Posted: September 3, 2020
Local Holly Creek residents share insights on key war anniversary
“When the end of the war was announced, my roommates and I walked the 16 blocks to the White House from our apartment.” 95-year-old Nancy Tipton recalls, leaning over the table outside on her porch at Holly Creek Life Plan Community in Centennial. It was September of 1945, exactly 75 years ago, when Truman announced Japan’s surrender and the end of WWII.
“We saw Admiral Halsey, who was fleet admiral for the Navy,” she added. “We saluted him, and he saluted us back. There were many people gathering at the White House and people were throwing confetti. I went and prayed at St. John’s Episcopal Church afterwards, and on our way home we picked up a bottle of champagne.”
Nancy and her roommates had good reason to celebrate on that unforgettable day – they had been an important part of bringing the war to an end. It’s been three quarters of a century since she lived in D.C. and worked at Arlington Hall, but Nancy’s work deciphering Japanese code as a cryptographer was not something she would be able share about for over a half century.
“Per the Department of Defense, you never talked with anyone about what we did, not even those who were working alongside us in the same group,” Nancy explained.
Tipton herself didn’t know what she was decoding, only that she needed to notify her commander when the letters or numbers she was given matched her chart. The one thing she could tell was that the codes were coming from Japanese cities.
Nancy wasn’t the only one who has an interesting story to share about the end of the war. 96-year-old Roy Christensen recalls how he heard—or rather how he didn’t hear—about Japan’s surrender while serving as a torpedo man on the submarine USS Raton in the South Pacific. Christensen, who lives at Holly Creek Life Plan Community, is the last surviving crew member of the USS Raton, which was one of three submarines to receive a presidential unit citation for its success sinking 29 ships over the course of the war (see header image of Roy and his wife Karen). Thankfully none of those ships were sunk between Japan’s surrender on August 14th and August 16th. Roy’s submarine did not receive notification the war had ended and continued to patrol for two days after the end of the war.
Roy recalls that they were informed that Hiroshima was hit with a ’super bomb’ and that Nagasaki by an atomic bomb, but no crew members knew what an ‘atomic bomb’ was. When they were notified of the Victory in Japan (VJ Day), nobody on board celebrated. There was a sense of relief, but no one was particularly jubilant—as submariners they knew what loss of life was like.
“The submarine division had more fatalities than any other.” Roy recalls. “We were positioned to take the ships out, and they were looking for us too. If we got hit, it was usually 100% fatality for everyone on board.” Of the just over 200 U.S. submarines in the Pacific, 52 of them were sunk during the war.
Recently both Nancy and Roy were recognized for their important contributions to the war. In 2019, Nancy was invited to speak at in Washington D.C. about her experience as a “Code Girl,” where she was also able to meet and re-unite with several of her comrades from three quarters of a century before. Roy still has connections in the Navy and last year was invited by an Admiral to attend the christening of the USS Colorado, a state-of-the-art nuclear submarine, and was provided a full onboard tour.
Now both Nancy and Roy are enjoying life at Holly Creek Life Plan Community. Nancy has lived eleven years in one of the community cottages, and Roy has been part of the community for seven years himself. Their advice as they reflect on the past? Remember to respect other people, family values and sense of community.
“I think family values are very important,” Roy shared, “We need to get our sense of values back,” and a sense of mutual support is too. “When I was in the service, we were all it together. There was a great sense of comradery.”
Roy suggests, “Embracing that other people don’t necessarily think like you do.”
No advice could be better considering the current divisions in our own country as we also reflect back this September 2nd on the anniversary of the end of WWII.