Maj. Fannie Griffin McClendon and her Army colleagues ne'er dwelled connected being the lone Black battalion of women to service successful Europe during World War II. They had a occupation to do.
The 6888th Central Directory Postal Battalion was credited with solving a increasing message situation during its stint successful England and, upon their return, serving arsenic a relation exemplary to generations of Black women who joined the military.
But for decades, the exploits of the 855 members ne'er got wider designation — until now.
The Senate passed authorities that would grant members of the battalion, affectionately known arsenic the Six Triple Eight, with the Congressional Gold Medal.
The measure is awaiting enactment successful the House, but is already excessively precocious for astir 6888 members. There are believed to beryllium lone 7 surviving, including McClendon.
“Well, it would beryllium bully but it ne'er occurred to maine that we would adjacent suffice for it," McClendon said from her location successful Arizona.
“I conscionable privation determination were much radical to, if it comes through, determination were much radical to observe it,” said McClendon, who has met with her section congressman to property for transition of the bill.
The 6888 was sent overseas successful 1945, a clip erstwhile determination was increasing unit from African-American organizations to see Black women successful what was called the Women's Army Corps and let them to articulation their achromatic counterparts overseas.
“I deliberation the 6888, the bid inherently knew that their beingness overseas meant much than clearing that message backlog,” said Retired Army Col. Edna Cummings, who was not a subordinate of the 6888 but has been advocating to get them greater recognition. “They were representing accidental for their sisters astatine arms backmost successful the United States who were having a hard clip dealing with the racism and sexism wrong the ranks."
The portion dodged German U-boats connected their mode to England and scrambled to flight a German rocket erstwhile they reached a Glasgow port.
They were deployed to unheated, rat-infested airplane hangars successful Birmingham, England, and fixed a daunting mission: Process the millions of pieces of undelivered message for troops, authorities workers and Red Cross workers. The mountains of message had piled up and troops were grumbling astir mislaid letters and delayed attraction packages. Thus their motto, “No Mail, Low Morale.”
“They kept hollering astir wanting america to spell overseas truthful I conjecture they recovered thing for america to bash overseas: Take attraction of the mail,” McClendon said. “And determination was an atrocious batch of mail. ... They expected we were gonna beryllium determination astir 2 oregon 3 months trying to get it straightened out. Well I deliberation successful astir a month, successful a period and a half, we had it each straightened retired and going successful the close direction.”
The 6888 toiled astir the clock, processing astir 65,000 pieces of message successful each of the 3 shifts. They created a strategy utilizing locator cards with a work member's sanction and portion fig to guarantee message was delivered. Sometimes, they had to edifice to detective enactment erstwhile a parcel lone had a communal sanction oregon a work member's nickname.
Despite their achievements, the portion endured questions and disapproval from those who didn’t enactment Black women successful the military.
Housing, messiness halls and recreation facilities were segregated by contention and sex, forcing them to acceptable up each their ain operations. The portion commander, Maj. Charity Adams, was besides criticized by a wide who threatened to springiness her bid to a achromatic officer. She reportedly responded: “Over my dormant body, sir."
They cleared retired a backlog of astir 17 cardinal pieces of message successful 3 months — doubly arsenic accelerated arsenic projected. The battalion would spell connected to service successful France earlier returning home. And similar truthful galore Black units during World War II, their exploits ne'er got the attraction afforded their achromatic counterparts.
“It is bittersweet to say. They came backmost to Jim Crow America,” Cummings said. “Not lone 6888 but a batch of our number soldiers who returned from the warfare were not recognized oregon appreciated until years later. The Tuskegee Airmen, Montford Point Marines. There are truthful galore stories of units of colour who were not recognized until decades aft the war.”
Still, Cummings said the clip overseas with the Army near a lasting content connected the women, galore of whom dismantled barriers successful their nonrecreational lives.
Elizabeth Barker Johnson was the archetypal pistillate to be Winston-Salem State University successful North Carolina connected the GI Bill. She took portion successful the school's graduation ceremonial astatine the property of 99 — 70 years aft getting her degree.
McClendon joined the Air Force aft the subject was integrated and retired successful 1971. She was the archetypal pistillate to bid an all-male squadron with the Strategic Air Command. Another portion member, the precocious Doris Moore, became the archetypal Black societal idiosyncratic successful New Hampshire, her household said.
The unit's communicative has besides started gaining wider recognition. A monument was erected successful 2018 astatine Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, to grant them, and the 6888 was fixed the Meritorious Unit Commendation successful 2019. A documentary “The Six Triple Eight” was made astir their exploits. There is speech of a movie.
A measure would rename a Buffalo, New York, station bureau aft the battalion's Indiana Hunt-Martin, who died past year.
And determination is the propulsion for the Congressional Gold Medal.
"These women were trailblazers, and it is past clip that we officially admit them for their unthinkable publication to our troops during World War II,” said U.S. Sen. Maggie Hassan, a New Hampshire Democrat who co-sponsored the Senate bill.
Like McClendon, Moore's household said she would beryllium honored but not enamored by the award. She seldom talked astir her clip with the 6888 erstwhile she was alive, preferring to fto those achievements talk for themselves.
“She would person said, ‘This is an amazing, fantastic grant and I’m precise arrogant to person served.’ Then she would person went connected with her life,” said Moore's niece Elizabeth Pettiford, who grew up adjacent doorway to Moore successful Portsmouth, New Hampshire. “I conscionable don’t deliberation she would person made a immense happening astir it due to the fact that that was her personality. She kept a batch of things in.”