Bertha Harrison Dupre and Elizabeth Barker Johnson served together in Company C of the the 6888th Central Postal Directory Battalion during WWII. When they returned home from the war, each used the G.I. Bill and launched careers as teachers, administrators, government employees and volunteers.
Bertha Harrison Dupre: An administrator and renaissance woman
Born in Washington, D.C., Bertha Harrison Dupre enlisted in the Women’s Army Corps (WAC) on September 1, 1943. Prior to that, she worked for the War Department, according to the Salisbury Post. In August 1944, she joined the segregated Black female WAC unit, Company C of the 6888th Central Postal Directory Battalion, known as the “SixTripleEight.” When the unit arrived in Birmingham, England, they learned of their mission to clear the mountains of backlogged mail stuffed to the ceiling in Quonset huts. Working around the clock, seven days a week, they processed for delivery over 17 million pieces of mail in three months.
Dupre achieved the rank of Master Sergeant. She received an honorable discharge at Fort Dix, NJ on December 7, 1945 – exactly four years after the attack on Pearl Harbor, according to her military service records.
When Dupre returned home from the war, she found employment with the then-known Veterans Administration helping Veterans enroll in school. According to her obituary, she also joined the WAC Reserve and was called up to serve again during the Korean and Vietnam wars. Before retiring, she worked for Amtrak’s Montrealer that ran from Washington D.C. to Montreal.
In her 70s, she moved south to Charlotte, North Carolina, in search of warmer weather. There, she kept busy with classes in jazz, dance and art. She died, at 97, on Dec. 19, 2018. Web visitors can read her tribute at NCA’s Veterans Legacy Memorial: https://www.vlm.cem.va.gov/BERTHAHARRISON/77E9565.
Determined that she would not die alone
Dupre spent the last few years of her life at Concord Transitional Healthcare. When she died, no one came forward to claim her cremated remains. That is when her Social Worker Rhonda Fernandez and Veterans Service Officer Lori Hinson went to work.
The two reached out to Andrea Lefko of Carolina Cremation in Salisbury, and Russ Roakes, Powles Staton Funeral Home, in Rockwell to determine Dupre’s eligibility for burial in a VA national cemetery. The more Roakes and Lefko learned of Dupre’s story, the more they wanted to do something special in her memory. After contacting the Salisbury National Cemetery and the National Scheduling Cemetery Office in St. Louis, they agreed on March 22, 2020, as the date of interment.
“We were determined that Ms. Dupre would not be buried alone,” Roakes said.
On Friday, March 22, 2020, at 11 a.m., hundreds of people formed a queue at the Powles Staton Funeral Home for the 15-minute ride to Salisbury National Cemetery. The Patriot Guard riders led the way. Behind the hearse rode 99-year-old Elizabeth Barker Johnson, Dupre’s sister-in-arms from the “SixTripleEight,” and her daughter Cynthia.
“Students from East Rowan High School stood aside the road waving American flags,” Roakes added.
At the cemetery were several American Legion chapters. The Rowan County Veterans Honor Guard performed the rifle salute, and the North Carolina National Guard folded the American flag.
“Although these committals are normally a solemn ceremony,” said Micah Lee, program support sssistant at Salisbury National Cemetery, “this one had the feeling of a celebration of life. More than 250 people attended to show their support.”
Sitting front row center, Johnson accepted the American flag.
Elizabeth Barker Johnson: An Educator and Volunteer
Johnson joined the WACs on March 11, 1943, after seeing a flyer in the mail which read, “Uncle Sam Wants You.” She received training as a truck driver at Fort Devens and her first assignment was Camp Campbell in Kentucky as a truck driver, mainly transporting soldiers to the train station. She was transferred to the “SixTripleEight” in August 1944.
“She did not have enough money for college, so she enlisted,” said her daughter, Cynthia.
By May 1945, the SixTripleEight was sent to Rouen, France to clear the backlog of mail there. With some time spent in Paris, Johnson returned home aboard the Queen Mary on Nov. 4, 1945, and was discharged at Fort Bragg, NC, on November 12.
She enrolled at Winston-Salem Teachers College, now Winston-Salem State University, in 1946. She was the first woman at the school to use the G.I. Bill to pay for her college education. She taught for 32 years and stayed active as a volunteer for another 15 years.
She died on August 23, 2020, six months after attending Dupre’s funeral.
We honor their service.