Meet VADM Russel Willson, a creative cryptologist and the first to lead the Cryptologic Community!
Russell Willson was born in Fredonia, New York on 27 December 1883, but grew up in Washington, D.C. He received military training while attending D.C. Central High School where he graduated in 1901.
Despite energetic efforts by his father, Russell failed to obtain a nomination to West Point that fall. Instead, he spent the next year studying engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. At age 18 and keen on enrolling at the U.S. Naval Academy, Russell again found his path to an appointment blocked by an abundance of qualified applicants. They had already locked in all USNA nominations available from states in the eastern part of the country.
The young Willson had spent a previous summer working at his cousin’s ranch in Wyoming, which inspired him to seek a nomination from the Rocky Mountain State. Russell arranged to take the Naval Academy entrance exam in Cheyenne. He wisely boarded the train wearing Western boots, jeans, and hat rather than suit and tie. At the stop before his final destination, a gang of young men boarded the train searching for the “Eastern Dude” who was rumored to want “their” appointment. When challenged, Russell replied that, no, he had not seen such a person, but quickly and earnestly led the group on a vain search for the “dude” throughout the entire length of the train. Next day, his competitors were surprised to see him in the examination room. Willson excelled on the test, received a nomination from Wyoming, and entered the Naval Academy with the Class of 1906 – the last group to enter as “Naval Midshipmen Cadets” rather than simply as “Midshipmen.”
That large Naval Academy Class of 1906 graduated 116 officers. They included future Medal of Honor winners Frank Jack Fletcher, Isaac C. Kidd, Jr., and Charles C. Hartigan as well as future four-star ADM John S. McCain, Sr., first of three successive generations of Navy officers. Like his classmates, Russell Willson served the obligatory testing at sea as a Passed Midshipman, and was commissioned Ensign on 13 February 1908. Over the decade following graduation, Russell served eight shipboard tours, including six battleships and two other major combatants. His five assignments on staffs and as an aide on Atlantic Fleet battleship divisions culminated in a tour with the Commander, U.S. Atlantic Fleet. These billets exposed him to the possibilities and limitations of new naval technologies, and especially communications-electronics.
Source: NCVA Echoes of Our Past/Raymond P. Schmidt