Skip to main content

The “Six-Triple Eight” Proved That No Role Was Too Small During World War II

The “Six Triple Eight”

Table of Contents
Signed. Sealed. Undelivered.
‘No Mail, Low Morale’ – A Battle Cry
The Infamous Encounter
Getting Their Due
The Battle Back Home
Honors and Recognition

The historic Six Triple Eight – also known as the U.S. Army’s 6888th Central Postal Directory Battalion – is the largest group of Black servicewomen to serve overseas during WWII. These remarkable women are now rightfully acknowledged for their contributions.

Signed. Sealed. Undelivered.

Birmingham, England. 1945. The thick of World War II. An entire planet on edge from the uncertainty of daily survival and the future.

Back home, civilians fought a different war. Riddled with worry and anxiety over losing their brave loved ones, they poured their concern and love into millions of letters, notes, gifts, and photographs.

Warehouses and hangars in Birmingham transformed into makeshift orphanages that held stacks of unopened mail or forgotten gifts that had yet to find their rightful homes.

The march of Allied forces across Europe didn’t help. Ever-shifting locations for mail delivery meant staggering delays in troops receiving mail. Americans with similar names made mail sorting a nightmare. One general estimated a dismal six-month processing time for the backlog.

Who would take on what was labeled a “personnel problem?”

‘No Mail, Low Morale’ – A Battle Cry

The psychological impact of not receiving mail was inevitable. There was low morale among soldiers.

But the Army’s personnel shortages in the postal division were not new. Despite multiple requisitions to secure additional, qualified workers, the chaos of the mail system lingered.

The creation of the Women’s Army Corps (WAC) was timely for reasons not foreseen at its inception in 1943. The WAC was born out of the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps, which had been created a year before but lacked official military status.

The 18-week WAC training consisted of three tiers: Basic, Physical, and Specialist.

The acceptance of Black women as enlisted personnel in the WAC was possible thanks to the efforts of Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune and the support of First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt. Unfortunately, the rest of the Army did not keep pace with this progress: Black servicewomen watched their white counterparts get approved to serve overseas. Black civil rights groups pressed the War Department to extend the same opportunity to Black WAC members.

The War Department finally relented in November 1944. Volunteers trickled in slowly, with an exceptional group emerging: an all-Black WAC battalion of 31 officers and 824 enlisted personnel. Their designation? The “Six Triple Eight,” known officially as the 6888th Central Postal Directory Battalion.

The 6888th battalion, consisting of Companies A, B, C, and D, had its own headquarters for service and administrative support. Lt. Col. Charity Edna Adams, a major at the time, commanded the battalion.

Despite being tasked with support duties, these women still had to be battle-ready.

  • Low crawling under logs?
  • Jumping over the gaping, greedy mouths of trenches?
  • Marching with rucksacks that could have weighed as much as the children some of them left back home?
  • Identifying Nazi submarines (or U-boats)?
  • Knowing the difference between an American Winchester M12 shotgun and a German Karabiner 98b rifle?

All no problem.

Lisa Crutch, WWP warrior narrates the story of the Six Triple Eight.

In February 1945, the battalion’s first contingent set sail on the Ile de France. (The second contingent would not arrive for another two months). Stealthy German U-boats littered the vast ocean. Upon arrival in Scotland, the contingent was greeted with the explosion of a German V-1 rocket, forcing them to run for cover.

After a dangerous voyage, the contingent made their way to Birmingham, England. What awaited them would have sent a lesser group running – frigid, barely lit warehouses housed forgotten packages and letters stacked taller than monuments.

Untold numbers of rats opened packages with now-rotten sweets.

The Six Triple Eight got to work in the dead of winter in three groups, alternating grueling eight-hour shifts to guarantee nonstop progress on the backlog. Draped in coats and long johns, the first significant task the women completed was a tracking system for individual service members, which solved the problem of soldiers with the same names.

That was 7 million information cards to maintain.

Other tasks included redirecting undeliverable mail and packages, investigating wrongly addressed mail, and perhaps the most tragic task – handling mail addressed to the fallen.

Birmingham residents were so fascinated with the women of the Six Triple Eight that it was common for them to drop into the warehouses to watch the battalion work. These visits formed bonds with the local community. Locals even invited the women to tea in their homes.

Unfortunately, their own military was not as welcoming. Segregation and second-class treatment were still a reality for the Six Triple Eight. The separation of the cafeteria, recreational facilities, and living quarters, by ethnicity and gender, showcased evident privilege. Maj. Adams led a boycott to address the disparities. In the meantime, the Six Triple Eight maintained its own facilities, including a hair salon, cafeteria, and recreational area.

The Infamous Encounter 

Despite exemplary work on a job no one wanted, the group still received criticism from inspectors about job performance. Dissatisfaction with the 6888th’s output was likely influenced by racist attitudes.

During one infamous encounter, Maj. Adams stopped a male general from inspecting the quarters’ private rooms as some women slept. All other personnel were, as instructed, in formation for inspection. The general berated Maj. Adams for the absence of some of the troops. She attempted to clarify that her personnel had a good reason for not being there: They were working one of the three shifts that ensured the 24-hour processing of mail.

The outraged general interrupted her, threatening to send a white superior officer to show her how to do the job she had already capably been doing.

"Maj. Adams never broke protocol when the words, “Over my dead body, sir” sprang from her mouth like the searing rounds of a Browning pistol."

The chaplain assigned to the battalion after the incident interrupted operations. The women of the Six Triple Eight were required to report to him for counseling, which caused absence without leave for several unit members. Additionally, male soldiers banded together when Black and white servicemen showed resentment and disdain toward these women’s valuable presence.

The Six Triple Eight bloomed anyway. The tracking system they innovated allowed them to process an average of 65,000 pieces of mail per shift.

The six-month backlog that initially seemed like their very own version of Dunkirk? Gone in three months.

The women of the 6888th always kept the well-being of the soldiers at the forefront of their efforts; “no mail, low morale” became their war cry. Providing and sustaining a connection between soldiers and family was as vital to victory as an ammunition surplus.

Getting Their Due

For at least a short while, the Six Triple Eight enjoyed a golden period of appreciation.

Their skill and efficiency were called upon in Rouen, France. This time it was for a mail backlog dating back three years. They successfully processed and cleared it in three months.

The women attracted so much acclaim that the European theater’s deputy commander, Lt. Gen. John C.H. Lee, delayed his train so the Six Triple Eight could travel in the first-class car he attached to the train.

It seemed inevitable that some tragedy would eventually meet the unit.

In early July of 1945, a jeep accident took the lives of privates Mary Bankston and Mary Barlow. A month later, Sgt. Dolores M. Browne succumbed to injuries from the accident.

The Six Triple Eight took it on their shoulders to honor their fallen sisters since the War Department did not pay for funerals. 1st Lt. Dorothy Scott found a trio of battalion mates with mortuary experience. They laid Bankston, Barlow, and Browne to rest in Normandy’s American Cemetery at Colleville-sur-Mer. They were buried with honors, in caskets their sisters in arms paid for.

Their move to Paris in October of 1945 signaled unprecedented treatment for the 6888th: Chef-cooked meals and maid service were just two perks that highlighted their stay. But they encountered another daunting workload and a new challenge: deep cuts in personnel.

Reduced by almost 300, with another 200 headed home, the Six Triple Eight battled morale as low as some of the troops whose mail they sorted.

The Battle Back Home

The last members of the 6888th arrived back in the States in February 1946 to no fanfare.

No “job well done.”

No “thank you for your service.”

The group’s lone recognition was Maj. Charity Adams’ well-deserved rise to lieutenant colonel.

A singular victory emerged from the legendary work of the Six Triple Eight. The general board, United States Forces European theater documented the following, based on a 1945 WAC study:

"[T]he national security program is the joint responsibility of all Americans irrespective of color or sex” and “the continued use of colored, along with white, female military personnel is required in such strength as is proportionately appropriate to the relative population distribution between colored and white races."

Honors and Recognition

Institutions like the National Archives for Black Women’s History, the Smithsonian Institution’s National Postal Museum, the Arlington National Cemetery, and the Library of Congress have revived and preserved the legacy and heroism of the Six Triple Eight.

In 2021, the Six Triple Eight received the Congressional Gold Medal. While only a handful of survivors remain, descendants and new generations have been able to celebrate the accomplishments of this remarkable WWII unit.  

In 2022, another surviving hero was discovered in New York: Cresencia Garcia was a member of Six Triple Eight whose service was unbeknownst even to her family. Oprah Daily and CBS News featured stories on her service and long-kept secret.

All of us who come after hidden figures like the 6888th are the fortunate beneficiaries of the revolutionary steps they took to define an era. Even from the past, they continue to lead the way and inspire progress forward.

Learn more about the Six Triple Eight in this documentary produced by Army colonel Edna W. Cummings.

Photo credits:

Here are Wounded Warriors Social Links, if you want to share this page content on social media then select the media you would like to share to from the list below