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6888th Central Postal Directory Battalion

The 6888th Central Postal Directory Battalion was an all-black battalion of the Women's Army Corps (WAC). The 6888th had 855 black women, both enlisted and officers, and was led by Major Charity Adams Earley.[1] It was the only all-black, all-female battalion overseas during World War II.[1] The group was nicknamed "Six Triple Eight" and their motto was "No mail, no morale".[2] The battalion was organized into five companies, Headquarters, Company A, Company B, Company C, and Company D.[3] Most of the 6888th worked as postal clerks, but others were cooks, mechanics and held other support positions, so that 6888th was a self-sufficient unit.[4]

6888th Central Postal Battalion
Active 1945–1946
Country United States
Branch U.S. Army
Role Postal service
Part of Women's Army Corps
Nickname(s) Six Triple Eight
Motto(s) No mail, no morale.

Contents

HistoryEdit

 
"The first Negro WACs to arrive (on) the continent of Europe were 800 girls of the 6888th Central Postal Directory Bn, w – NARA – 531333
6888th Central Postal Directory Battalion African-American WACs, Hull & Cambridge, England, 04/14/1945

During World War II, there was a significant shortage of soldiers who were able to manage the postal service for the U.S. Army overseas.[5] In 1944, Mary McLeod Bethune worked to get the support of first lady, Eleanor Roosevelt, for "a role for black women in the war overseas."[6] Black newspapers, too, challenged the U.S. Army to "use black women in meaningful Army jobs."[7] The women who signed up went to basic training in Georgia.[6] Women who were already in the WAC, like Alyce Dixon, served at different locations, including the Pentagon before they joined the 6888th.[8]

EnglandEdit

The 6888th left the United States on February 3, 1945, sailing on Île de France and arriving in Glasgow[2] on February 14.[6] Île de France encountered several German U-boats on the trip, forcing the ship to take evasive maneuvers.[9] Eventually, the women then took a train to Birmingham.[2] When the 6888th arrived at Birmingham, "they saw letters stacked to the ceiling of the temporary post office."[1] The temporary post office was located in converted hangars.[9] Some letters had been in the makeshift offices for as long as two years.[1] Army officials believed that undelivered mail was "hurting morale."[6] Many letters and packages were difficult to source, as they were addressed with only the first name of the soldier, had a commonly used name or used nicknames.[2] Early in the operation, a white general attempted to send a white officer to "tell them how to do it right," but commander Earley responded, "Sir, over my dead body, sir!"[6] The battalion finished what was supposed to be a six-month task in three months in May 1945.[9]

The 6888th devised their own system to handle the backlog of mail.[9] The women of the 6888th worked in three different shifts, seven days a week, processing and delivering mail – a morale booster – to fighting troops in Europe.[1] Each shift handled an estimated 65,000 pieces of mail.[5] It was cold when they arrived, and women wore long underwear and coats in the unheated buildings.[2] The 6888th was a segregated unit, sleeping and eating in different locations from the white, male soldiers.[1] They were housed in a former school building, with officers quartered in houses nearby.[3] Some women felt that European "locals" treated them better than people did in the United States.[10] A chaplain working at Birmingham caused problems for Earley, ordering her soldiers not to report to work, but to report to his office, causing them to be AWOL.[3] Earley had to "'counsel' him to let the women alone," reminding him that she was in charge of the women's assignments.[3]

FranceEdit

Once the backlog in Birmingham had been dealt with, the 6888th arrived at Le Havre in June 1945 and then took a train to Rouen.[2] The 6888th dealt with another backlog of mail in Rouen, some of the letters three years old.[2] Military Police in the WAC unit were not allowed to have weapons, so they used jujitsu to keep out "unwanted visitors."[2] They also participated in a parade ceremony at the place where Joan of Arc died.[9]

 
Members of the 6888th Central Postal Directory Battalion take part in a May 1945 parade ceremony in honor of Joan d'Arc at the marketplace where she was burned at the stake

By October 1945, the mail in Rouen had been cleared and the 6888th was sent to Paris.[2] They marched through Paris and were "housed in a luxurious hotel, where they received first-class treatment."[10] During this time, because the war was over, the battalion was reduced by 300 women and 200 were due to discharge in January 1946.[2]

In February 1946, the unit returned to the United States where they were disbanded at Fort Dix.[2] There was no public recognition for their service at the time.[6]

LegacyEdit

Members of the 6888th Central Postal Directory Battalion were awarded the European African Middle Eastern Campaign Medal, the Good Conduct Medal and the World War II Victory Medal during their service.[9] Mary Ragland and Alyce Dixon, former members of the 6888th, were honored by President Barack Obama and first lady, Michelle Obama in 2009.[11]

ReferencesEdit

  1. ^ a b c d e f Boyd, Deanna; Chen, Kendra. "The History and Experience of African Americans in America's Postal Service". National Postal Museum. Smithsonian. Retrieved 5 February 2016. 
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Fargey, Kathleen (14 February 2014). "6888th Central Postal Directory Battalion". African-Americans in the U.S. Army. Retrieved 5 February 2016. 
  3. ^ a b c d Earley, Charity Adams (1995). One Woman's Army: A Black Officer Remembers the WAC. Texas A&M University Press. pp. 157–158, 174. ISBN 9780890966945. 
  4. ^ 6888th Postal Battalion. ABC-CLIO. 2003. p. 363. ISBN 9781576077467. 
  5. ^ a b Bielakowski, Alexander M., ed. (2013). Ethnic and Racial Minorities in the U.S. Military: A-L. ABC-CLIO. p. 654. ISBN 9781598844276. 
  6. ^ a b c d e f Thomas-Lester, Avis (26 February 2009). "Neither Rain, Nor Racial Bias". The Washington Post. Retrieved 5 February 2016. 
  7. ^ "Margaret E. Jones, Retired Army Major". Aiken Standard. 27 April 2000. Retrieved 5 February 2016 – via Newspaper Archive. (Subscription required (help)). 
  8. ^ Deppisch, Breanne (2 February 2016). "Alyce Dixon, Nation's Oldest Female World War II Veteran, Dies at 108". The Washington Post. Retrieved 5 February 2016. 
  9. ^ a b c d e f Stephenson, Lori. "Women of Courage, Tenacity & Strength". Our Heritage. Retrieved 5 February 2016. 
  10. ^ a b "Mary Ragland". African Americans in the U.S. Army. U.S. Army. Retrieved 5 February 2016. 
  11. ^ Kruzel, John J. "First Lady Advocates for Military Women, Families in Predecessor's Mold". DoD News. U.S. Department of Defense. Retrieved 5 February 2016. 

External linksEdit