July 29, 2022
The United States Mint requires more than a year to design and produce a Congressional Gold Medal, but the six known surviving women of the #6888th Postal Battalion may not have that kind of time.
One of the women just died in March and at least three members of the all-black, army WWII unit died in the last two years while legislation to grant them the medal worked its way through Congress. Those who remain alive range from 98 to 102-years-old!
You'll meet each of the women below, some who were not featured in my book.
President Joe Biden signed the bill in March after it passed through the US House and Senate last year, and now, one by one, these six women veterans of a war that ended nearly 80-years ago are finally being honored in public ceremonies and awarded symbolic Congressional Gold Medals.
Below, Major Charity Adams inspects her troops, the 6888th Postal Directory Battalion in Birmingham, England February 1945. (National Archives)
The 855 women sorted and sent massive backlog of letters and packages to US armed forces personnel serving in Europe in 1945. The women finished their assignment in record time knowing mail from home raised the morale of soldiers on the front lines, and also to prove they could perform as well as white WACs.
A formal presentation of the medal at the White House will come at a later date when the medals have been minted. The Congressional Gold Medal is our nation’s highest award for distinguished achievement.
"We don’t want to wait,” said Edna W. Cummings, a retired Army colonel responsible for helping push the medal for these women through congress. "I think it’s (right) to honor them while they are aware of the public appreciation and gratitude.”
The Six Remaining Women of the #6888th
Gladys E. Blount, a WWII veteran of the 6888th recently celebrated her 100th birthday and in August will have a street named for her in East Orange, Florida.
Today the mayor is scheduled to give her a key to the city and award her the Green Medal of Honor which honors local citizens who have made notable contributions and achievements with global impact.
Below: Gladys E. Blount, photo courtesy RLSMedia
“Our assignment may have seemed simple, but the work we did was important to so many,” she said, citing the motto edged in her memory: “No Mail, Low
When the women returned to the US after the war, no parades were held in their honor, and they faced continued segregation and racism. Many never talked of their wartime service and this is the Congressional Gold Medal is their first recognition.
Below: Gladys E. Blount show with friends in Rouen, France, where she continued to sort mail with the 6888th after Germany surrendered in Maay 1945.
“It isn’t mine, just mine. No. It’s everybody’s,” Catherine Romay Johnson Davis, 102, said this week when she received a citation for a Congressional Gold Medal. She was also presented with and a wartime uniform to replace hers stolen from a car shortly after she returned from overseas.
Active-duty Black soldiers escorted the oldest living member of the unit into the Montgomery, Alabama, city hall for the program where those gathered gave Catherine several standing ovations. “I never thought anything like this would happen to me,” she said.
Catherine enlisted in the army in 1943 after her five brothers joined the service. When the war was over, she worked 30 years in New York City in the fashion industry.
She retired to Montgomery, AL where she took up martial arts and earned a black belt in her late 70s, then cut short her retirement to work at a local grocery store until last year. She retired again at age 101.
Earlier this month, 98-year-old Ana Mae Robertson received a placeholder Congressional Gold Medal and standing ovations in Milwaukee, Wisconsin for her service in the 6888th.
Ana Mae was 19-years old in 1943 when her mother died, prompting her and her brother to volunteer for the army.
Anna Mae Robertson wearing a medal symbolic for the Congressional Gold Medal, July 1, 2022, photo courtesy Milwaukee Journal
Ana Mae's daughter Denise Muhammad, who attended the award ceremony told reporters her mother was a great influence on her seven daughters.
“A lot of the things that she used to tell us when we were younger really helped us…to be progressive in our thinking as women," Denise said. "We didn’t need a woman’s movement. Our mother was the movement.”
The 6888th is commonly referred to as an all-black battalion, but the group included a handful of Latina women, including Cresencia Garcia who is mixed race. Before the war, she'd left home in Puerto Rica to seek opportunity in New York.
“[I] was not considered white or Black,” Cresencia said in an American Veteran's project interview.“I said to myself, What the hell am I? When I had to write my color, I just wrote ‘Puerto Rican.’”
Cresencia studied nursing at Lincoln Hospital in the Bronx and decided to volunteer for the army when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. She wasn't expecting to join a segregated unit of the Women’s Army Corps nor be sent to the South for training.
“It was disgraceful," 102-year-old Cresencia said. "I had to get up and give my seat to the whites, and the Blacks didn’t like me because I was not as black as
they were. So I kept to myself.
Cresencia Garcia, July 13, 2022, photo courtesy YouTube/CBS Philly
Because she was light-skinned, she was given an opportunity to get training as an Army medic, and though she went to England with the #6888th, when her medical skills were discovered, she was assigned to the 6810th Hospital Center, about an hour northwest of Birmingham. There she worked in a burn unit treating soldiers of
While serving in England Cresencia was pleased to find the British treated her better than many of her fellow Americans. She'd always been proud of her wartime service to her country but being awarded the gold medal is welcome validation.
“It never occurred to me that it would happen,” said 100-year-old Fannie Griffin McClendon another living heroine off the 6888th shown in the photo below.
I've written twice before about Fannie McClendon, most recently last October when she became one of only 51% of residents in her home state of Arizona to be fully vaccinated.
Fannie made a career in the armed forces. After the Women's Army Corps, she later served in the US Air Force until she retired in 1971. She made armed forces history as the first women to command an all-male squadron in the US Strategic Air Command.
Lena King was 18 years old when she was assigned to the 6888th. She'd enlisted after a childhood friend was killed in battle because she wanted to contribute to the war effort. It was a bit of a shock when the battalion arrived in Birmingham and saw the job waiting for them.
"[We saw] just piles and big sacks of unopened mail.... Some had been, you know, sort of gnawed by rats and so forth.” There were in fact, six airplane hangars stacked to the top with mail. Lena and the other women processed 17,000 letters and packages, a six-month job finished in three months.
“Although we didn’t have guns, (it) was a moral victory," 99-year-old Lena King told Al Roker on NBC Today after Congress approved medals for the 6888th. "I think our motivation was to feel that we were making a contribution. We wanted to show proof that we loved
our country, even if they didn’t love us back all the time.
All the women of the 6888th, living and dead, will be honored by the Congressional Gold Medal, as they are at a memorial at Fort Leavenworth dedicated in 2018.
US Army photo
Five women from the battalion were able to attend the dedication ceremony, Anna Mae Robertson, Maybeel Campbell, Elizabeth Johnson, Lena King and Deloris Rud.
I am surviving the oppressive heat in Spokane this week and I hope you are doing okay where you are. It's 92 degrees at my computer as I write this, 102 outside, but it is supposed to cool off in a few days.
Luckily, it was not so hot mid-July when I preformed aerial silks at a local outdoor event. But it was windy! A learning experience for me. You can see a short snippet here...
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