The Hidden History of Black Women World War II Vets
Get to know the Six Triple Eight
Three years ago, I embarked on a project to honor the unheralded Black Women’s Army Corps World War II unit, the 6888th Central Postal Directory Battalion, also called the Six Triple Eight. I was part of a volunteer team that raised funds to dedicate a monument in their honor at Buffalo Soldier Park in Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. After we succeeded in erecting and dedicating the monument, we began another journey — to share the story of these forgotten soldiers.
After June 6, 1944, also known as D-Day, fast troop movement hampered mail delivery to service members, and the Army noticed a lack of mail was hurting morale. Several airplane hangars held undelivered mail and Christmas packages for the approximately seven million Americans (military and nonmilitary) in Europe. Moreover, a constant stream of incoming mail added to the already vast backlog of letters and packages. First lady Eleanor Roosevelt and civil rights leader Mary McCleod Bethune pressured the Army to include Black Women’s Army Corps (WACS) in the overseas war effort. Finally, the Army acquiesced and agreed to send a group of Black WACS to the European Theater of Operations to solve the Army’s mail crisis.
Fighting racism and sexism from within the U.S. Army’s ranks along with the threat of being attacked by the Nazis abroad, these soldiers succeeded where others failed.
In early February 1945 and with no training in military postal operations, the largest contingent of the Black WACS sailed from New York to Europe. Faced with the ongoing threat of attack while en route, their ship, the Ile de France, dodged German submarines or U-boats. After docking in Glasgow, Scotland, on February 12, a V-1 flying bomb or “buzz bomb” exploded nearby, causing them to run for cover.
At their first assignment in Birmingham, England, the Army gave the Six Triple Eight an unfathomable timeline of six months to clear the mail backlog. Some estimates suggest that the backlog was up to two years, with millions of pieces of undelivered mail and packages. Working in austere, rodent-infested, cold warehouses with windows blacked out to prevent Nazi detection, they tackled this arduous, no-fail mission. Making the task more difficult, many of…