In 1945, warehouses in Birmingham, England, were brimming with unsent postal mail intended for U.S. soldiers at the frontlines. At the same time, African American organizations pressed the War Department to create more opportunities for African American Women’s Army Corps members to serve. Tackling two issues at once, the War Department started recruiting African American women and formed the 6888th Central Postal Directory Battalion. The job was expected to take six months. The “Six Triple Eight” did it in three.
Retired Air Force Major Fannie Griffin McClendon was one of these women to take up the monumental task of ensuring soldiers on the frontlines received mail sent to them by their loved ones, regardless of rain, sleet, “buzz bombs,” racism, and sexism. Indeed, throughout her time in the 6888th Battalion and later as a commander with Strategic Air Command, she faced and overcame many instances of racism and sexism thrown at her. This ranged from men who refused to serve under her because she was a woman. Focusing on her vital duties to the country, McClendon knocked down barriers and shattered glass ceilings at every corner of her military career.
Even as a centenarian, McClendon remembered stories from her days in the military like the back of her hand. Stories she discussed in this episode of Borne the Battle include:
- What life was like for her while serving abroad in Europe during WWII
- The casualties the 6888th suffered while in France
- Becoming a commander in the Air Force
Surrounded by the stench and sight of death, soldiers on the frontlines depended on members of the 6888th, like McClendon, to deliver them letters written by their loved ones back home. Despite the importance of their role, the 6888th, like many other segregated units from WWII, received little recognition after the war.
The 6888th only recently started gaining popular recognition, with a documentary on it released in 2019.
In 2021, the Senate passed the “Six Triple Eight” Congressional Gold Medal Act of 2021, an act awarding congressional gold medals to members of the 6888th for their “pioneering military service, devotion to duty, and contributions to the morale of personnel stationed in the European theater.”
While formal recognition for her service was long overdue, McClendon seemed not to mind too much. Rather, she focused on the many opportunities the military gave her and the spectacular life it allowed her to live.
Borne the Battle Veteran of the Week: