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The Unsung Story of the Six Triple Eight
The 6888th Central Postal Directory Battalion, also known as the Six Triple Eight, was the only all-Black female battalion to serve in Europe during World War II. In honor of Black History Month, Stand-To Veteran Leadership Program Scholar Dennis Miller tells the story of the Six Triple Eight and his grandmother, who served her country proudly as a part of this incredible group of women.
The 6888th Central Postal Directory Battalion, also known as the Six Triple Eight, was the only all-Black female battalion to serve in Europe during World War II.
In honor of Black History Month, Dennis Miller, 2021 Stand-To Veteran Leadership Program Scholar and Founder and President of the Greater Philadelphia Area Veterans Chamber of Commerce, tells the story of the Six Triple Eight and his grandmother, who served her country proudly as a part of this incredible group of women.
My grandmother is my role model. I have been working tirelessly to grow up to be like her my entire life. It wasn’t hard to be inspired by the tiny lady from 22nd Street; she broke barriers with an easy smile on her face and no fear in her heart. My grandmother’s name was Sylvia Benton, and she was a Titan among mere mortals, a true embodiment of citizenship.
Besides her primary role as matriarch of our family, she was a community leader, operated a small business, and was a proud, active member of the veteran community. She instilled discipline and pride into her children and their children. My grandmother was the kindest, most generous person I ever met. I joined the United States Marine Corps because she thought it was the right thing for me to do. I became an entrepreneur because I watched her run her laundromat in South Philadelphia with an iron fist. I launched the Greater Philadelphia Area Veteran Chamber of Commerce because she was a staunch advocate for veterans and their reintegration into civilian society. I am who I am because of her service to her family and her country.
In 1944, my grandmother enlisted in the Women’s Army Corps and was assigned to the legendary 6888th Central Postal Directory Battalion, the only all female, all Black battalion to serve in the combat zone. Her unit would come to be known as the Six Triple Eight and they were given the unenviable task of delivering millions of pieces of unprocessed mail that the Army could not get to the troops on the front lines.
According to an Adjutant General’s report, “Since D-Day, and for a long time prior to that date, a shortage of qualified postal officers has existed within the [European] theater. The Postal Division continually sought to secure additional officers by requisition from the Reinforcement System and from the Zone of the Interior.” There were reports that the lack of reliable mail delivery was hurting morale. The Army was not able to complete this mission so, they turned to the Six Triple Eight for help.
The soldiers of the 6888th were sent to Birmingham, England, where they redirected full warehouses of mail. The Army estimated a backlog of six months. They cleared it in three. Their performance impressed leadership so much that they were sent to Rouen, France, to try to repeat the mission. The mail there had swelled to a two-to-three-year buildup. It took the Six Triple Eight six months to clear the decks.
The Army has rarely seen a more efficient, circumspect unit, especially in a time of war. However, they were not recognized for the work they did in combat once they returned home. No one thanked them for their service or included them in their ticker tape parade. There are, however, a number of efforts being made today to rectify that situation, including a bill to award the Congressional Gold Medal to the Six Triple Eight. That legislation has made it to the floor of the House of Representatives and should be signed into law soon.
Sylvia Benton was a phenomenon. I am so very proud to be of her bloodline and to share the bond of military service with her. She spoke of the Six Triple Eight with such pride and passion. I wish she were here to tell the story because she would have done a far better job than I ever could.
As in everything, I have tried to do her proud in the telling of this tale. While she is no longer with us, her story lives on, and I have no problem sharing it with anyone who will listen. I encourage you to learn more about the Six Triple Eight; their story especially resonates now, during Black History Month and in March, when Women’s History is celebrated. Their service imparts lessons that are timeless, genderless and boundless. These women were trailblazers— pioneers in a time when no one wanted them to be. I hope to grow up to be something like the one I knew and respected and loved. Semper Fidelis.