The Second World War raged on from 1939 to 1945, although the United States didn’t officially join the war until 1941. Much devastation occurred during World War II, like the Pearl Harbor attacks, the usage of the first atomic bomb, and the Holocaust, but not everything historical that occurred was negative. Some events actually changed the course of history.
There were few opportunities provided to Black and African American people during the 1930s and 40s. But even with so many barriers, there were more than 6,000 African American women serving in the Women’s Army Corps by the time the United States declared war. Among those 6,000 women, 855 were handpicked to form a unit, which was later known as the 6888th Central Post Directory Battalion.
But why was this unit created in the first place? At one point during WWII, there was a massive mail backlog, which started to impact the troops emotionally. For almost three years, troops were not able to receive any mail due to this standstill in postal services. Today, anyone is a text, email, or phone call away. During the 40s and during one of the bloodiest wars in history, communication was lost.
“The morale was low because that vital communication between the troops and the loved ones back at home was lost,” said retired Col. Edna Cummings. “The loved ones at home were getting concerned that they hadn't heard from [anyone] on the front lines of the European theater.”
Cummings is a retired Colonel of the U.S. Army, now a Maryland Army Reserve ambassador, and was a producer of the 6888th 2019 documentary. Cummings was approached by a filmmaker to help produce a documentary of the unique battalion — the director, James William Theres, had previously directed The Hello Girls documentary, which was about World War I telephone operators that had been sent out to help General Pershing pass calls through.
“There are a lot of similarities between the 6888th and the Hello Girls,” Cummings said. “So with the documentary, we just began to tell the story of the 6888th.”
Cummings began to explain that the 6888th Women's Army Corps unit was sent to Europe to solve the mail crisis. Because they were to be there for a while, the group had to set up facilities and tend to themselves. This included cooking for themselves and maintaining their own vehicles, which wasn’t necessarily a bad thing.
Because the 6888th was resilient and self-sufficient, they began to form their own basketball and softball teams. Cummings explained that the women in the battalion were strong, competitive athletes and would win tournaments overseas while they were in Europe. They also faced racism while competing and were disinvited from an Army basketball tournament while overseas.
The 6888th accomplished their mission and returned home without acknowledgment or credit. It wasn’t until March 2022 when the 6888th received the Congressional Gold Medal for improving soldiers’ morale during World War II by sorting mail for delivery in record time.
“Other units had tried and failed,” Cummings said. “So these women solved the Army morale crisis during World War II.”
Photo credits: National Archives