All-Black Women's WWII Unit to be Awarded Congressional Gold Medal

The 6888th Central Postal Directory Battalion sorted millions of pieces of mail during World War II. 

6888 WWII WAC Unit
Photo: National Archives Catalog

Decades after their critical service in World War II, the women of the 6888th Central Postal Directory Battalion, an all-Black Women's Army Corps (WAC) unit, are finally being recognized for their hard work, sacrifice, and essential role in motivating American troops.

On March 14, President Joe Biden signed a bill into law that awards the women a Congressional Gold Medal "in recognition of their pioneering military service, devotion to duty, and contributions to increase the morale of personnel stationed in the European theater of operations during World War II."

Known more commonly as the Six Triple Eight, the WAC unit of 855 Black women was formed in November of 1944 and was the only all-Black WAC unit to serve in Europe during World War II. The group's mission was to sort through a colossal backlog of letters and packages meant for U.S. military members that had been piling up for years.

Before embarking on their journey to England on February 3, 1945, the women completed training at Fort Oglethorpe, Georgia. There they learned to identify enemy aircrafts, ships, and weapons. They also practiced rope climbing, trench jumping, and long marches with rucksacks. Their training came in handy when their ship encountered Nazi U-boats while sailing for Britain and when a German V-1 rocket exploded near their dock in Glasgow, Scotland.

Once the women reached their final destination of Birmingham, England, they were met with more challenges. According to the U.S. Army Center of Military History, upon arrival they found warehouses stacked to the ceiling with letters and packages. The women worked in the unheated, dimly lit buildings in 8-hour shifts that ran 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The women developed a system for sorting the mail and distinguishing between duplicate names, like the 7,500 American soldiers in the European Theater all named Robert Smith.

Generals estimated that the backlog would take at least six months to clear. The Six Triple Eight cleared it in half the time, using the motto "No mail, low morale," to strive toward their goal. By the end of the war, the unit had processed around 17 million pieces of mail, according to The National WWII Museum.

Ultimately, the group was disbanded by 1946 and returned home to little thanks for their sacrifice. Once back in the U.S., they encountered continued racial discrimination in their daily lives. Now, after almost 80 years later, the women of the Six Triple Eight are finally receiving the recognition they deserve.

As of last summer, only seven members of the unit were still believed to be alive. The medal is part of recent efforts to honor the women, including a monument erected in Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, in 2018 and a documentary about the special unit released the year before.

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"Though the odds were set against them, the women of the Six Triple Eight processed millions of letters and packages during their deployment in Europe, helping connect WWII soldiers with their loved ones back home—like my father and mother," Senator Jerry Moran of Kansas, one of two senators responsible for introducing the bill, said in a statement. "Our nation will always be grateful to the members of the Six Triple Eight and now, nearly 80 years after their service, we are finally able to recognize these extraordinary women on the national stage.

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