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NSA Historical Figures

Norman Wild

2002 Hall of Honor Inductee

Norman Wild was an expert in Cambodian, Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Lao, Thai, and Vietnamese. Colleagues remember not only his professional prowess but also his gentle and generous encouragement to them in their language work. He was of that rare breed: a genius who could also teach people.

Mr. Wild was born in June 1918 and grew up in New York City. In high school, he discovered that he liked to study languages and took all of the French and Spanish classes that were available. He majored in Chinese and Japanese studies at Columbia University. Wild earned both his B.A. and M.A. degrees in Chinese and Japanese from Columbia University in 1939 and 1941, respectively.

Wild joined the army in 1944 and was recruited by the Signal Security Agency (later the Army Security Agency (ASA)). After language training, he was stationed at Arlington Hall. At first, supervisors were perplexed at Wild's behavior. He was able to complete his weekly language tasks in one day. For the remainder of the week, Wild assisted his colleagues with their analytic tasks. He remained a natural mentor and teacher throughout his career. After a two-year stint in the army, Wild became a civilian employee at ASA, and stayed with the organization as it evolved into the Armed Forces Security Agency and finally NSA.

Norman Wild has been described by his colleagues and by Agency seniors as "a book breaker with intuitive genius," "an individual who was most helpful to colleagues as they transitioned to working with new languages to meet the changing needs of the agency," and "the most competent and impressive linguist ever." The following two examples justify these accolades.

Early in the Korean War, while working in a special analysis unit, Wild and two colleagues studied Chinese plaintext messages over a period of months. This team concluded that a series of messages that seemed innocuous actually suggested that Chinese troops were being centralized and prepared to enter the Korean War. The Chinese did enter the Korean War on 25 November 1950. Wild was lauded as a linchpin for this analytic discovery.

Mr. Wild's most significant and lasting achievement was his work with the Chinese-English Translation (CETA) Group's Chinese-English General Dictionary project. CETA was an ambitious project. A number of U.S. government agencies, private enterprises, and academic institutions collaborated over several decades to produce perhaps the most comprehensive and up-to-date Chinese-English dictionary ever published. Linguists had to collate an enormous general and technical vocabulary from numerous sources into a single resource. Wild played a pivotal role in selecting, creating Morse equivalents, translating, editing, and correcting thousands of vocabulary entries for inclusion in the dictionary. He was personally responsible for no less than a fourth of the approximately 212,000 entries! Today, this dictionary continues to be the most widely used Chinese-English resource by the intelligence community.

In 1970, the Agency recognized Wild's achievements by presenting him its highest honor, the Exceptional Civilian Service Award. After thirty-six years of government service, Norman Wild retired in 1980. His spectacular achievements continue to influence and inspire the language community. He passed away in 1996.

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