An Oak Harbor veteran who intercepted Japanese code on Bainbridge Island during World War II will celebrate her 100th birthday this month.
Jeanette Burton will officially become a centenarian on Sept. 22. She was born in 1922 on a farm in Effingham, Kansas, where by her account, she had a “plain, country girl bringing up” alongside eight siblings.
Growing up, Burton helped her mother in the kitchen and her father in the fields. She raised litter after litter of puppies and kittens. On Saturdays, she cleaned the house and went into town with her father to buy flour, sugar and whatever else the family didn’t produce on the farm.
“My dad and I really liked chocolate,” she said, laughing as she recalled the weekly visits to nearby Atchison, Kansas. “We’d buy a lot of chocolate and eat it on the way home so my mom couldn’t take it away.”
She made the honor roll in high school and, after graduating, worked as a housekeeper for the family of former Kansas Senator Steadman Ball. After that, she worked for a telephone company and, at 21 years old, decided to join the Navy in 1944.
Burton was stationed on Bainbridge Island, where she worked at a Navy radio station intercepting code from a Japanese submarine base at Sasebo. There were over 200 Navy personnel stationed there, including two platoons of women. Burton lived in the barracks, where her roommate, she said, was the niece of movie star Vincent Price.
Burton said the messages they intercepted were sent to Omaha, Nebraska, where they were decoded before being sent on to Washington D.C.
“We never knew what we actually copied, but once in a while, they’d send a note back and say we did good,” she said.
Burton spent two years in the Navy. After the war ended, she got back into the telephone business and moved around the country.
She returned to Bainbridge Island for a visit and ate at one of the restaurants she frequented while stationed there. There, she met Jim Burton, the son of the restaurant owners. The two fell in love and were married within months.
The couple had six children within eight years. Their eldest, Lana Burton, was born on Bainbridge Island, where Jim, who was also in the Navy, came home on leave for the birth. Burton remembered her husband making jokes and amusing the nurses in the delivery room.
Burton now has four grandchildren and four great-grandchildren. Once her kids were grown, she began gardening, knitting and quilting.
As to the secret of her longevity, she credits faith and gratitude.
“I feel grateful for the things that I have. All my life, I’m grateful for what I have,” she said. “Trusting in God and prayer, I think, has kept me going like this.”
When asked whether she had big plans for her triple-digit birthday, she said the only thing on her wish list was to relax.