The 6888th Central Postal Directory Battalion, the only Black battalion of women to serve in Europe during World War II, was credited with solving a growing mail crisis during its stint in England and, upon their return, serving as a role model to generations of Black women who joined the military.
But for decades, the exploits of the 855 members were never widely recognized — until now.
The Senate passed legislation that would award members of the battalion, affectionately known as the Six Triple Eight, with the Congressional Gold Medal. The bill is awaiting action in the House.
There are believed to be only seven surviving members of the 6888th, including Maj. Fannie Griffin McClendon, who has met with her local congressman to press for passage of the bill.
“Well, it would be nice but it never occurred to me that we would even qualify for it,” McClendon told the Associated Press from her home in Tempe, Arizona. “I just wish there were more people to, if it comes through, there were more people to celebrate it.”
The 6888th was sent overseas in 1945, a time when there was growing pressure from African-American organizations to include Black women in what was called the Women’s Army Corps and allow them to join their white counterparts overseas. The unit dodged German U-boats on their way to England and scrambled to escape a German rocket once they reached a Glasgow port. They were deployed to unheated, rat-infested airplane hangars in Birmingham, England, and given a daunting mission: Process the millions of pieces of undelivered mail for troops, government workers and Red Cross workers. The mountains of mail had piled up and troops were grumbling about lost letters and delayed care packages. Thus their motto, “No Mail, Low Morale.”
“They kept hollering about wanting us to go overseas so I guess they found something for us to do overseas: Take care of the mail,” McClendon said. “And there was an awful lot of mail. … They expected we were gonna be there about two or three months trying to get it straightened out. Well I think in about a month, in a month and a half, we had it all straightened out and going in the right direction.”
The 6888th toiled around the clock, processing about 65,000 pieces of mail in each of the three shifts. They created a system using locator cards with a service member’s name and unit number to ensure mail was delivered. Sometimes, they had to resort to detective work when a parcel only had a common name or a service member’s nickname.
Despite their achievements, the unit endured questions and criticism from those who didn’t support Black women in the military.
Housing, mess halls and recreation facilities were segregated by race and sex, forcing them to set up all their own operations. The unit commander, Maj. Charity Adams, was also criticized by a general who threatened to give her command to a white officer. She reportedly responded: “Over my dead body, sir.”
They cleared out a backlog of about 17 million pieces of mail in three months — twice as fast as projected. The battalion would go on to serve in France before returning home. And like so many Black units during World War II, their exploits never got the attention afforded their white counterparts.
Watch a video of their remarkable story below:
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