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NSA Historical Figures

Ms. Eunice Russell Willson Rice

2022 Hall of Honor Inductee

Eunice Russell Willson Rice was a pioneering US Navy cryptologist who successfully broke Italian and Japanese codes during WWII. She joined the Office of Naval Intelligence as a language analyst in 1935 and transferred to OP-20-G—the Office of Naval Communication’s Code and Cipher Section—as a civilian cryptanalyst in 1939. During WWII, Rice led the team working Italian ciphers and codes, then learned enough Japanese on her own to lead the team charged with recovery and analysis of the vital Japanese Water Transport code.
Degrading the Japanese Merchant Marine was imperative if the Allies were to be successful in isolating Japan from raw materials and to impact the resupply of their far-flung maritime empire. Rice’s team provided critical COMINT, enabling US submarines to be in the right place at the right time to attack Japan’s merchant fleet. Between May 1943 and May 1944, the Japanese Merchant Marine’s ability to move cargo between Singapore and Japan declined by approximately 45%, which can be directly attributed to the work of Rice and her team.
In 1946, Rice received the Navy Meritorious Civilian Service certificate, the third highest civilian award at that time.
Rice’s father, Vice Admiral Russell Willson, a noted battleship commander, was also a cryptologist early in his career. In later life, Rice would demonstrate that his invention in 1917 of the Navy Cipher Box was the first operational strip cipher device used in the US Navy. Her research filled a historical gap, showing that the Navy Cipher Box played a crucial part in protecting communications during WWI.