By MICHAEL CASEY, Associated Press
BOSTON (AP) – Major Fannie Griffin McClendon and his colleagues in the military never insisted on being the only black battalion of women to serve in Europe during World War II. They had a job to do.
The 6888th Central Directory Postal Battalion has been credited with solving a growing mail crisis while in England and, upon return, serving as a role model for generations of black women who joined the military.
But for decades, the exploits of the 855 members have never been more widely recognized – until now.
The Senate passed a law that would award members of the battalion, affectionately known as the Six Triple Eight, the Congressional Gold Medal.
The bill is awaiting a decision in the House, but it is already too late for most of the 6,888 MPs. Only seven are believed to have survived, including McClendon.
âWell that would be nice, but it never occurred to me that we would even qualify for this,â McClendon said from his home in Arizona.
“I just wish there were more people for, if that comes to pass there were more people to celebrate it,” said McClendon, who met with his local congressman to push for the passage of the law Project.
The 6888 was sent overseas in 1945, at a time when African-American organizations were under increasing pressure to include black women in what was called the Women’s Army Corps and allow them to join their white counterparts there. ‘foreign.
“I think the 6888, the command knew by nature that their overseas presence meant more than clearing this backlog of mail,” said retired Col. Edna Cummings, who was not a member of 6888 but has pleaded for more recognition. “They represented an opportunity for their sisters in arms in the United States who struggled to deal with racism and sexism in the ranks.”
The unit dodged German submarines en route to England and rushed to escape a German rocket once they reached a port in Glasgow.
They were deployed to unheated, rat-infested aircraft hangars in Birmingham, England, and were given an intimidating mission: to process the millions of undelivered pieces of mail for troops, officials and employees of the Red Cross. Mountains of mail had piled up and troops complained of lost letters and delayed medical packages. Hence their motto, “No Mail, Low Morale”.
âThey kept screaming that they wanted us to go overseas, so I guess they found something to do overseas: take care of the mail,â McClendon said. âAnd there was a lot of mail. â¦ They expected us to be there for about two or three months trying to work things out. Well, I think in about a month, in a month and a half, we got it all sorted out and we’re headed in the right direction.
The 6888 worked around the clock, processing approximately 65,000 pieces of mail in each of the three shifts. They created a system that used location maps with a service member’s name and unit number to make sure the mail was delivered. Sometimes they had to resort to detective work when a package only had a common name or the nickname of a service member.
Despite their accomplishments, the unit faced questions and criticism from those who did not support black women in the military.
Housing, mess rooms and recreational facilities were segregated by race and gender, forcing them to set up all their own operations. The unit’s commander, Major Charity Adams, was also criticized by a general who threatened to hand over his command to a white officer. She reportedly replied, “On my body, sir.” “
They cleared a backlog of approximately 17 million pieces of mail in three months, twice as fast as expected. The battalion would serve in France before returning home. And like so many black units in WWII, their exploits never caught the attention of their white counterparts.
âSad to say. They came back to Jim Crow America, âCummings said. âNot only 6888, but many of our minority soldiers who returned from the war weren’t recognized or appreciated until years later. Airmen from Tuskegee, Marines from Montford Point. There are so many stories of color units that weren’t recognized until decades after the war. “
Still, Cummings said time spent overseas with the military has left a lasting impression on women, many of whom have dismantled obstacles in their working lives.
Elizabeth Barker Johnson was the first woman to attend Winston-Salem State University in North Carolina on the GI Bill. She participated in the school graduation ceremony at the age of 99 – 70 years after graduating.
McClendon joined the Air Force after integration and retirement from the Army in 1971. She was the first woman to command an all-male squadron with Strategic Air Command. Another member of the unit, the late Doris Moore, became New Hampshire’s first black social worker, her family said.
The story of the unit also began to gain more recognition. A monument was erected in 2018 at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas to honor them, and the 6888 received Meritorious Unity Commendation in 2019. A documentary “The Six Triple Eight” was made on their exploits. We’re talking about a movie.
A bill would rename a post office in Buffalo, New York, in honor of the battalion’s Indiana Hunt-Martin, who died last year.
And there is the push for the congressional gold medal.
“These women were trailblazers, and it is high time we officially recognized them for their incredible contribution to our troops during World War II,” said US Senator Maggie Hassan, a Democrat from New Hampshire who co-sponsored the project. law of the Senate.
Like McClendon, Moore’s family said they would be honored but not won over by the award. She rarely spoke of her time with 6888 in her lifetime, preferring to let these accomplishments speak for themselves.
“She would have said: ‘It is an incredible and wonderful honor and I am very proud to have served.’ Then she would have moved on with her life, “said Moore’s niece Elizabeth Pettiford, who grew up next to Moore in Portsmouth, New Hampshire.” I don’t think she would have paid much attention because it was her personality. She kept a lot of things inside.
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