California woman keeps World War II secrets alive

FRESNO, Calif. _ For 50 years, Penny Mirigian kept the secret about what she really did in the Navy WAVES during World War II. When people asked, she simply said: "I was a radio operator."

"Spy" would have been closer to the truth.

From 1943 to 1945, Mirigian was part of an elite group of "intercept operators" who typed up Japanese radio broadcasts to be decoded. The work was top secret.

"It was highly classified," Mirigian said. "They drilled into us that we were doing highly secret work, and we couldn't tell anyone _ including when you wrote to your parents."

Today, the 87-year-old Fresno woman is one of just a few still around to tell their stories.

"They were told if they divulged what they were doing, even though they were women, they'd be shot," said John Gustafson, the membership secretary of the U.S. Naval Cryptologic Veterans Association in Pensacola, Fla. "Some still won't talk about it."

So Mirigian kept quiet. She married. She had four children. She divorced and _ much later _ she married again.

She taught English at Edison High School for 23 years before retiring. Through it all, nobody knew that she once had lived a very different life.

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