The Legacy of the 6888th Central Postal Directory Battalion – Leavenworth Times
During the First World War, Ralph Lindsey, my great-grandfather, kept a diary of his service at the front. He wrote on the forehead, his travels, his wounds, but what came up most often: the mail. Fast forward 100 years. Even in the digital age, there is something unique and personal about a written letter. It creates a connection that digital communications simply cannot match. Anyone who has served in the military knows this – no mail means low morale.
In early 1945, at the end of the Battle of the Bulge, army officials reported that a lack of mail was hurting morale. The warehouses were filled with millions of pieces of mail destined for the seven million Americans serving in the European theater. The task of getting this mail to its recipients fell to the 6888th Central Postal Directory Battalion.
Except for a few small units of nurses, the Six Triple Eight was the only all-black unit of the Women’s Army Corps to serve overseas during World War II.
In response to the attack on Pearl Harbor, our entire nation rallied together to support the war effort. While the war largely united Americans in a common purpose, the military remained separate, with ability to serve limited based on race and gender. The women of the 6888th not only served, they had to fight for their right to serve. The unit’s commanding officer, Major Charity Adams, became the first black woman to hold a commission in the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps.
The Six Triple Eights faced warehouses stacked to the ceiling with letters and packages. These buildings were unheated and dimly lit, windows were blacked out to prevent light from appearing during nighttime air raids. The rats were looking for packets of spoiled cakes and cookies.
Since it was a cold winter, they wore long johns and extra layers of clothing under their coats when working in these warehouses. Unit members were organized daily into three separate shifts, so work continued 24 hours a day, seven days a week. They tracked individual service members maintaining approximately seven million location cards comprising serial numbers to distinguish different people with the same name. They dealt with “undeliverable” mail that was sent to their location for redirection. They investigated unaddressed mail for clues to determine the intended recipient, and they performed the sad task of returning mail addressed to deceased service members.
By the end of the war, the legacy of the 6888th was already forming. Three members of the 6888th are buried at the Colleville-Sur-Mer American Cemetery in Normandy (there are only four women buried there). Like so many of the greatest generation, the women of the 6888th returned from the war determined to make up for lost time.
While some remained in the military, others used the GI Bill to further their education and create new opportunities. They became teachers, nurses and businesswomen.
One of the most important aspects of their legacy was their contribution to civil rights. The 6888th’s accomplishments in Europe contributed to a study regarding women’s contributions to the war effort that concluded, “(T)the national security agenda is the joint responsibility of all Americans, regardless of color or race. sex” and “the continued use of female military personnel of color, as well as white, is required in a strength proportionately appropriate to the relative distribution of population between the colored and white races.
It’s not a mail thing. It’s the story of 855 black women who found a way to serve when the nation needed it most. In 2019, a bipartisan effort was launched to award the Congressional Gold Medal to the 6888th. As of this writing, this bill has passed the Senate and is awaiting a vote in the US House of Representatives.
Joseph Reagan is the Director of Military and Veteran Outreach for Wreaths Across America.