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. It was the only all-black, all-female battalion overseas during World War II. The group was nicknamed "Six Triple Eight" and their motto was "No mail, no morale". The battalion was organized into five companies, Headquarters, Company A, Company B, Company C, and Company D. 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.
|6888th Central Postal Battalion|
|Part of||Women's Army Corps|
|Nickname(s)||Six Triple Eight|
|Motto(s)||No mail, no morale.|
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. 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." Black newspapers, too, challenged the U.S. Army to "use black women in meaningful Army jobs." The women who signed up went to basic training in Georgia. Women who were already in the WAC, like Alyce Dixon, served at different locations, including the Pentagon before they joined the 6888th.
The 6888th left the United States on February 3, 1945, sailing on Île de France and arriving in Glasgow on February 14. Île de France encountered several German U-boats on the trip, forcing the ship to take evasive maneuvers. Eventually, the women then took a train to Birmingham. When the 6888th arrived at Birmingham, "they saw letters stacked to the ceiling of the temporary post office." The temporary post office was located in converted hangars. Some letters had been in the makeshift offices for as long as two years. Army officials believed that undelivered mail was "hurting morale." 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. 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!" The battalion finished what was supposed to be a six-month task in three months in May 1945.
The 6888th devised their own system to handle the backlog of mail. 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. Each shift handled an estimated 65,000 pieces of mail. It was cold when they arrived, and women wore long underwear and coats in the unheated buildings. The 6888th was a segregated unit, sleeping and eating in different locations from the white, male soldiers. They were housed in a former school building, with officers quartered in houses nearby. Some women felt that European "locals" treated them better than people did in the United States. 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. Earley had to "'counsel' him to let the women alone," reminding him that she was in charge of the women's assignments.
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. The 6888th dealt with another backlog of mail in Rouen, some of the letters three years old. Military Police in the WAC unit were not allowed to have weapons, so they used jujitsu to keep out "unwanted visitors." They also participated in a parade ceremony at the place where Joan of Arc died.
By October 1945, the mail in Rouen had been cleared and the 6888th was sent to Paris. They marched through Paris and were "housed in a luxurious hotel, where they received first-class treatment." During this time, because the war was over, the battalion was reduced by 300 women and 200 were due to discharge in January 1946.
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. Mary Ragland and Alyce Dixon, former members of the 6888th, were honored by President Barack Obama and first lady, Michelle Obama in 2009.
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