Women’s History Month: 6888th Army Battalion

Women’s History Month: 6888th Army Battalion

Hello D-Day Patrons!
Corporal Alyce Dixon (right), of the 6888th, talks with her superior, 1945.
In honor of Women’s History Month, I would like to take some time to talk about the 6888thArmy battalion, an African-American all women’s unit dedicated to processing the backlog of mail from the troops and civil-support in Europe.
During World War II, the best way, and essentially the only way, to contact someone overseas was to send them a letter in the mail. This was the only way for soldiers to communicate back home and vise versa, so the importance of keeping soldier morale high rested on the ability of the mail services to complete their jobs in a timely fashion. That task was given to the women of the 6888thbattalion.
6888th Army Battalion
Women began taking important roles in the Armed Forces as far back as the Revolutionary War and began performing military support during the Civil War and on. However, World War II was the first war in which so many women were called to serve, but it did not come without its challenges. Even though women were active in every branch, the only branch to officially recognize women as viable support was the Navy. World War II was also unique because so many men, mostly young and middle aged, were called to serve in combat roles, leaving behind multitudes of jobs that needed to be filled by women. Congress authorized the recruitment of female officers and enlisted to do more military duties than just nursing because of the desperate need for support.
The women of the 6888th not only had to handle being women in the Armed Forces, but they also had to withstand racial discrimination. Despite President Roosevelt’s efforts to fight intolerance in civilian defense industries, prejudice and segregation remained in the military. Through the efforts of Mary McLeod Bethune, founder of the National Council of Negro Women and First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, African-American women were allowed to serve in the Women’s Army Corp.
Women of the 6888th sorting out the backlog of mail, 1945.
Those young ladies had to begin working straight away after boot camp training was completed. Once American soldiers landed in Europe on June 6, 1944, the amount of logistical problems were quickly becoming a nightmare. Sorting and mailing the troops post was low on the totem pole. Since the soldiers were moving around rapidly and were sending out letters whenever they had the chance, the amount of mail piled up so quickly they were almost immediately behind schedule. While waiting for the women in the 6888thto arrive, seven million undelivered letters had quickly piled up; many had even been sent over a year before.
To get the job done quickly and effectively, the women used a system of information cards on all recently deployed soldiers, Army and Navy. They had six months to clear the buildup, working nearly twenty-four/seven. Not only did they have to locate the soldiers, they also had to decipher whom the letter even belonged to because many people did not address their letters properly. Through hard work and determination, they were able to process nearly 65,000 letters per workday and completed the task in just three months time, cutting the projected time in half. The Army was so impressed by them that they were then deployed to Paris, France to keep the mail moving on the front lines.
Women of the 6888th overseas, World War II, 1945.
Despite the segregation and discrimination these women were subjected to, they still completed their job flawlessly. In 2009, they were finally recognized for their hard work, sixty-four years later. Surviving members and their families came out to Arlington for the ceremony to honor those brave women in hopes to correct the past and set things right.
Take care,
Elizabeth

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