WACS of the 6888th Deliver on Time

Posted on March 26th, 2016 by:

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The 6888th delivers:

On February 14th , 1945, the troopship SS Ile de France arrived in Glasgow carrying the first contingent of the 6888th Central Postal Directory Battalion, the only black Women’s Army Corps (WAC) unit to be sent overseas in World War Two. Soon after arriving, the 6888th was sent to Birmingham, England where they were confronted with warehouses full of letters and packages, with a constant influx coming in daily.


Major Charity Adams inspects troops in Birmingham, England February 1945

With millions of Americans in Europe, the problem wasn’t only sending the mail out, but finding where to send it. Soldiers were constantly on the move and delivering mail to them proved to be a very difficult task. Many soldiers had the same name (there were 7,500 soldiers named Robert Smith in the European Theater) and some letters or packages had addresses like “Junior, US Army”. The US Army had suffered from a lack of competent postal officers throughout the war and estimated the backlog of mail at Birmingham would take 6 months to clear.

The women of the 6888th were quartered in the King Edward School, with their officers in two different houses. They adopted the motto “No mail, no morale” and set about sorting the mountains of mail. They created a catalogue of over seven million names with serial numbers and each member worked three different eight hour shifts daily, seven days a week.

The 6888th lived in segregated facilities and were not allowed into the local Red Cross clubs or in Red Cross hotels in London. To combat this, the women created their own facilities that the Red Cross denied them. When all the 6888th personnel were not present for an inspection due to their round the clock shifts, a visiting general threatened to remove the 6888th’s commander, Major Charity Adams, and replace her with a white lieutenant to “show her how to run things”. The general even threatened to court martial Major Adam’s over her reply “over my dead body, sir!” but Major Adam’s battalion supported their commander and the threat of court martial was dropped.

The 6888th gained acceptance by the local population and regularly mixed with English people and other non black military personnel. Using their methods of sorting, the 6888th sorted 65,000 letters and packages per shift and cleared the backlog of mail in Birmingham in just three months. On June 9th, 1945 the unit sailed for France and was stationed in Rouen. They were welcomed by the French and marched in the victory parade in the city. Although the unit was occasionally treated with resentment by both black and white male military personnel, the 6888th received high praise from the US Army.


6888th marches in Rouen

In Rouen, they were confronted with another backlog of military mail going back two or three years. The 6888th completed sorting the mail in Rouen by October of 1945 and were sent to Paris where they had to deal with personnel cuts and a “war deprived” local population who stole small packages or specific items. Their basketball team, when denied seats on a train to a tournament in Stuttgart, appealed to General John C.H. Lee, the US Deputy Commander in Europe. Lee delayed the train and added his personal first class car for the team to use, who went on to win first place in the tournament.

The 6888th or “Six triple eight” returned to the US in February 1946 and was disbanded at Fort Dix, New Jersey. Their accomplishments as the only black unit of the Women’s Army Corps were recognized by the US Army and led the way for future acceptance of women and other races in the military.

For More on the 6888th Check Out:

One Woman’s Army: A Black Officer Remembers the Wac

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