FORT MEADE, Md. — Seated under a tent outside the newly opened National Cryptologic Museum (NCM)
on a crisp, autumn morning, GEN Paul M. Nakasone, Commander, USCYBERCOM, Director NSA/Chief, CSS, NSA leaders, United States Postal Service (USPS) officials, and other special guests gathered to honor the work of the Women Cryptologists of World War II at the first-day-of-issue ceremony for a Forever Stamp.
“It truly is amazing that the pioneers, the founders of our Agency, are being recognized with a stamp,” GEN Nakasone said. “As we dedicate this new stamp, let us also dedicate ourselves to the work that they have done in terms of being able to secure our Nation’s future.”
GEN Nakasone thanked the USPS and the dedicating official, Jakki Krage Stako, chief commerce and business solutions officer and executive vice president of the USPS, for their hard work in commemorating these STEM pioneers — the women who made NSA possible.
“It's a great opportunity for us to recognize the women who came before us to bring this stamp to life,” Stako said. “Through our stamp program, we select subjects that represent the best of the nation's history as well as our culture.”
With this stamp, the USPS honors some 11,000 women cryptologists of World War II, who helped to process and decipher vital shipping, diplomatic, and military messages. After the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, many women cryptologists were recruited while still in college or working as schoolteachers. By the end of the war, women cryptologists accounted for more than half of all U.S. cryptologists. Their service played an immeasurable role in the Allied victory.
“Like the women who came before us, we are mothers, we are grandmothers, we are sisters, we are aunts, we're community volunteers, we're teachers, we're coaches, we're artists and athletes, and we build lifelong friendships, just as the women did in WWII. And we have seen women rising to the highest ranks of civil service leadership,” said Amy Nagahashi, NSA’s deputy chief of High-Performance Computing Solutions.
The USPS receives approximately 30,000 suggestions annually for stamp ideas, however, only 25 to 30 topics are chosen. The Citizens’ Stamp Advisory Committee, made up of individuals having a strong background in history, science, technology, art, education, and sports, review the suggestions and make their recommendations to the Postmaster General.
Women Cryptologists of WWII were chosen to commemorate with a stamp to honor their extraordinary work during WWII. These women are considered STEM pioneers, especially as their wartime effort coincided with the development of modern computer technology.
“Maybe you don't win [WWII] at all, if you don't have these critical women working in this field,” National Cryptologic Museum Director Vince Houghton said.
The stamp art features an image from a World War II-era recruitment poster with an overlay of characters from the “Purple” code. The Purple code, which was used by the Japanese government to encrypt diplomatic messages, was cracked by Genevieve Grotjan, a woman cryptologist with the U.S. Army’s Signal Intelligence Service. This breakthrough allowed the U.S. to read and exploit Japanese diplomatic messages for the duration of the war.
“One thing I love about my job and getting an assignment like this is it's not exactly code breaking, but it is puzzle solving,” said Antonio Alcalá, USPS art director and stamp designer.
It was a challenge for Alcalá because so many women were involved.
“The image from the …recruiting poster was ultimately selected to sort of be this ghostly figure behind the code that's sort of suggesting all of the women … she's representative of all the women there,” he said. “It was a great honor to participate in the process in creating the stamp,” he added.
Jennifer Wilcox, director of education for the NCM, was thrilled and happy to help in any way she could when the Postal Service contacted the NCM and said they wanted to honor these cryptologists.
“We are very happy that we have been able to honor these women at the museum for more than 20 years, and now, with this stamp, these women will be honored across the country,” she said.
The “Women Cryptologists of World War II” stamp is available for purchase on the USPS website or at Postal Office locations nationwide.