COG lady decoded Japanese messages just before Pearl Harbor
By Darlene Warren
CENTER RIDGE, Ark.--When Idoline Greaves was in her 20s and working for the U.S. government in a top-secret job in the basement of the Treasury building in Washington, D.C., she was responsible for daily typing up decoded messages the government was intercepting from the Japanese.
This was only months before Japan bombed Pearl Harbor, in December 1941.
Mrs. Greaves, now 87 and living in Center Ridge, has always had a mind of her own, she told The Journal.
"My mother pushed me to be independent," she said, "and I mean I have been independent."
As a child "I went to school all year long and nearly every summer. I graduated from Dublin High School in Dublin, Texas, when I was 14 years old. My mother pushed me hard because she wanted me to be able to take care of myself if something should happen to her. She wanted me to attend Rice Institute [University], but I wanted to go to business school and get a job. I graduated from Draughon's Business College in Wichita Falls, Texas, when I was 17."
Mrs. Greaves, who has lived in Center Ridge for many years, spent 34 years working for the federal government in a variety of assignments.
After graduating from business college, she had hoped to take the civil-service examination offered by the government, but she was still too young. So the then Idoline Shane went to work for an accountant in Wichita Falls for a while, then moved to Houston, Texas, to be with family.
At 18 she took the exam and passed it but was not offered a job until late in 1935, when she turned 21.
She received a call from the Civil Service informing her to report to Washington on Jan. 2, 1936. She wanted to go, but she was scared.
"I was already on the train when I told my mother, 'Maybe I shouldn't go.' My mother had a voice of authority. She didn't scream. She just said, 'You're going.' The emphasis was on the 'going.' "
Secretary to the secretary
About 50 girls reported to the nation's capital for the same reason that same day.
"Most of them were so homesick they had to go to bed, and some of them went home," said Mrs. Greaves. "I was never homesick a day."
Her first assignment was grading examinations for the U.S. Post Office. After about a year the government transferred her to work for the Railroad Retirement Board.
Not liking that job, she interviewed with the Internal Revenue Service. Meanwhile, she had taken another exam.
"I was crying when I finished that test," she said. "It was really tough."
True to form, she passed the exam; the interview went well; and she was transferred to work for the photostat-and-bankruptcy unit of the IRS.
"At this time, the latter part of 1937 and early 1938, a lot of Jewish people were being brought over from Europe," she remembers. "In order to bring someone over, you had to prove you could support them, so a person would need copies of their income-tax records. That was my job."
From there Mrs. Greaves was transferred to the secretarial pool to take dictation from IRS agents.
After working for almost two years for the IRS, she advanced to grade three of the Civil Service and was moved to the U.S. Treasury, where she worked in Treasury secretary Henry Morgenthau's correspondence pool.
Promoted to the basement
One day Idoline Greaves' supervisor told her that she and another young woman were being sent down to the basement (of the U.S. Treasury building) for a "confidential" assignment.
"I was still young and thought, Well, just another job."
But, "after two days of working in the basement, the other girl was sent back upstairs, and they kept me."
Because of her typing speed and accuracy, Mrs. Greaves had been selected to type incoming messages off ticker tape that the Secret Service had intercepted from the Japanese.
"You had to be very accurate. Everything that came in was in code. It was hard because you are typing combinations of letters you aren't familiar with.
"I do remember every little while the Japanese word yen coming across the ticker tape. Every night a lady came to collect what I had typed and take it somewhere to be decoded. I had to change the typewriter ribbon every day, and every evening I had to take all my paper scraps and throw them in the furnace myself. I couldn't leave it to the cleaning lady; it was confidential."
Mrs. Greaves spent 10 days in the basement typing out coded messages from the Japanese just months before the bombing of Pearl Harbor.
After the 10 days were up, her supervisors sent her back upstairs, gave her another raise and transferred her to the Tax Legislative Counsel, where she worked assisting lawyers who wrote tax code. She was working there when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941.
When America entered the war, because of the attack virtually all transfers within the Civil Service were prohibited. But because her brother was being drafted and her mother was dying of cancer, she was allowed to transfer to Houston to work in the IRS, where she could take care of her mother.
"They were sending my brother across, and they sent the Red Cross to interview me, because someone had to take care of my mother, so they chose me," she said.
After working in Washington for eight years, she returned home to Houston.
Mrs. Greaves retired from the Civil Service after 34 years and moved to her current residence in Center Ridge. She is a longtime member of the Church of God. She attends services when she is able in Little Rock at the Church of God Central Arkansas.
She still corresponds and visits over the phone occasionally with a friend and former coworker, Ella Zing, whom she met when she first went to Washington in 1936.
"I was I.S. [Idoline Shane], and she was E.Z."
Only in recent months did Mrs. Greaves become aware that her friend, now Ella Longstreth, who lives in Roseburg, Ore., is also a Church of God member. She attends a congregation of the Church of God an International Community.
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