State's oldest WWII veteran decoded secret messages during war, moved family to Alaska in 1950
Alaska’s oldest World War II veteran, 103-year-old Hallie Dixon, decoded and encrypted messages for the Navy as a telegrapher during the war. And that wasn’t even her greatest adventure.
“My father heard the call to come to the Last Frontier to make his way as a young man out of the service, back in the days when Alaska was offering homestead land, especially for veterans," said Niada McGee, Hallie’s daughter.
“And so he came as an aircraft mechanic and worked on Merrill Field, and she came and joined him in January of 1951, in a ground blizzard at 30 below zero with three little children and pregnant with number four. And she went on to raise 11 children in the far away isolation of Alaska.”
Eight years before Alaska became a state, Hallie and Paul Dixon settled in Anchorage. They also spent 14 years in St. Mary’s in the Yukon Delta, where Paul was the village corporation manager.
Hallie’s now living in an eldercare facility in Kenai, where she can see her daughter, Rita Lindow of Kenai, every day. Hallie’s health is deteriorating and she wasn’t up for speaking on the phone Wednesday.
McGee, who lives in Anchorage, said her mom enlisted when she was 25.
“She was working in downtown Detroit and in those days, on loudspeakers, throughout the city, they were making calls for young men and women to join the service and serve their country," she said. "And she listened to the loudspeakers and decided to do it one day.”
Hallie was stationed in Sanford, Florida as a telegrapher. She was one of thousands of women who did so as part of the Navy WAVES, the woman’s branch of the U.S. Naval Reserve. Lindow said she was isolated in the barracks because she dealt with top-secret naval commands.
“And she did keep that top secret all the way through. We couldn't get any of it out of her, even 10 years ago, what those messages were," Lindow said.
Paul, who was Hallie’s boyfriend at the time, was deployed with the U.S. Army Air Corp in England. Lindow says he was a romantic.
“When he got to Gander, Newfoundland, he sent her a message on her teletype machine and he wrote, ‘I'll see you at the light of the new moon.’ And her teletype machine was on the other side of her office," she said. "And so one of the girls got the message and swooned of course and read the note to mom. Their relationship was quite captivating to everybody in the office.”
Hallie and Paul married right before the war ended.
Shortly after statehood, Paul became the manager of all public airports in Alaska and frequently traveled to remote villages to negotiate contracts. So Hallie was often taking care of all 11 children by herself, at their home off Delaney Park Strip.
“You had to be adventurous to make it through raising all those children in such an isolated place," McGee said. "She got to speak to her own parents once a year when a telephone call would cost 40 or 50 dollars and last 10 minutes long. And writing letters. That was her communication with her family far, far away."
Lindow said she still has her sense of adventure.
“Matter of fact, I just talked to my mom yesterday," she said. "I could tell she was dreaming, I got up near and I said, ‘Mom? Want to go fishing?’ ‘Oh? Can we?’ At almost 104, you know?”
Most of the Dixon’s children still live in Alaska, along with a gaggle of grandchildren and great-children. Paul died in 2012.
Lindow said her mom doesn’t talk about the war much. But she has been publicly recognized for her service. She and other Alaska veterans took an Honor Flight in 2013 to Washington, D.C., where she saw the WWII monument and visited the National Cryptologic Museum in Maryland. In 2019, she was the grand marshall of the Fourth of July parade in Anchorage.
On her birthday in two weeks, Hallie will be 104.