Working to honor the Six Triple Eight

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Col. Edna Cummings and other “Six Triple Eight,” advocates are waiting for Congress to pass legislation to honor the 6888 Central Postal Battalion, an all African American group of women who were integral to communication during WWII. (Courtesy Photo)

By Deborah Bailey
Special to the AFRO

Col. (Ret.) Edna Cummings knows one of the secrets of the US. Army’s World War II Victory.  

Cummings, who now lives in the DMV, has documented and advocated for the 855 African American women, organized in a special unit, the 6888 Central Postal Directory Battalion, also known as the “Six Triple Eight.” These women fought both racial and gender discrimination as they cleared thousands of stock piled mail in Europe, ensuring the troops fighting overseas kept in touch with loved ones waiting in the United States.

“They worked in austere, rodent-infested, cold warehouses with windows blacked out to prevent Nazi detection,” said Cummings, who recently shared the 6888 story with the AFRO’s Facebook Live show, Chicken Boxx.

The all African-American female unit was part of the Army’s historic Women’s Army Corps; and among the first women to serve in the United States Military. The “Six Triple Eight” unit was sent to Europe in 1945 and traveled to Birmingham England, Normandy and Paris, France, in service to U.S. troops, non-military government personnel and Red Cross workers stationed abroad. At their arrival, the mail was backlogged for two years and the women defied all expectations and completed their first assignment in three months.  The women returned to New Jersey’s Fort Dix in 1946 without any recognition for their role or service in the U.S. Military.

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Now Cummings is on a quest to correct the U.S.’s oversight.

“I am now working with Congress to obtain the Six Triple Eight the nation’s highest award, a Congressional Gold Medal.” Cummings said.

Cummings stated that the issue is urgent and the United States has an opportunity to recognize these women who faced threats not only from Nazi forces, but their own peers in the military.  There are seven women from the “Six Triple Eight” unit who are still alive, with two reported in poor health.

The “Six Triple Eight” Congressional Gold Medal Act was first proposed by Senator Jerry Moran (R-Kan.) in 2020 and passed the US Senate by unanimous consent that year.  Moran re-introduced the legislation in 2021 and it again passed the Senate in April of this year.  The legislation is now waiting for action by the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Financial Services said a spokesman for Moran’s office.    

“The women of the Six Triple Eight deserve to have a special place in history for their service to our country,” said Sen. Moran in a statement issued from his office about the legislation.

“It has been an honor to meet members of the battalion and lead this effort to award them the Congressional Gold Medal. I appreciate the Senate passing this legislation and will work tirelessly to advance it in the U.S. House of Representatives,” Moran added.  

Rep. Gwen Moore (D-Wis.) serves as principal sponsor of the legislation in the House of Representatives where the bill awaits passage.

“As has so often been the case in American history, the unit of more than 850 African American women faced incredible odds, sexism and racism, as they were finally deployed overseas to clear up an enormous backlog of undelivered mail to American soldiers fighting in Europe,” Moore stated.

“When they returned home, their hard work and selfless service was not recognized,” Moore added.

Moore said she anticipates the bill will move forward after the current infrastructure legislation has passed Congress.

In recent years, momentum for the once overlooked Black women to be recognized has grown. A monument honoring the “Six Triple Eight” battalion was dedicated at Fort Leavenworth Kansas in 2018. A Documentary titled “The Six Triple Eight: No Mail- Low Morale” was issued by Lincoln Penny Films and produced by Cummings in 2019.  The “Six-Triple Eight” unit has been honored in state ceremonies, but national recognition has eluded the African American female troops.    

Congressman Moore, whose Wisconsin constituent, Anna Mae Robinson, also served in the “Six Triple Eight” battalion said the Congressional Gold Medal is the ultimate deed of recognition that the African American women who were responsible for an act that lifted the morale of troops across Europe during WWII deserve.

“As a country we can correct this wrong, ensure their story of sacrifice is told and give these women the honor they earned by awarding a Congressional Gold Medal to these heroes,” Moore concluded.

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