Alyce Dixon, 108, the nation's oldest female veteran, who expedited mail delivery in wartime and later worked as a civilian at the Pentagon, facilitating what she called the purchase of everything from "pencils to airplanes," died Jan. 27 at a veterans' retirement center in Washington, D.C.
Dixon was working for the War Department's secretarial pool at the newly constructed Pentagon when in 1943 she enlisted in the Women's Auxiliary Army Corps, soon to be called the Women's Army Corps.
She was initially limited to administrative assignments in Iowa and Texas before joining the newly established 6888th Central Postal Directory Battalion in early 1945. The battalion was the only unit of black women in the WACs to serve overseas in World War II and was led by Charity Adams, one of the first black female commissioned officers in the war.
The Army was still segregated at the time, and Dixon's battalion — made up of more than 800 black women and based at posts in England and France — dined and was housed separately from other WACs.
The 6888th was tasked with sorting and distributing what she estimated were billions of backlogged letters and packages to soldiers — a pileup attributed to the disruption in delivery caused by the Battle of the Bulge.
Their mission was deemed vital to sustaining GI morale on the front lines, but a significant hurdle was identifying their ultimate destination based on incomplete information supplied by families.
"A lot of mothers wrote to 'Buster, U.S. Army,' or 'Junior, U.S. Army,' " Dixon told an Army publication. "We knew every service member had a number and we had difficulty finding them. However, we found every person.
Working three shifts a day, seven days a week, the battalion accomplished in three months what was projected by the brass to take half a year.
She returned to Washington in the late 1940s and worked for the Census Bureau and later the Pentagon, retiring in 1972 as a purchasing agent.
Alice Lillian Ellis was born in Boston on Sept. 11, 1907, and was the third of nine children. By the time the family settled in Washington, she had already altered the spelling of her first name, a tribute to silent movie actress Alyce Mills.
Selmer Norland, 99, a World War II Army officer who served with the original U.S. contingent of cryptanalysts assigned to England's Bletchley Park code-breaking center that broke encrypted messages from Nazi Enigma machines, died Dec. 5 at a hospital in Silver Spring, Md.
Norland, a 1938 graduate of Luther College in Decorah, Iowa, was fluent in German and possessed of a good memory for the names of German military units and their locations, according to an oral history declassified more than 50 years after the fact by the National Security Agency. He was assigned to a unit that handled evaluation and translation of already-decrypted messages from the Enigma machines.
After the war, he settled in the Washington area and was a crypto linguist with the NSA, retiring in 1974.
Selmer Sevryn Norland was born on a farm near Garner, Iowa, on Jan. 8, 1916. His father was a Norwegian immigrant, and his mother was a daughter of Norwegian immigrants. Norwegian was the language spoken at home.
According to family lore, Norland told his teacher on his first day of school that she would have to learn Norwegian since he did not speak English.
He minored in German at Luther and later taught high school German in St. Charles, Minn.
In 1942, he began his Army career, and a year later was among a group of Army officers selected for joint service with British intelligence. They sailed for England and a posting at Bletchley Park under the code job description as "pigeon experts."
Georgia Davis Powers, 92, a giant in the fight for civil rights in Kentucky and the first black woman elected to the state Senate, died Saturday in Louisville.
"When you think of civil rights in Kentucky, you have to start with Georgia Davis Powers," said Kentucky state Sen. Gerald Neal, a longtime friend and colleague who says Powers inspired him into public service.
She fought for fair housing and employment rights, became a close confidant of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., and served 21 years in the state Senate. She was soft-spoken, gracious, quick with a joke, Neal said. But in her battle for civil rights, she did not blink.
"She walked into the Legislature, a man's world, a white man's world, and she did not waver," Neal said. "She asked no quarter and gave no quarter."