MONTGOMERY, Ala. — Millions of letters and packages despatched to U.S. troops had gathered in warehouses in Europe by the point Allied troops have been pushing towards the center of Hitler’s Germany close to the tip of World War II. This wasn’t spam — it was the principle hyperlink between dwelling and the entrance in a time lengthy earlier than video chats, texting and even routine long-distance telephone calls.
The job of clearing out the large backlog in a army that was nonetheless segregated by race fell upon the biggest all-Black, all-female group to serve within the conflict, the 6888th Central Postal Directory Battalion. On Tuesday, the oldest dwelling member of the unit is being honored.
Romay Davis, 102, might be acknowledged for her service at an occasion at Montgomery City Hall. It follows President Joe Biden’s choice in March to signal a invoice authorizing the Congressional Gold Medal for the unit, nicknamed the “Six Triple Eight.”
Davis, in an interview at her dwelling Monday, stated the unit was due the popularity, and she or he’s glad to take part on behalf of different members who’ve already handed away.
“I believe it’s an thrilling occasion, and it’s one thing for households to recollect,” Davis stated. “It isn’t mine, simply mine. No. It’s everyone’s.”
The medals themselves received’t be prepared for months, however leaders determined to go forward with occasions for Davis and 5 different surviving members of the 6888th given their superior age.
Following her 5 brothers, Davis enlisted within the Army in 1943. After the conflict the Virginia native married, had a 30-year profession within the trend trade in New York and retired to Alabama. She earned a martial arts black belt whereas in her late 70s and rejoined the workforce to work at a grocery retailer in Montgomery for greater than 20 years till she was 101.
While smaller teams of African American nurses served in Africa, Australia and England, none matched the dimensions or may of the 6888th, in accordance with a unit historical past compiled by the Pentagon.
Davis’ unit was a part of the Women’s Army Corps created by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1943. With racial separation the apply of the time, the corps added African American models the next yr on the urging of First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt and civil rights chief Mary McLeod Bethune, in accordance with the unit historical past.
More than 800 Black girls shaped the 6888th, which started crusing for England in February 1945. Once there, they have been confronted not solely by mountains of undelivered mail however by racism and sexism. They have been denied entry into an American Red Cross membership and lodges, in accordance with the historical past, and a senior officer was threatened with being changed by a white first lieutenant when some unit members missed an inspection.
“Over my lifeless physique, Sir,” replied the unit commander, Maj. Charity Adams. She wasn’t changed.
Working below the motto of “No Mail, Low Morale,” the ladies served 24/7 in shifts and developed a brand new monitoring system that processed about 65,000 gadgets every shift, permitting them to clear a six-month backlog of mail in simply three months.
“We all needed to be damaged in, so to talk, to do what needed to be accomplished,” stated Davis, who primarily labored as a motor pool driver. “The mail scenario was in such horrid form they didn’t assume the women might do it. But they proved some extent.”
A month after the tip of the conflict in Europe, in June 1945, the group sailed to France to start engaged on further piles of mail there. Receiving higher remedy from the liberated French than they might have below racist Jim Crow regimes at dwelling, members have been feted throughout a victory parade in Rouen and invited into personal houses for dinner, stated Davis.
“I didn’t discover any Europeans towards us. They have been glad to have us,” she stated.
The 6888th beforehand was honored with a monument that was devoted in 2018 at Buffalo Soldier Military Park at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. But instantly after the conflict, members returned dwelling to a U.S. society that was nonetheless years away from the beginning of the fashionable civil rights motion with the Montgomery Bus Boycott in 1955.
U.S. Sen. Jerry Moran of Kansas helped shepherd the invoice to current the Congressional Gold Medal to the members of the unit.
“Though the percentages have been set towards them, the ladies of the Six Triple Eight processed thousands and thousands of letters and packages throughout their deployment in Europe, serving to join WWII troopers with their family members again dwelling, like my father and mom,” Moran stated in an announcement earlier this yr.
Reeves is a member of AP’s Race and Ethnicity Team.