An Article byLishamarie Hunter
Throughout history, handwritten letters have been preserved and displayed in museums. Soldiers and loved ones back home have kept handwritten letters to reread hundreds of times while longing to be reunited. Writing a well-crafted letter shows the recipient that you care enough to take the extra time to put in the personal touch.
During WWII it was important to the morale of soldiers that they received communication from loved ones. However there were issues with the mail arriving overseas to the soldiers. In February 1945, there were warehouses in England filled with millions of pieces of mail intended for members of the U.S. military, government personnel, and Red Cross workers serving in Europe.
Airplane hangars held undeliverable Christmas packages and massive amounts of incoming mail that already backlogged the mail delivery system. Much of the mail was addressed to “Jr, U.S. Army, or Buster, U.S. Army.” Mail delivery was hampered by the constant moving of the troops throughout Europe. Seven million Americans were in the European theater, many (7,500) of them share the same name i.e. Robert Smith. At one point they predicted that it would take 6 months to sort, process, and deliver the mail. There was a shortage of qualified postal officers within the conflict area. The Postal Division continually search for qualified individuals and even though there were personnel stationed to handle the mail, the system was in chaos.
The Women’s Army Corps (WAC) of the U.S. Army was created by President Franklin D. Roosevelt on July 1, 1943. First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt and civil rights leader Dr. Mary McLoed Bethune advocated for the admittance of African-American women as enlisted personnel and officers into the WAC, when throughout the rest of the Army segregation was prevalent.
It was 1944 that African-American WACs were extended the opportunity to serve overseas. A battalion of 824 enlisted personnel and 30 officers created the 6888th Central Postal Directory Battalion. In 1945 the first contingent left for Britain. These women were trained in the aspects of the military as well as their specialty job. The unit worked in 8 hour shifts 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. The conditions were not favorable, the warehouse was cold and damp. There was no lighting at night due to the air raids. They maintained 7 million information cards on the personnel serving in Europe. They had to research and locate the insufficiently addressed packages and envelopes. They also, were responsible for sending mail back to the family members of personnel who had been killed or died during deployment. The unit was under heavy pressure due to the civil rights situation at the time. They, however, produced great results. They created and implemented a new tracking system and the women processed an average of 65,000 pieces of mail per 8 hour shift, and they cleared the 6 months of backlog in 3 months.
In 2009, the 6888th Central Postal Directory Battalion, was honored at the Women In Military Service of America Memorial at Arlington National Cemetery. Three of the surviving members attended the U.S. Army Freedom Team Salute, Alcye Dixon (101 yrs), Mary Ragland and Gladys Shuster Carter, they received certificates, lapel pins, and letters of appreciation. Gladys Shuster Carter “evoked one of the greatest legacies of Six Triple Eight by calling attention to women, currently serving in the U.S. military: You are standing on our shoulders.”
In 2021 H.R. 1012 awarded the 6888th the Congressional Gold Medal. A section of H.R. 1012 is listed below.
SEC. 3. CONGRESSIONAL GOLD MEDAL
(a) Award Authorized. — The Speaker of the House of Representatives and the President pro tempore of the Senate shall make appropriate arrangements for the award, on behalf of Congress, of a single gold medal of appropriate design in honor of the women of the 6888th Central Postal Directory Battalion (commonly known as the “Six Triple Eight”) in recognition of —
(1) the pioneering military service of the women;
(2) the devotion to duty of those women; and
(3) the contributions made by those women to increase the morale of all United States personnel stationed in the European Theater of Operations during World War II.
Even though email has taken the place of a hand written letter in modern history, we owe these courageous trailblazers our gratitude for their selfless service to this country, under the harshest of times.
- Bellafaire, The Women’s Army Corps: A Commemoration, p. 22
- Earley, One Women’s Army. Pp. 153-154 and 156-159 and Moore, To Serve My Country, p. 134-136.
- Farley, Kathleen, 6888th Central Postal Directory Battalion, (Women’s Army Corp), www.history.army.mil/topics/6888th, retrieved on 10 August 2022.
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