Sunday, October 19, 2003

Ohio Moments

Codebreaker saved lives

On Oct. 19, 2001, the U.S. Naval Computing Machine Laboratory in Dayton was designated a "Milestone in Engineering" for developing a machine during World War II that cracked the Enigma encrypting device of Nazi Germany and other enemy codes.

Joseph R. Desch, director of National Cash Register Co.'s Electrical Research Laboratory in Dayton, led a team that developed the machine - called the Bombe - credited with hastening the end of the war and saving the lives of countless American sailors and soldiers.

Desch also oversaw the decoding of Japanese messages. The job wore on him. After months of 14-hour days, the Dayton native walked out of the lab - determined never to go back. But Desch was the only one who had the expertise to tackle a problem encountered with Japanese codes. So he returned. In 1947, Desch received the Medal for Merit - the highest award bestowed upon a civilian for service to the nation. He died Aug. 3, 1987, at age 80.

- Rebecca Goodman

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