Buffalo Soldiers, Tuskegee Airmen, bigger than life historical figures. Their stories told over and over. Their exploits dramatized on television and in movies.
Black men, rightfully celebrated as warriors who helped to create this country we call America. In recognition of their accomplishments. President Elect, Barack Obama, has invited the remaining members of the Tuskegee Airmen to attend his inauguration, in January. That invitation should also be tendered to the members of the Women Army Corp, the Black WACs of World War II.
There is always a distaff side to history, that usually goes untold. The 6888th Central Postal Directory Women Army Corp Battalion, was the only unit of Black women to serve in the European theater during the great war. As were all units, at that time, it was a segregated unit, created specifically to handle a monumental problem overseas. You see, the mail, the packages, the letters, and boxes of food, sent to the troops, piled up in a warehouse in Birmingham, England for the first few years of the war. The mail was not making it to the soldiers on the front lines. The workers, both soldiers and civilians, assigned to process the mail, were overwhelmed by the volume.
The 6888th CPD, was quickly formed. The unit was comprised of women from all over the country, who had signed up to serve. My own great Aunt, Sargent Bessie L. Robinson, was one of them. If she hadn’t been a member, then I don’t think even I would have known of their existence, or their contributions to history. I had the privilege of delivering the keynote speech at their first reunion, after the war, in June, 1979, in Cincinnati, Ohio.
The women trained at Ft. Olgethorpe, in Georgia. Among other things, they had to complete five mile hikes in full battle gear, which included, pistol belts, gas masks, canteens, packs and helmets. They made these hikes under, what the army calls, active war conditions, meaning, somebody was shooting at them, or blowing up stuff, while they did it. After training, the battalion boarded a special train to New York, and Camp Shanks.
From there, they took a ship to Europe, and on February 12th, 1945, they landed in Scotland and boarded a train for Birmingham, England. Battalion Command was entrusted to Major Charity Adams, who died in 2002 at the age of 83.
The unit’s job was to clean up the backlog of mail. They accomplished it in record time, working two eight hours shifts per day. They processed 65,000 pieces of mail per shift, in order to get the job done. The 6888th CPD also served in Rouen, France as that country was being liberated. They also pulled duty in Paris, France before returning home to the USA. Three members of the unit died while stationed in France.
While overseas, they learned about the death of FDR, and shook hands with America’s only Negro general, Brigadier General, Benjamin O. Davis. He greeted them when they arrived in England. When they returned to America, the 6888th was disbanded. The women dispersed. Some stayed in the service. Some retired and went home. The war was over, the country was still segregated, and there was very little said or written about their great adventure.
The women who are still alive, are well into their 80’s, now. The unit totaled 824 women and 31 officers. My aunt, Sgt. Bessie, passed away several years ago. The small part of history that I have presented here was passed down orally. A couple of books have been written, however, the official web sites, detailing the exploits of women in war, glance over, or fail to make any mention what so ever, of the 6888th Central Postal Directory Battalion.