On March 14, President Joe Biden signed the Six Triple Eight Congressional Gold Medal Act of 2021 into Public Law 117-97. The legislation awards the Congressional Gold Medal to the 855 members of the Women’s Army Corps who were assigned to the 6888th Central Postal Directory Battalion – the “Six Triple Eight” – during World War II. The unit served at home and in Europe (Birmingham, England and Rouen, France). They sorted and routed mail for millions of American service members and civilians.
The “Six Triple Eight” was the only all-black, all-female battalion to serve overseas during World War II, and they were responsible for clearing out an overwhelming backlog of mail, making sure certain American troops received letters from home to boost their morale.
“The Congressional Gold Medal is the nation’s gratitude for the 6888th Battalion and the thousands of African American women who served in the Army during WWII,” said retired Col. Edna W. Cummings, 6888th Advocate. “Their service will never be forgotten as soldiers and trailblazers for gender and racial equality.”
The battalion reported for duty in Birmingham on February 12, 1945, only to discover a two-year backlog of mail stuffed to the ceilings in Quonset huts. Their commander, Maj. Charity Adams, established three 8-hour shifts, seven days-a-week designed to eliminate the backlog. U.S. Army leadership gave the “Six Triple Eight” six months to complete the mission. They did it in three months.
According to her autobiography, One Woman’s Army: A Black Officer Remembers the WAC, Adams estimated the unit averaged 65,000 pieces of mail per shift. By the time their mission was complete in May 1945, the “Six Triple Eight” processed for delivery over 17 million pieces of mail… in 90 days. They were then sent to Rouen, France, with a similar mission. However, with the war in Europe over, some in the unit prepared to serve in the Pacific. When the Japanese surrender on September 2, 1945, the world war ended. For the next several months, the women were able to enjoy France, especially Paris.
“There was so much to see in Paris,” said Gladys Thomas in a 1990 interview with the U.S. Army’s Women’s Museum. “We had the different perfume houses and I even managed to go the Versailles Palace.”
The last of the women returned home by March 1946 to find their home country not much changed regarding racial relations, but they took the opportunity military service had afforded them to return to school which opened doors to employment and professional careers.
Back Home: Using the G.I. Bill for higher education
Many of the women returned home eager to use their Servicemen’s Readjustment Act of 1944, or GI Bill to advance their education. One of those women was Elizabeth Barker Johnson, who was the first to use the G.I. Bill while enrolled at Winston-Salem Teachers College, now Winston-Salem State University, an Historical Black College and University (HBCU). Barker Johnson graduated in 1949 with a Bachelor of Science in Special Education but was unable to march with her class because she had already left for her first teaching job at Patrick Central School in Spencer, Virginia. In May 2019, 70 years after earning her degree, University President Elwood Johnson invited Barker Johnson back to officially present her with her degree and to march across the stage as a Distinguished Alumna. Barker Johnson died in August 2019 at 100.
Back Home: Working for VA
Several women found post-war employment in various government agencies, including with the Department of Veterans Affairs: Charity Adams, from Ohio, worked as a Registration Officer from 1946-47; Abbe Campbell became a nutritionist and spent her entire career at the Tuskegee VA Medical Center in Alabama; Anna Tarryk, from Connecticut, worked for VA in the Insurance Division from 1946-1983; Evelina Rachel Griffin, from Delaware, spent her entire career with VA, retiring as a chief inventory officer.
Back Home: Buried in hallowed ground
Several women are interred at some of America’s most hallowed grounds. Three, Sgt. Delores Browne, Pfc. Mary Bankston and Pfc. Mary Barlow, are buried at Colleville-sur-Mer Normandy American Cemetery in France. Of the nearly 9,400 Americans buried there, only four are women – three of them from the 6888th.
In a 1990 interview, Campbell recalled their burials. “We had women who had worked in funeral parlors before,” she said. “They fixed up the ladies real nice.”
Fourteen women are interred at Arlington National Cemetery, while 32 are interred in VA national or state Veteran’s cemeteries across the country.
Major Charity Adams inspecting her troops.
Post a Tribute on the Veterans Legacy Memorial (VLM)
The Veterans Legacy Memorial (VLM) is the Nation’s first digital platform dedicated entirely to the memory of more than 4.3 million Veterans interred in VA’s national cemeteries. In time for Veterans Day 2021, nearly 500,000 additional Veteran records from VA grant-funded cemeteries have been added to VLM.
Below are links to individual “Six Triple Eight” Veteran’s profile pages where tributes can made to honor a Veteran’s service. VA Secretary Denis McDonough wrote a tribute on Deloris Ruddock’s page:
“On April 20 at the Baltimore National Cemetery, I was humbled and honored to join Patricia Helldoorn, as her mother, 6888th Central Postal Directory Battalion Veteran Ms. Deloris Ruddock, was laid to rest in that hallowed ground with her sister-in-arms, Ms. Emily Noisette Cox. Ms. Ruddock was a proud woman. She was proud of her heritage, proud to be an American and rightly proud of her Army service.
“Deloris’s story is the story of Black women fighting for inclusion and the right to serve. Deloris’s story of triumph in the face of adversity is America’s story, a story deeply rooted in our country’s rich diversity. May God bless her and her family, and may she rest in peace.”
Deloris Ruddock Baltimore National Cemetery: https://www.vlm.cem.va.gov/0802/DELORISLOUISERUDDOCK/9c98df/.
Dorothy E. Carter Baltimore National Cemetery: https://www.vlm.cem.va.gov/0802/DOROTHYMCARTER/7F40D56/.
Emily Noisette Cox Baltimore National Cemetery:
Hettie Boyce Calverton National Cemetery:
Lillian Cabbell Calverton National Cemetery:
Ophelia Dark Thomas Calverton National Cemetery: https://www.vlm.cem.va.gov/0805/OPHELIADTHOMAS/537A0E3/.
Bettie Mae Albert Leavenworth National Cemetery: https://www.vlm.cem.va.gov/0897/BETTIEMALBERT/22551A3/.
Blanche Albritton Fort Gibson National Cemetery: https://www.vlm.cem.va.gov/0844/BLANCHEALBRITTON/1F3B8B2/.
Josie Lowe Albritton South Florida National Cemetery: https://www.vlm.cem.va.gov/0924/JOSIELOWEALBRITTON/5DF2B14/.
Marion L. Alston Hampton National Cemetery: https://www.vlm.cem.va.gov/0849/MARIONLALSTON/068FE71/.
Dorothy Burdis Andrews Houston National Cemetery: https://www.vlm.cem.va.gov/0851/DOROTHYBANDREWS/AC162DD/.
Novella M Auls Hampton National Cemetery: https://www.vlm.cem.va.gov/0849/NOVELLAAULS/358F1A9/.
Alice G Bennings Wood National Cemetery: https://www.vlm.cem.va.gov/0823/ALICEBENNINGS/74CC3E5/.
Phyllis Branch Long Island National Cemetery: https://www.vlm.cem.va.gov/0815/PHYLLISBRANCH/BEBF238/.
Eugenia Brown Washington Crossing National Cemetery: https://www.vlm.cem.va.gov/0926/EUGENIAABROWN/6E9FC87/.
Louise Rita Bruce Natchez National Cemetery: https://www.vlm.cem.va.gov/0866/LOUISERBRUCE/FCD2EF3/.
Althea Veronica Buchanan Long Island National Cemetery: https://www.vlm.cem.va.gov/0815/ALTHEABUCHANAN/9CC0FA2/.
Katherine Buchanan Quantico National Cemetery: https://www.vlm.cem.va.gov/0872/KATHERINELEEBUCHANAN/8785115/.
Emma J Bullock New Bern National Cemetery: https://www.vlm.cem.va.gov/0868/EMAJENKINSBULLOCK/93A180B/.
Dorothy C Cann Riverside National Cemetery: https://www.vlm.cem.va.gov/0901/DOROTHYCANN/0A4EDEB/.
Thelma E Carter Washington Crossing National Cemetery: https://www.vlm.cem.va.gov/0926/THELMAPCARR/D1BFEBC/.
Enid E Clark Sacramento Valley National Cemetery: https://www.vlm.cem.va.gov/0921/ENIDECLARK/957F44E/.
Gurthalee W Clark Riverside National Cemetery: https://www.vlm.cem.va.gov/0901/GURTHALEECLARK/B6E5DFF/.
Beula Tee Fant Fort Logan National Cemetery: https://www.vlm.cem.va.gov/0888/BEULATEEFANT/F01271A/.
Eleanor Wyetta Gibson Riverside National Cemetery: https://www.vlm.cem.va.gov/0901/ELEANORWYETTAGIBSON/EECC6FC/.
Elvire Louise Jackson Quantico National Cemetery: https://www.vlm.cem.va.gov/0872/ELVIRELJACKSON/8AADCFB/.
Millie Dunn Veasey Raleigh National Cemetery: https://www.vlm.cem.va.gov/MILLIEDVEASEY/4C6B7A5 29.
Berthe Dupre Salisbury National Cemetery: https://www.vlm.cem.va.gov/BERTHAHARRISON/77E9565.
State Veteran Cemeteries
Edna Brown Southern Wisconsin Veterans Cemetery: https://www.vlm.cem.va.gov/EDNALBROWN/8f7c98.
Edith M. Carter Delaware Veterans Memorial Cemetery: https://www.vlm.cem.va.gov/EDITHMCARTER/670e78.
Earlene June Bolling Garrison Forest Veterans Cemetery, MD: https://www.vlm.cem.va.gov/EARLENEJBOLLIN/3b7d06.
Elaine Smith Bennett Maryland Veterans Cemetery: https://www.vlm.cem.va.gov/ELAINESBENNETT/70e882.
Reactions from surviving women and family members
“It never occurred to me that it would happen,” said Major Fannie McClendon, (Ret.) USAF, 6888th Veteran.
“I wish more of the 6888th members were here, and I hope that I’m still here when President Biden signs the bill,” said Ms. Lena King, 6888th Veteran. “That will be a great day.”
“This is a wonderful recognition of the critical service the 6888th provided to this country under extraordinary difficult conditions,” said Stanley Earley, son of Charity Adams.
“The 6888th deserves this honor for their dedication to our soldiers and their country for completing the job given to them in record time,” said Janice Martin, daughter of Indiana Hunt Martin.
6888: The musical
As accolades and recognition continue to roll in, two New York producers are in development of a Broadway musical about the “Six Triple Eight.” The show, which has the working title of “6888: The Musical,” will be executive produced by Tony award-winner Blair Underwood.