Four members of the 6888th. (306438)
Four members of the 6888th. Credit: United States Department of Defense

Maj. Fannie Griffin McClendon and her Army colleagues never dwelled on being the only Black battalion of women to serve in Europe during World War II. They had a job to do.

The 6888th Central Postal Directory Battalion was credited with solving a growing mail crisis during its stint in England and, upon return, serving as a role model to generations of Black women who joined the military.

But for decades, the exploits of the 855 members never got wider recognition — until now.

According to ABC News, the Senate passed legislation that would award members of the battalion, affectionately known as the Six Triple Eight, with the Congressional Gold Medal.

The bill is awaiting action in the House, but is already too late for most 6888 members. There are believed to be only seven surviving, including McClendon.

“Well, it would be nice but it never occurred to me that we would even qualify for it,” McClendon said from her home in Tempe, Arizona.

“I just wish there were more people to, if it comes through, there were more people to celebrate it,” said McClendon, who has met with her local congressman to press for passage of the bill.

The 6888th was sent overseas in 1945, a time when there was growing pressure from African-American organizations to include Black women in what was called the Women’s Army Corps and allow them to join their White counterparts overseas.

“I think that the 6888th, the command inherently knew that their presence overseas meant more than clearing that mail backlog,” said Retired Army Col. Edna Cummings, who was not a member of the 6888th but has been advocating to get them greater recognition. “They were representing opportunity for their sisters at arms back in the United States who were having a hard time dealing with the racism and sexism within the ranks.”

The unit dodged German U-boats on their way to England and scrambled to escape a German rocket once they reached a Glasgow port.

They were deployed to unheated, rat-infested airplane hangars in Birmingham, England, and given a daunting mission: Process the millions of pieces of undelivered mail for troops, government workers and Red Cross workers. The mountains of mail had piled up and troops were grumbling about lost letters and delayed care packages. Thus their motto, “No Mail, Low Morale.”

They cleared out a backlog of about 17 million pieces of mail in three months — twice as fast as projected. The battalion would go on to serve in France before returning home. And like so many Black units during World War II, their exploits never got the attention afforded their White counterparts.