Dorothy R. Becker Nance
WWII Civilian
Worked undercover in Central America

Dorothy was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, the daughter of Burt and Rose Katherine Becker, a high school history and English teacher who was also multilingual. Her father was a mechanical engineer in manufacturing. Both had college educations. Dorothy recalls severe times in the Depression. Her parents lost their jobs. Although her father found work in a cemetery, the family often had little to eat, and their apartment, located at 4703 Moss Field Street, went unheated. They stuffed cardboard under doors and around windows for insulation, and inserted pieces in shoes and galoshes for additional warmth. She recalls Pittsburgh at that time as "a cement jungle," because no one could raise food and there were no jobs. Her mother died on December 13, 1936 of leukemia. Her father, who had finally gone back into manufacturing, passed way on June 13 the next year. Dorothy was 17, and had just graduated from Schenley High School. With two friends, she moved into an attic where a tarpaulin divided their space--three cots with nails on the walls to hang clothes--from cages of homing pigeons. The room had one window and one light bulb. Dorothy worked as a waitress in a Greek restaurant. One Christmas, she recalls, the three girls dined on a chicken one stole from the kitchen of a hospital where she worked. Dorothy joined the Memorial Gold Cross Civilian Defense Organization, a quasi-military organization in which she learned dietetics, first aid and how to drive an ambulance. She also attended University of Pittsburgh with money from a trust her parents had set up for her books and tuition. A sociology major, she graduated in June of 1940. Dorothy applied for a U.S. government position in a foreign country. Still unsure of the nature of the work, she was sent to Virginia where the U.S. Army trained her to shoot a rifle, fight with a knife, and use cyanide capsules, if necessary. Stationed in Panama, she flew there on a B-17 (her first airplane ride). In Panama, she soon learned she was an "expendable," an unofficial person "to take care of problems" without involving the U.S. government. Dorothy worked with six other people, all who had no families. They called themselves "the seven deadly sins." She was paid $335 a month. "That was fabulous," she recalls. "I'd never had that much money in my life." She lived at Albrook Field at Fort Kobbe, where she worked in an office, but was often called out for missions. On one she and her operatives eliminated a man who was killing American soldiers. Learning that Germans were paying natives to inject bananas with liquid cyanide syringes to kill Americans, the team broke up the operation. In another mission, she and her group stopped a Panamanian from selling diesel fuel to German subs. In Argentina, Dorothy had lunch with Evita Peron, as part of a mission in which they discovered that Juan Peron, president of Argentina, was getting gold bullion from the Germans, brought in on submarines. They only collected the information, however. "Argentina was our ally," she says. "We could not do anything detrimental to them, but we wanted to know what was going on." While on the mission, Dorothy recalls, Madame Peron took her into the slums to show her clinics, sewing machine factories, and stores she had established for poor women." Meanwhile, Dorothy met her husband, Commander Russell Nance, a career naval officer, at a party in Panama. They married a week later, beginning a 55-year union. They would have one child and two grandchildren. A French Jewish fashion designer who had escaped the Nazis made her wedding gown. It was made of peau de soie from Paris and silk from a parachute, topped with a lace mantilla. She was still in Panama when World War II ended. She and the "seven deadly sins," went Nuremberg to give depositions on German activity in Panama. Dorothy's service ended in May of 1946. The couple lived on bases in several countries, such as Japan, the Philippines, Guam, and Hawaii before moving to Shreveport with their teenage son, Russell.