World War II WAVE: Isabelle Bryant, “Code Girl”

I had the pleasure of meeting and spending some quality time with a National Treasure on 23 April 2015 when she toured the National Cryptologic Museum near the National Security Agency. This wonderful lady is none other than Miss Isabelle Bryant, a WAVE who served during WWII. What is special about her is that she served as a Specialist Q Second Class—a Cryptologist!!

Ms. Bryant and JW Smith at the National Cryptologic Museum

Prior to her visit, April Maletz, CTACS (Retired) contacted Barry Hester, CTOCS(SW) (Retired) and me for contact information at the museum. The information was quickly provided and she finalized the trip north for Ms. Isabelle. In addition to Miss Isabelle and April, Elizabeth Hand, PNCS(SW) (Retired) made the trip.

After introducing myself to Miss Isabelle, we quickly learned of her service. She served from 1943–1945. Isabelle attended Boot Camp at Hunter College in Bronx, New York. Following basic training, she attended Yeoman (YN) training in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, and subsequently learned that she would also learn “intelligence” skills. She recalled working initially in Washington, D.C., but wasn’t at the Naval Security Station buildings on Nebraska Avenue. Her barracks were located in Spring Valley.

After her initial time in D.C., she was transferred to Hawaii and applied her trade. She remembered working with large “punch cards” that resembled IBM cards and would collate them according to varying subjects. Coincidentally, we were able to locate the same cards in one of the cases in the WAVES display area. Additionally, she remembered working on equipment, but couldn’t accurately recall the name of the gear. After speaking with one of the curators, we were unable to determine the true nomenclature of the gear, but we did find a piece of equipment similar to what she worked with.

Ms. Bryant by equipment she used in WWII

Following her service, she returned to the States. It was then that she met and married her husband, who worked in government. A staunch supporter of education, Miss Isabelle used her G.I. Bill benefits and earned her Masters Degree in Library Science, continued as a teacher, and retired from the Virginia Public School System. She and her husband also used her VA benefits to purchase their very first house.

Meeting and speaking with Ms. Isabelle was a fabulous opportunity. The highlight of her trip was when she met and spoke with three young CTI branchers—CTISNs Cuddy, Fleagle, and Holst—who took time out of their busy schedule to meet her. She thoroughly enjoyed learning about where they grew up, why they joined the service, what their training had entailed (Boot Camp and language training), where they were working, and how they liked wearing the blue digital cammies. The young Sailors asked many a question of Miss Isabelle and engaged in thoughtful discussion of the business of old…well to what she would speak of, anyway.

Ms. Bryant with young Navy Cryptologists