New York Today

Looking Back at Her World War II Secret

Ruth Mirsky, who turns 100 today, was a code breaker in the U.S. Navy. “It was very hush-hush,” she remembered.

Good morning. It’s Wednesday. We’ll meet a World War II code breaker who turns 100 today. We’ll also look at a filing by Representative George Santos that suggests he is already considering running for another term in Congress.

ImageA person smiles and poses with an old framed portrait.
Credit...Michelle V. Agins/The New York Times

Somewhere in Rockaway Park, N.Y., is a World War II code breaker who is finally talking.

Ruth Mirsky, who turns 100 today, did not say much about breaking codes. She gave almost nothing away, saying things like “it was top-secret work” and “I had a very small part in it.” And “we worked in shifts. We worked around the clock — daytime, nighttime.” Not a word about encryption machines or eureka moments deciphering enemy messages long ago.

Mirsky’s birthday comes 80 years after she enlisted in the Navy and became a WAVE, the acronym for Women Accepted for Voluntary Emergency Services. She was promptly sent to Washington, where she became one of several thousand women scrambling to unscramble messages intercepted from the Japanese and German military.

She worked in the library unit at what became known as the Naval Annex, typing incoming messages on file cards, categorizing them and noting repetitions — recurring letters or phrases that might have been potential clues to encryption. Others have said it was mind-numbing duty, an excruciating search for patterns and ciphers among monotonous columns of numbers and letters, but Mirsky still sounded fascinated.

“It was a whole new thing,” she said. “For me it was, anyway.”

Their diligence paid off. “Together, this group of Navy women broke and rebroke the fleet code” and “helped keep track of the movements of the Imperial Japanese Navy,” the author Liza Mundy wrote in her book “Code Girls: The Untold Story of the American Women Code Breakers of World War II.

The women were instructed not to talk about their secret wartime lives — “it was very hush-hush,” Mirsky told me. When she visited her former boss in New York, she recalled, “he asked me, ‘What are you doing there? The F.B.I. was asking all kinds of questions to find out what kind of a person you were.’”

She added: “I couldn’t even tell my fiancé.”

We’ll get to him in a moment. Mirsky worked in an installation in Washington that was just off Ward Circle, “which taxi drivers started calling WAVES Circle,” Mundy wrote.

Around the time Mirsky arrived in 1943, that installation was a base of operations for 1,500 women, along with just over 900 male officers and enlisted men, according to Mundy, who wrote that by early the next year, there were almost twice as many women and far fewer men. But, in what the writer Meryl Gordon called a “pre-Betty Friedan moment in American life when institutional discrimination was the norm,” the Navy’s pay scale favored the men.

Mirsky did not mention that last week. She talked about two brothers, David, whom she had been dating, and Harry, who had been stationed in South Dakota as a radar specialist. “Harry came to see his brother before David’s unit went overseas,” she said. Harry had been injured when he was thrown from a jeep; at one point he had been in a body cast. With David off to the front lines, “Harry asked me if he could write to me from South Dakota, so that’s how it started,” she said.

About six months later, Harry’s unit was transferred to Fort Dix, in New Jersey. He remained stateside when the unit went overseas because of the accident. He managed to go to Washington regularly — once without a pass, for which he was punished when he returned to Fort Dix, she said.

You can guess what happened. Harry became the fiancé, then the husband. They were married for 39 years, until his death in 1984.

She is a regular at a JASA Older Adult Center not far from her apartment center. It organized a birthday party last week, a few days early. “You can’t put 100 candles on a cake,” Mirsky told me, but she blew out 10 or so on the strawberry shortcake that was served. Assemblywoman Stacey Pheffer Amato, who represents the area, brought a proclamation and tweeted photos.

“I’ve had a happy life,” Mirsky told me. “I feel I’ve done what I wanted, actually.” She mentioned her two children, Stuart Mirsky and Debra Aluisio, who had joined her at the JASA center. She mentioned her five grandchildren and 10 great-grandchildren. She double-checked those numbers with her son, counting as they named the names.

She talked about playing Scrabble — on an iPad.

“It’s a good thing for my mind, I guess,” she said.

“Very similar to the codes,” said Aluisio.


It’s a cloudy, windy day near the mid-40s. The evening is breezy and mostly clear, with temps around the mid-30s.


In effect until April 6 (Passover).

Credit...Jefferson Siegel for The New York Times

Credit...Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

Little more than two months after he assumed office, George Santos signaled that he might want a second term.

Santos, the embattled Republican from Long Island who is under scrutiny for lies about his background and questions about his finances, submitted paperwork to the Federal Election Commission suggesting that he may run for re-election in 2024.

My colleague Michael Gold writes that the filing does not necessarily mean that Santos will run, but it does allow him to continue to raise money and spend it on campaign-related expenses, including paying back roughly $700,000 that he lent to his campaign last year.

He can also use money he raises for any potential legal fees involving some of the investigations he is facing. Federal prosecutors have been examining his campaign finances and personal business dealings, and last month the House Ethics Committee opened its own inquiry.

After The New York Times reported that Santos had lied about graduating from college, working for prestigious Wall Street firms and managing an extensive real estate portfolio, Santos acknowledged that he fabricated parts of his résumé and his biography.

But he has denied criminal wrongdoing and has resisted calls to resign, even as some Republicans questioned whether he could serve constituents. Republican officials in Nassau County have said they would avoid taking constituent problems to his office whenever they could. Ten House Republicans have called on Santos to resign, and a poll in January by Siena College found that 78 percent of the voters in his district wanted him to give up his seat, including 71 percent of the Republicans who were questioned.



Dear Diary:

When I was in my early 20s, I worked at a cafe in Park Slope. I used to walk to work in the darkness at 4:30 a.m., lacing up my black sneakers in my Clinton Hill apartment and schlepping past halal trucks on my way as they set up for the day.

I always bought a grapefruit from the bodega across the street before starting my shift. The man at the counter would greet me with a wide smile, its warmth washing away the tired feelings left over from the morning trek.

Clocking out? I’d ask.

Yes, he would say. Clocking in?

Yes, I’d say.

And then each day, like a mantra, he would singsong to me: “You are beginning your day … and I am ending mine!”

— Annabelle Lewis

Illustrated by Agnes Lee. Send submissions here and read more Metropolitan Diary here.

Glad we could get together here. See you tomorrow. — J.B.

P.S. Here’s today’s Mini Crossword and Spelling Bee. You can find all our puzzles here.

Melissa Guerrero and Ed Shanahan contributed to New York Today. You can reach the team at

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