The U.S. Senate has passed a bill that would officially recognize the efforts of the 6888th Central Postal Directory Battalion. The unit, which was solely staffed by African American women, solved a mail crisis in World War II, but they received no recognition for their efforts. With the passage of this bill, that may be about to change.
A solution to the backlog
Toward the final years of the war, there was an increasing backlog of mail in Europe. As many postal clerks had volunteered to join the war effort, there were millions of parcels and letters that had not been delivered to their proper recipients on the front.
The solution was the African American members of the Women’s Army Corps (W.A.C.). Black women had recently been allowed to join the W.A.C. due to the advocacy of civil rights leader Mary McLeod Bethune and First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt.
855 women formed the 6888th Central Postal Directory Battalion, affectionately known as the Six Triple Eight. It was split into five sections — Headquarters and Companies A, B, C, and D — and was the only Black battalion of women to serve in Europe during the conflict.
Sorting mail in England
The 6888th Central Postal Battalion boarded the Île de France in February 1945 and began its journey to the U.K. Along the way, it dodged German U-boats, and its members had to run for cover after the ship was targeted by a German V-1 rocket while docked in Glasgow. After boarding a train, the women arrived in Birmingham.
Their work area was less than ideal, as they’d been relegated to rat-infested, unheated airplane hangars. Their lodgings weren’t much better, as mess halls, housing, and recreational facilities were segregated by race and gender. They managed to become self-sufficient, with some in the unit working as cooks, mechanics, and in other support roles.
The unit had to sort and send mail that was sometimes over two years old. They worked in three shifts, seven days a week, and managed to sort through 65,000 pieces of mail during each shift. In order to accomplish this, they created a system using locator cards with service members’ names and unit numbers. They sometimes had to resort to other methods when a parcel or letter had a common name or a soldier’s nickname.
In total, the 6888th sorted through 17 million pieces of mail. It had been estimated it would take six months to complete their task, but they managed to do so in just three. To motivate themselves, they created a motto: “no mail, low morale.”
Onward to France
After their work was done in the U.K., the 6888th Central Postal Battalion crossed the English Channel to Le Havre. They were sent to Rouen and tasked with sorting mail that was up to three years old. They began in May 1945, and by October, they had fully sorted the parcels and letters.
They were then sent to Paris. As the war had ended, the battalion was reduced by 300 members. Another 200 women were discharged a few months later, in January 1946.
Recognition over the years
During their service, members of the 6888th Central Postal Battalion were awarded the WWII Victory Medal, the European African American Middle Eastern Campaign Medal, and the Good Conduct Medal. However, there wasn’t a public ceremony when the unit was disbanded at Fort Dix in 1946. This was similar to the treatment of other African American units, who were never afforded the same attention as white servicemen.
It wasn’t until recently that the 6888th began receiving recognition for its efforts. In 2009, the battalion was honored at the Women in Military Service for America Memorial at Arlington National Cemetery, and in 2016, the unit was inducted into the U.S. Army Women’s Hall of Fame.
In 2018, a monument dedicated to the battalion was erected in Buffalo Soldier Military Park at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. It’s a 25-inch bronze bust of Commanding Officer Charity Adams, and it features pictures, a list of its members, a panel for those who donated at least $6,888.88, and eight black granite panels highlighting the unit’s lineage.
As well, the 6888th was awarded the Meritorious Unit Commendation in 2019, and there are plans to introduce a bill in New York that would rename a post office in Buffalo after Indiana Hunt-Martin, a member who died in 2020.
A bill passes in the Senate
On February 12, 2021, Republican Senator Jerry Moran introduced bipartisan legislation to award the Congressional Gold Medal to members of the 6888th Central Postal Directory Battalion. It was unanimously passed by members of the U.S. Senate.
“These women were trailblazers, and it is past time that we officially recognize them for their incredible contribution to our troops during World War II,” said Democratic Senator Maggie Hassan, who co-sponsored the bill.
The bill is currently awaiting action in the House. Unfortunately, it is already too late for the majority of the women who served, as only seven are still alive.
“Well, it would be nice, but it never occurred to me that we would even qualify for it,” Major Fannie Griffin McClendon, who served in the 6888th, told the Associated Press. “I just wish there were more people to — if it comes through — there were more people to celebrate it.”