Joe Rochefort was intuitive, quick, sharp thinking, blessed with a fantastic memory of almost total recall, and was an inspiring leader for his miracle-producing associates.
He came, he saw, he understood, he encouraged, he inspired, he pointed out new approaches to problems that were stopping us and, above all, the estimates and summaries he sent to the high command were almost always highly correct and, frequently, even prophetic. He kept our team working smoothly, brilliantly, and efficiently. He was the incomparable Joseph J. Rochefort, Japanese linguist, expert traffic analyst, leader among code breakers, and intelligence specialist extra-ordinary.
Second in line after Rochefort for honors is the incomparable human dynamo, the top-notch linguist, intuitive code breaker, brilliant thinker, strategic analyst, and, along with Joe Rochefort, an outstanding mind-reader of the Japanese high command, the professional U.S. Irishman from Boston, Joe Finnegan. I knew Joe well for years prior to working with him in the Dungeon. He had been a 1934 to 1937 language officer in Tokyo. In our team Joe was a Babe Ruth — always a star, always spectacular, a home- run hitter and always a fantastic threat to the enemy, who hadn’t the slightest idea that he was batting so effectively against them.
On an almost equal level with Finnegan, but always quiet and never ostensibly spectacular was the steady, unimpressive [Lieutenant] Commander Thomas H. Dyer, U.S. Naval Academy Class of 1924. He helped keep things organized and in working order while we in the code-solving field were just too busy to tend to such menial –but vitally important — tasks. Joe Rochefort called him the best codebreaker in the U.S. Navy and fully trusted and respected him as such.
Then we had another most unusual person — unusual because he always seemed to be anything but unusual. He was a tall, somewhat thin, redheaded Marine Corps major, a Japanese linguist who had been in Tokyo from 1935 to 1938. He was Major Alva B. (Red) Lasswell. If Joe Finnegan was our spectacular Babe Ruth, Red Lasswell was our steady, dependable, long-enduring, right-as -rain Lou Gehrig. It was hard to see Red because of Joe, but without Red, Joe would have been far less the hero. When Joe went wild and had to be pulled back to earth Red could do the job without upsetting the house that Finnegan and Rochefort built. Red did not want to be a code-breaker. His favorite game was top-notch competition rifle shooting. But by working so effectively in the Dungeon he shot thousands and thousands of our enemy in a different but very effective manner. I liked and admired Red very, very much.
The last of the top five greats was (Lieutenant] Commander Wesley A. Wright, U. S. Naval Academy Class of 1926, better known as “Ham”. “Ham” was an almost look- alike for Wallace Beery, a film actor of the 1920’s and 1930s. The comparison is not necessarily a flattering one. “Ham” worked with and under Tom Dyer, keeping things in order and solving many knotty problems in the code-breaking area. It was “Ham” Wright who, together with Joe Finnegan and just barely in the nick of time, engineered the solution to the extremely important month-and-day-of-the-month (usually called “date time”) code group. This was a “garble cipher” which, when solved by Joe and “Ham”, finally gave Admiral Nimitz the exact time (day of the month) sequence for the various moves in the Aleutians-Midway Operation! What a fantastic gift to present to a very anxious Admiral Nimitz! And to the U.S.A.!
Then there was a person — a very special person — who did not serve in the Dungeon with us but who deserves a very high ranking place in the list of five expanded to make it six. He, luckily, worked above ground in fresh Hawaiian air. He was another human dynamo, sharp, quick thinking, fast acting, intuitive, fast to comprehend, and extremely aggressive. In prior assignments he had been a Tokyo Japanese language student and later a code breaker. And, on December 31, he moved from Admiral Kimmel’s staff to continue on as Admiral Nimitz’s young intelligence officer. He was (Lieutenant) Commander Edwin T. Layton, Naval Academy Class of 1924. Layton and I found many intelligence interests in common having almost nothing to do with Dungeon work, so I came to know him very well and to appreciate fully his tremendous contributions to our results.
Joe Rochefort and Eddie Layton were close friends of long standing. They had studied the Japanese language together in Tokyo from 1929 to 1932. Here at Pearl Harbor they worked together in complete harmony, forming an almost perfect team. Rochefort gave Layton remarkably clear and reliable estimates and analyses. The quick-witted Layton might then add comments and suggestions or more analysis. After that he had to sell the final product to Admiral Nimitz. Thank Heavens a very hard-pressed Admiral Nimitz quickly learned to trust the Rochefort/Layton duo that brought him this very restricted, highly secret information which some others on his staff at first were prone to put down as guesswork — even as dangerous guesswork.
If time permitted I would add more names — including:
- Lieutenant Commander Thomas A. Huckins USNA Class of 1924 Valuable radio traffic analyst
- Lieutenant John A. Williams USNA Class of 1928 Valuable radio traffic analyst working with Huckins.
- Lieutenant Commander Jack S. Holtwick USNA Class of 1927 A man of many and varied talents. He ran our IBM machines at that particular time – and did so superbly.
Each of the people listed did, prior to the history-shaping Battle of Midway, make unique and absolutely vital nation-saving contributions to the work on JN-25. Without the unique contributions of each of these five the breath-taking tight time-schedule required for victory at Midway could by no means have been formulated and successfully carried out. Victory at Midway just would not have been possible without even any one of these giants.
Huckins, Williams, and Holtwick did not work on JN-25 itself. That was not their type of work. But the support they gave us was vital and critical. By no means should we exclude them from our winner’s circle. And Eddie Layton. He was the sixth member of our five-man team and by no means the least important of that magnificent group.