Irene M. Green, worked code-cracking office in World War II, dies at 91
BY MAUREEN O’DONNELL firstname.lastname@example.org December 24, 2012 5:22PM
1st Lieutenant, Irene M. Green who worked in code-breaking offices of the U.S. Navy in World War II, Obit Photo. | Provided by the Green Family
Updated: January 26, 2013 6:24AM
Even in her 90s, Irene M. Green enjoyed a challenging crossword puzzle or TV show, including “Jeopardy” or “Wheel of Fortune.”
But in her 20s, her language and math skills landed her a post in one of the most important branches of the war effort.
After graduating from Northwestern University and being commissioned as a naval ensign in the Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service in 1943, she worked in a code-cracking office in Washington, D.C.
The offices were hives that operated day and night — and a society virtually without men. They were filled with WAVES and other bright young cryptanalysts who used early computer prototypes and the connective chains of logic in math-oriented brains to decipher Japanese military code.
At one point, a young Irene Frances Monahan — who had hoped to be stationed overseas — sought a transfer.
“They wouldn’t move her from Washington, D.C., because what she was doing was important,” said her sister, Rita Corvino. “Most of her thing was working on the codes from there.”
She rose to the rank of lieutenant, outranking the man who courted her, Navy Lt. J.G. James W. Green Sr. He served on an aircraft carrier in the Pacific Theater.
“She wanted to help out. . . . Her future husband was in the Navy. . . . That swayed her toward the Navy,” her sister said.
“They got married right after the war,” said their son, Jim. “As soon as my dad landed in Seattle, he took a train immediately back, and then they went and got married.”
Mrs. Green, 91, died Dec. 2 at the Skokie home of another son, Richard.
She grew up in Oak Park in a family of four children and attended Trinity High School in River Forest. She was the second oldest, so when her mother died young after a stroke, 13-year-old Irene and her sister, Claire, nurtured their 5-year-old twin siblings, Rita and Jack.
“They took care of us,” Rita Corvino said. “They were very good to me. . . . She was always there for my brother and I.”
Before entering the service, she worked as a schoolteacher.
After their wedding, the Greens raised their children in Wilmette. An impish sense of humor meant she breezily admitted she wasn’t a top chef.
“We teased her about her best meal, by far, was this thing called ‘Stouffer’s’,” said another son, John. “She was in on the joke.”
The family liked going out for treats at Peacock’s Ice Cream parlor and seeing movies at Teatro del Lago, once part of the Plaza del Lago shopping center.
Love of language made her a human thesaurus, said John Green, who attributes his work as a playwright to her verbal alacrity and his father’s gift for communication. His father worked in advertising and journalism.
“I would look for the right word and she would name that word,” he said. “I was taking a bath, a real little kid, and I said, ‘There’s steam and water and heat.’ I was trying to name what it was.”
“And she said: ‘It envelops you.’ ’’
Vacations usually involved trips to Door County. The kids tried to outdo each other in making their parents laugh, John Green said.
“One day, my brother Steve — we were driving in the station wagon — there’s a sign that says ‘DEAD END.’ ’’
“And my brother said, ‘Dead End! Phew!’ And we thought that was the funniest thing. . . . She was the best audience.”
Other survivors include six grandchildren. Her husband, James, and her daughter, Katherine, died before her. A memorial service is planned at 11 a.m. Saturday at First Presbyterian Church of Evanston, 1427 Chicago Ave.