For more than 50 years, Helen Denton kept a secret that dated back to the most critical days of World War II. Even her husband, a former signal corpsman, did not know the role his wife played in the Allied victory. It wasn’t until 1994 that the Fayetteville resident revealed that, as a secretary on General Eisenhower’s staff, she typed up the final plans for D-Day.
Now 91, the articulate and still feisty Denton remembers exactly the part of her job that was top secret.
“I knew what I had typed and how terribly sensitive it was,” she said. “It was troop movements. Everything was stamped “Operation Overlord.” ”
Denton grew up in South Dakota and worked in Minneapolis before enlisting in the Women’s Army Corps. After a brief stint as a recruiter in Nebraska, she was tapped to join General Eisenhower’s staff in London. She spent the months preceding June 6, 1944, there, sleeping underground to survive the nightly bombing raids. After the invasion, she and the secretarial pool followed Eisenhower’s headquarters to France, where her first month was spent making do in a tent on Utah Beach while waiting for the Allies to liberate Paris. It was in a chow line on that beach that she met Noel Denton, the man she married in 1946 and lived with in Jonesboro until his death in 1982. The two courted while in Normandy and later in Paris, where Denton was on hand for the celebrations marking the end of the war.
“When we knew we had won, they turned on all the lights in the city and we celebrated all day and night,” she recalled.
Years later, when the couple and their son journeyed back to France after the war, Denton never hinted about what her work entailed. It wasn’t until the 50th anniversary of D-Day in 1994 that she first began sharing her story.
“I think the training they instilled in us stayed with me,” said Denton, who had a post-war career with Delta Airlines. “We never mentioned our work. We weren’t even allowed to share personal details of ourselves with each other.”
Since retiring, Denton has been an active volunteer with a variety of veterans groups. She has been honored by civic and veteran organizations, had the Veterans Day parade in Jonesboro named for her and was thanked personally by President Obama for her service. And she continues to talk about her war experiences with school, service and civic groups.
Last year, she reconnected with fellow veteran Bob Babcock, a Marietta publisher who convinced Denton to collaborate with him to write her biography. That book, “World War II WAC,” debuted in November, and Denton donates her proceeds to the Georgia USO.
Thursday, the 69th anniversary of D-Day, will be another poignant one for Denton as she recalls her role as part of the “Greatest Generation.”
“It just happened that I went with a friend to take the Army test, and she failed but I passed,” recalled Denton with a smile. “Not enlisting wasn’t really an option, but I was proud to do it. It was fate.”
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