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Somewhere in England, Maj. Charity E. Adams and Capt. Abbie N. Campbell inspect the first contingent of African American members of the Women’s Army Corps assigned to overseas service. Photo: Department of Defense
Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps (WAAC) Captain Charity Adams of Columbia, NC drilling her company at the First WAAC Training Center in Fort Des Moines, Iowa. Photo: U.S. Department of Defense
The 6888th Central Postal Directory Battalion on the move in France. Photo: Department of Defense
Morale was flagging as our troops marched their way across Europe in early 1945. It had been months since they received a letter from home, and they were getting worried. What was going on?
It was tough enough to fight a war and be surrounded by death and destruction everyday, but to have your only connection to home — to your parents, your wife, or girlfriend — cut off like this was too much to comprehend.
Every platoon sergeant and company commander could see it. The men were down. They needed to hear the two words shouted at the end of the day that always brought a smile and sense of anticipation.
The trouble was World War II was moving so fast, mail call couldn’t keep up.
“Since D-Day (June 6, 1944), airplane hangers in Birmingham, London held undelivered Christmas packages, and a constant stream of incoming mail added to an already massive backlog of letters (7 million),” read a report from the Adjutant General.
“The system was in chaos,” he concluded.
Back home, First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt and civil rights leader Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune were lobbying the Army to allow Black women to join their White counterparts and serve overseas in the Women’s Army Corps, WACs.
After much hand wringing, the Army finally relented. The 6888th Central Postal Directory Battalion, made up of 855 enlisted Black women, left New York harbor on a Navy ship, disembarked in Scotland five days later, and went by train to Birmingham, England.
Their mission – bring back mail call. The Army generals figured it would take at least six months to get caught up with the backlog of letters. The women did it in three. They were that good.
How they did it and what happened next is the subject of a riveting documentary streaming for free this Wednesday, Feb. 2, at 6:30 p.m. called — “Six Triple Eight.” It is being shown by the non-profit, Foundation for Women Warriors. To register to see it, go to its website, foundationforwomenwarriors.org
“Women’s service, especially in World War II, has always been a bit overshadowed and taken for granted,” said Jodie Grenier, CEO of the North Hollywood-based foundation. She is a Marine veteran who served multiple tours in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“I don’t think most people understand just how important getting that handwritten letter from home is to the overall well being of combat veterans and their ability to carry on with the mission,” she said.
“No Mail, Low Morale” was the motto of the Six Triple Eight Battalion as it worked everyday with a sense of urgency, cutting into that massive backlog.
“We were young, we were strong, and we were committed,” said 96-year-old Lena King, a retired West Los Angeles VA and Kaiser hospital nurse in a 2021 interview with the American Veterans Center.
“When we arrived rats had already gotten into the Christmas packages with cookies and stale cake in them. It was a mess. We took an old airplane hangar and turned it into a post office, working around the clock, three shifts a day, seven days a week.
“There was no heat, so it was always bitter cold. The few windows we had were covered by blackout curtains at night because we were getting bombed constantly.”
Everyday was a challenge They had letters for Robert Smith, but which one? More than 7,500 Robert Smiths were fighting in Europe.
When they finished the job in England, the women moved on to France, and did it again with several million more letters just sitting there undelivered. After VE-Day, as more troops went home or moved on to fight in the Pacific Theater, the battalion was disbanded and sent home.
“There were no parades, no public appreciation, and no official recognition of their accomplishments,” the US Army Center of Military History wrote.
“We went home, back to work, and our lives,” King said. “I never knew we had done anything special because we were never made to feel that what we had done was important.”
It was extremely important. Mail call, as Jodie Grenier said, was vital to the “overall well being of combat veterans and their ability to carry on with the mission.”
Win World War II.
There is a bill in Congress right now — HR 1012 — that would award a Congressional Gold Medal to the African American women of the Six Triple Eight. Only six of the original 855 are still alive.
It would be the first time one of the highest civilian awards in the country was given to women veterans. It’s already been approved in the Senate, and is only six votes shy of approval in the House.
We failed to honor these incredible women 77 years ago when they came home after rescuing mail call, we can’t fail to honor them now during National Black History Month.
Pass the bill, Congress, and give these women the honor and respect from their country they earned.
Dennis McCarthy’s column runs on Sunday. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This content was originally published here.