As bombs dropped over beleaguered Europe, and Allied forces waged war against Axis oppression, a U.S. soldier named Albert penned a letter to his beloved Gloria. Written over a series of days during World War II, the message is scrawled across three time-worn pages.
"The day is perfect today. The sun is shining in all its glory," he wrote. "I can't think of much to pester you about at the present time, but when I [write] again I will [write] you my little code. Gloria, these are the key words: The boy ran to the train station!"
The poignant letter contains a cipher and secret code, and is on display at the National Cryptologic Museum (NCM) until March 31, 2023 as part of its newest exhibit: "Sweetheart Codes."
"'Sweetheart Codes' showcases the way ciphers were used to convey intimate messages between loved ones," said NCM Director Vince Houghton. "And, it offers a glimpse into the human stories behind code making and breaking."
The exhibit stands as a salute to Valentine's Day and a historic look at the how ciphers have been used as a means of conveying and concealing information.
During WWII, letters were considered an important way of building soldiers' moral. Billions of letters were sent to and from soldiers. To mitigate the risk that letters might reveal military secrets if intercepted by the enemy, censors opened and read each correspondence.
To avoid the prying eyes of the censors, loved ones who wanted to send their deepest most intimate thoughts to one another created ciphers and sent their messages using secret codes. Albert's letter to Gloria is just one example of many that still exist.
"The letter was recently loaned to the museum," Museum Curator Deana Bowles said. "With Valentine's Day this month, it seemed like the perfect time to have it be our rotating exhibit."
The exhibit displays the letter and the envelope, which still has a handwritten encoded message on its flap. Soldiers also often used acronyms to send secret messages. Some, like SWALK (sealed with a loving kiss) and ITALY (I trust and love you), are part of the display.
Visitors who want to try their hand at creating their own ciphers and sending their own encrypted notes can use the step-by-step instructions provided at the exhibit.
The only fully-public museum in the Intelligence Community, the NCM reopened to the public last October, after nearly two-and-half years of renovations. It features layouts, displays, and artifacts that played critical roles in protecting our Nation's national security. Exhibits provide historical context and interesting facts about cryptology in the U.S.
"Overall, I see the 'Sweetheart Codes' exhibit as a large element of what the museum is offering," Houghton said. "Not just the history of a thing, but the history of the people behind it."
For more information about the museum, including hours of operation, visit nsa.gov/museum.