorial Hall & Museum, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.