A 6888th Veteran’s Journey Told Through Keepsakes: Indiana Hunt-Martin
Ms. Indiana Hunt-Martin was a member of the historic 855 member 6888th Central Postal Directory Battalion (Six Triple Eight), the only African American Women’s Army Corps (WAC) unit to serve in abroad during WWII. While stationed in Europe, they succeeded where others failed. No other military unit was able to accomplish the mission of clearing the massive mail backlog in war torn Europe. The Six Triple Eight’s efforts improved troop morale by restoring vital communications between the families and loved ones in the US and abroad.
Their perseverance and performance in a military segregated by race and gender contributed to the Allied Victory in Europe on May 8, 1945. Seven decades later, they are finally getting their long overdue recognition.
September 21, 2021 marks the one-year anniversary of Six Triple Eight veteran’s Indiana Hunt-Martin’s passing. Born in Lyons, Georgia on May 21, 1922, she grew up in Niagara Falls, NY, and graduated from Niagara Falls, Senior High School on June 25, 1940.
Her daughter Janice Martin invited me to comb through Hunt-Martin’s memorabilia to assess which items may have historical significance. While filming the 2019 Lincoln Penny Films Six Triple Eight documentary, Hunt-Martin’s interview mentioned “junk” that she received from German soldiers. Instinctively, I knew that she had many keepsakes that revealed information about her duties in Europe and much more. This article is a pictorial synopsis of her military service and beyond told through her keepsakes.
Prior to joining the Women’s Army Corps (WACs), Hunt-Martin cleaned restrooms at a Niagara Falls, NY building that hosted the Manhattan Project. On October 6, 1942, she signed an Oath with Lake Ontario Ordnance Works, Youngstown, OH, to affirm that she was not a member of an organization to overthrow the government and to not to divulge trade secrets. She also signed a Notice of Appointment. Her job — cleaning restrooms in that facility for fifty cents an hour.
Approximately two years later, in October 1944, Hunt-Martin and a few other women from NY received orders to report to Grand Central Palace for active duty with the WACs. Her follow-on assignment would be Ft. Des Moines, IA. Notice the name Ruth James. More about her later.
After basic military training at Fort Des Moines, IA, Hunt-Martin and the other WACs traveled by train to Fort Oglethorpe, GA, for two weeks of overseas training. Their ultimate mission and location was unknown. Hunt-Martin recalled that that once the train arrived in Washington, DC, the Black women had to move to the back of the train because of Jim Crow segregation laws. She mentioned that a few of the ladies got into trouble because they refused to move, and a white soldier on the train was told to move to the front of the train. After completing overseas training, the women returned to NY for departure to Europe.
On February 3, 1945, the Six Triple Eight departed Camp Shanks, NY on the Ile de France for their journey to Europe, dodging German U-boats as they crossed the Atlantic. A German buzz bomb exploded when they landed in Glasgow, Scotland on February 12, causing some of the women to seek cover. On February 15, the Six Triple Eight formed in front of their quarters at the King Edwards School for Boys, Birmingham, England, for an inspection by the European Theater of Operations Communications Zone Commander, Lieutenant General John Lee. Hunt-Martin is in the iconic inspection photo.
Hunt-Martin recalls long hours working to clear the rat-infested mail piled in cold, dark, and dirty aircraft hangars. She was also careful to avoid the trenches around the premises. These trenches doubled as cover in case of an attack, and as outdoor latrines. By working three shifts daily, the Six Triple Eight processed approximately 65,000 pieces of mail per shift. The Army thought it would take six months to clear the mail backlog in Birmingham. But in three months, the Six Triple Eight broke records and cleared the backlog. They used locator cards, and sometimes a little detective work by opening the mail to find the right soldier and his location. Many letters were simply addressed to “Buster” or “Junior.” The Six Triple Eight routed approximately 17 million pieces of backlog mail in Birmingham, England. Hunt-Martin’s locator card pictured.
While not working, she visited London and sent the occasional post card home to her mother in NY.
Hunt-Martin recalled enjoying the time in Birmingham, England and felt welcomed by the locals. Among many attractions, she visited the Gaumont Theatre and the University Overseas Club.
After completing their assignment in Birmingham England, the Six Triple Eight relocated to Rouen, France in May 1945. The male soldiers were excited to see this unit of Black women. The commander, Major Charity Adams ensured that women assigned as military police learned jujitsu, a form of martial arts to protect themselves against curious onlookers. Pictured below is Ruth James in Rouen, France, May 1945 at an open house hosted by the 6888th. James was also from New York and was Hunt Martin’s friend. James signed Hunt Martin’s diary.
While in Rouen, France, the Six Triple Eight continued to clear the mail backlog. Hunt-Martin visited the city and collected souvenirs. On May 27, 1945, she marched in the historic Joan of Arc Parade. While stationed in Rouen, three women were killed in a vehicle accident. The Commander of the unit, 26 year-old Major Charity Adams collected money to bury the women in Normandy American Cemetery. Only three women are buried in Normandy, three are from the Six Triple Eight.
The August 1945 edition of the WAC newsletter, Special Delivery, hails the Six Triple Eight as one of the best and most efficient unit in the Women’s Army Corps. After Rouen France, the unit later relocated to Paris and continued to reduce the mail backlog. With the war in the Pacific ending, many of the Six Triple Eight returned to the U.S.
In November 1945, Hunt-Martin returned to the U.S.. and was honorably discharged. In late February 1946, the last of the Six Triple Eight returned to the U.S., and the unit was disbanded in March 1946.
After her military service, Hunt-Martin worked for the NY State Department of Labor and retired from the Buffalo, NY office in 1987 with 41 years of service. She was a lifetime member of the Black Pioneers of Niagara Falls, the Women’s American legion Lodge, and AMVETS.
Hunt-Martin never thought much about her legacy and the impact that she made in the military. In 2014, almost seven decades after the end of WWII, Hunt-Martin received her service medals from Congressman Brian Higgins. In 2021, Higgins introduced legislation to rename the Buffalo, NY Post Office in her honor. Also in 2021, the nation’s highest civilian honor, the Six Triple Eight Congressional Gold Medal passed the Senate and awaits action in the House of Representatives.
To Hunt-Martin and the Six Triple Eight, thank you for blazing a trail for future generations — and me.