Members of the Women’s Army Corps’ all-Black 6888th Central Postal Directory Battalion had to fight racial discrimination, gender discrimination and the war itself during World War II.
After traveling overseas in 1945, the unit, nicknamed “Six Triple Eight,” survived encounters with Nazi U-boats and a German rocket explosion before spending months sorting through unheated warehouses stacked to the ceiling with mail and packages, according to the US Army Center of Military history. The battalion cleared a six-month backlog of mail in just three months.
Quarters were segregated by race and gender, leaving the group to run its own facilities. There were no commemorative ceremonies for members when they came home at the end of the war.
But this year, the US Senate passed legislation to grant a Congressional Gold Medal to the battalion.
Members of the House of Representatives are trying to gather enough votes to pass its companion bill and make the award official, said Carlton Philpot, chairman of the Buffalo Soldier Educational and Historical Committee, part of the National 9th and 10th Cavalry Association. The committee works to recognize Black American military units and soldiers.
“It’s wonderful, and it’s time,” said Stanley Earley III, son of late 6888th commander Lt. Col. Charity Adams Earley. “It should have happened 50, 60 years ago. But there is now the opportunity for a recognition that these folks did all these things that were so important.”
Only seven of the original 855 members are believed to still be alive, Earley said.
The unit has been receiving more attention and accolades in recent years. A monument honoring the battalion was dedicated in Fort Leavenworth, Kansas in 2018. A documentary, “The Six Triple Eight: No Mail, Low Morale,” celebrated the mail tracking system the battalion created. (By the end of the war, the unit processed about 17 million pieces of mail, according to the National World War II Museum.)
When Lt. Col. Adams Earley died in 2002, both the local Air Force base and the Army sent honor guards to her funeral, said Earley, who noted that his mother and her fellow soldiers constantly fought discrimination while serving.
“I remember she would talk about, there were classes that were segregated male and female, and there were also classes that were segregated racially, so you could theoretically have a situation where you had four classes,” Earley told CNN, describing some of his mother’s anecdotes about training. “At some point, they realized everybody could listen to the same lecture.”
Maj. Fannie Griffin McClendon, who is among the surviving members of the battalion, talked about her WWII experience in a 2019 meeting with her local congressman, who interviewed her for the Library of Congress’s Veterans History Project.
“It was to me history-making in that I learned geography and loved history in school – and to go to places I had read about or heard about, to me it just brought back things I had learned in school,” McClendon told Arizona Democratic Rep. Greg Stanton. “I still think about it even today.”