Chesterfield Observer: Legislation would rename Midlothian post office for codebreaker

CHESTERFIELD OBSERVER, RICH GRISET

For decades, Midlothian resident Dorothy “Dot” Braden Bruce was sworn to secrecy over her work breaking Japanese codes during World War II. Now, an effort is underway to publicize Bruce’s classified role during the war by naming a post office after her.

On Nov. 1, U.S. Rep. Abigail Spanberger introduced legislation to Congress that would rename the post office located at 1201 Sycamore Square Drive as the “Dorothy Braden Bruce Post Office Building” if approved.

A resident in Midlothian’s Spring Arbor Assisted Living in her later years, Bruce was the star of journalist Liza Mundy’s 2017 nonfiction book “Code Girls,” which highlights the codebreaking contributions made by more than 10,000 American women during World War II.

Having signed a secrecy oath with the government, Bruce never discussed her codebreaking work after the war, even with family. It was only after Mundy approached Bruce about the book and explained that her codebreaking work was no longer classified that she finally talked about her wartime experiences. Bruce died on June 15 of this year at the age of 99.

A native of Southside Virginia, Bruce was summoned to Arlington during the war to break codes sent to Japanese supply ships, cutting off food, fuel and other provisions to Japanese forces. It might not sound as glamorous as cracking the Enigma machine, but Mundy says it’s one of the three most important Allied codebreaking efforts of the conflict, up there with the sinking of Nazi U-boats or intelligence gained ahead of the crucial Battle of Midway.

“It doesn’t get as much attention because it’s not one dramatic battle,” Mundy told the Observer in 2017 about the sinking Japanese supply ships. “It’s just this relentless daily sinking of these ships that are bringing food and fuel and troops and medicine to the Japanese army.”

Interviewed by the Observer at the time of the book’s release, Bruce, then 97, was a lively, sharp presence who enjoyed joking around.

“Don’t ask me revealing questions,” she told this reporter, obviously kidding. “Fame is just a little too hard.”

Reached by phone from her home in Glen Allen last week, Spanberger said she sponsored the legislation because Bruce “stood up for our democracy.”

“She lived an extraordinary life, and she had this really important time in her life where she was working in service to our nation,” said Spanberger, herself a former undercover officer with the CIA. “She kept it secret for decades upon decades, because it was a requirement of the job.”

In sponsoring the legislation, Spanberger says she hopes it inspires young people to pursue excellence in math and science, and that Bruce is a reminder that there are “incredible people that live within our midst” that we might not always know about. “The codebreakers, overall, are an example of that. They were women who were fantastically smart … who stood up when their country needed them and then went back to their lives afterwards,” Spanberger says. “It’s just a tremendous story, and the fact that we had one of them living among us for so many years is a story I want to celebrate.”

Jim Bruce, Dorothy’s son, says it’s a thrill that his mother is finally getting credit for her wartime efforts.

“I’m delighted,” says the 72-year-old, who lives in McLean. “To see some sort of permanent recognition of it all, it’s a good thing. I thought all along, when Liza was writing the book, that it was a story that needed to be told.”

If approved by Congress, Spanberger says the post office will be renamed, have a plaque installed commemorating Bruce, and, likely, a dedication ceremony.

“I am so happy to see that Dorothy Bruce is receiving the recognition and honor she and her fellow codebreakers have long deserved,” says Mundy. “These women were truly the hidden figures of the greatest generation; they saved countless lives and helped ensure Allied victory during World War II.

“And since their work entailed vital communications – so crucial during wartime, and indeed at all times – the naming of a post office in her honor is especially fitting and apt. I, for one, will never forget her, and this would ensure that she and her contributions live on in the national memory.”

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