This guest post was submitted by Marine Corps Veteran Dennis Miller to honor his grandmother, Sylvia Benton, who served in the Women’s Army Corps during World War II. Benton served in 6888th Central Postal Directory Battalion. It has been edited for style and clarity.
My grandmother was my role model. I’ve wanted to be like her my entire life. She broke barriers with an easy smile and without fear.
Her name was Sylvia Benton and she served in the Women’s Army Corps during World War II, of which she was fiercely proud. She was a Titan among mortals, a true embodiment of citizenship in a Republic.
My grandmother was the matriarch of our family, a community leader, and a small business owner; she was also a proud, active member of the Veteran community. She instilled discipline and pride into her children and their children. But she was also the kindest, most generous person I ever met.
Sylvia Benton in uniform.
In 1945, my grandmother lived in Savannah, GA. That year, she enlisted in the WAC and was assigned to the legendary 6888th Central Postal Directory Battalion, the only all-female, all-Black battalion to serve in the combat zone. Her unit would come to be known as the Six Triple Eight, and they were given the unenviable task of delivering millions of pieces of unprocessed mail to troops on the front lines. There were reports that the lack of reliable mail delivery was hurting morale. The Army was not able to complete this mission so they turned to the Six Triple Eight for help.
The soldiers of the 6888th were sent to Birmingham, England, where they redirected full warehouses of mail. The Army estimated a backlog of six months. They cleared it in three. Their performance so impressed that leadership then sent them to Rouen, France, to repeat it. The mail in France had swelled to a two-to-three-year buildup, and it took the Six Triple Eight six months to clear. The Army had rarely seen a more efficient unit, especially in a time of war.
However, the 6888th were not recognized for the work they did in combat once they returned home. No one thanked them for their service or included them in their ticker tape parade. There are, however, a number of efforts being made to rectify that situation, including a bill to award them the Congressional Gold Medal.
Williams in uniform with Grandma Silvia.
Sylvia Benton was a phenomenon. I joined the Marine Corps because she thought it was the right thing for me to do. I became an entrepreneur because I admired the way she ran her laundromat in South Philadelphia. Inspired by her, I launched the Greater Philadelphia Area Veteran Chamber of Commerce because she was a staunch advocate for Veterans and their reintegration into civilian society. I am who and what I am because of her service – to her family and our country.
I am so very proud to share the bonds of blood and military service with her. She spoke of the Six Triple Eight with such pride and passion… As in everything, I have tried to do her proud in the telling of this tale. While she is no longer with us, her story lives on. I encourage all to learn more about the Six Triple Eight and to find inspiration in their individual stories. These women were trailblazers, pioneers in a time when no one wanted them. I hope to grow up to be something like the one I knew and respected and loved. Semper Fidelis.