Washington Wong was born in Hawaii and taken to China at an early age. With a Chinese father and Japanese mother, he grew up with near-native fluency in both languages. He acquired knowledge and experience in additional Chinese dialects while growing up in wartime China.
After World War II, he returned to Hawaii, where he began to learn English. He was drafted into the Army during the Korean War. Fluent in several Chinese dialects, he excelled in the Army's Chinese language test and was assigned to the Army Security Agency. He went to Korea, where he worked as an intercept operator in the Low-Level Intercept Program. His language proficiency provided important support in many aspects of cryptologic work in Korea.
After military service, Mr. Wong worked as a civilian language officer with an NSA cryptologic office in Asia and later became a full-time language officer at NSA in Fort Meade, Md.
Mr. Wong served as the Interpreter of Record for four decades in Chinese and Japanese for the director of NSA. He also performed specific tasks for many other intelligence agencies, including the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
Mr. Wong's most valuable contribution was as a mentor to other linguists. He embodied proficiency in language analysis, and he became a mentor and role model to linguists in many languages, not just those in which specialized.
Washington Wong, quite simply, was what Chinese linguists called him: "a national treasure."
Mr. Wong retired from NSA in 1996 and passed away in 2012.