Overlooked WWII Veterans: Hispanic Women of The 6888th Postal Battalion
As a response to the nation’s call to arms for WWII, thousands of women from all ethnic backgrounds joined the U.S. Armed Forces. Jim Crow segregation laws and institutionalized gender inequality normalized the military’s behavior towards women and minorities who served. President Truman’s 1948 order to desegregate the Armed Forces and the Armed Services Integration Act were the first steps to remove race and gender discrimination within the ranks. However, as WWII historical narratives unfolded, the roles of many diverse populations, including Hispanic women and their contributions to our nation’s defense are overlooked.
During WWII, Hispanic women served in all branches of the military as linguists, nurses, and in the Red Cross as aides. These women broke through both gender and cultural barriers to serve their country. In November 1944, The Afro-American Newspaper reported that 100 Puerto Ricans of the Women’s Army Corps trained at Fort Oglethorpe, Georgia for (WAC) training. Fort Oglethorpe was also the overseas training location for a group of WACs later known as the as the 6888th Central Postal Directory Battalion (Six Triple Eight).
The Six Triple Eight
The 855-member Six Triple Eight was a segregated and self-sustaining WAC unit consisting entirely of African Americans. Led by a 26-year-old Major Charity Adams, the Army sent the Six Triple Eight to Europe to clear a massive mail backlog that was impacting troop morale. Other military units had attempted but failed to clear the two-year massive backlog of mail and packages stacked to the ceilings in rat infested and dirty warehouses in Europe. In just three months, well under the Army’s six-month goal, the Six Triple Eight processed for delivery approximately 17 million pieces of mail in Birmingham, England alone. In May 1945, they relocated to Rouen and Paris, France, and cleared those mail backlogs. In March 1946, Six Triple Eight returned home unheralded and without recognition for their achievements. By war’s end, the Six Triple Eight was the largest and only African American WAC unit to serve overseas.
Military rosters cite the names and cities from throughout the US where the Six Triple Eight enlisted in the Army, but there is no mention of the unit’s cultural and ethnic diversity. Looking at the various skin tones of the women in the archival photographs, and reviewing the surnames in the troop roster, I surmised that there were probably biracial women in the unit who identified as Negro for various reasons. A plausible explanation for the ethnic identification as Negro could be attributed to the “One Drop Rule.” This rule stated that that a person with any trace of Black African ancestry (however small or invisible) cannot be considered white.
After speaking with Six Triple Eight family members, we now know about two women in the Six Triple Eight who also identified as Hispanic or Afro-Latina.
Lydia Esther Thornton
While filming the 2019 Six Triple Eight documentary, Lydia Thornton’s daughters, Alva Moore Stevenson and Rosenda Moore provided insights about why their mother, an Afro-Mexican woman opted to join a segregated WAC unit. The Thorntons were one of several Afro-Mexican families in Nogales, Arizona. Within their community, many African American servicemen were assigned to the 9th and 10th Calvary at nearby Camp Stephen D. Little and later Fort Huachuca, Arizona. Several of these men married Mexican women. Although he was not in the military, Lydia’s father also fell in love and married a Mexican woman.
Lydia was born on February 19, 1922 in Nogales, Arizona to Daniel and Trancito Perez de Ruiz Thornton and was the third eldest daughter of 10 children. Her father, Daniel Thornton was an African American who worked as postal carrier for the U.S. Postal Service and later as a caretaker of the Nogales City Cemetery. Trancito, her mother, was a housewife and became a minister in the El Mesias Methodist Church in Nogales.
Lydia attended the segregated Grand Avenue/Frank Reed School and Nogales High School.
Her brother, Corporal Daniel Thornton, was assigned to the 25th Infantry in WWII. Sometime between 1942–43, he received a bayonet injury in the Battle of Guadalcanal, returned home, and died in 1946. On April 18, 1943, at the age of 19, and as a response to her brother’s injury, Lydia enlisted in the Army from Phoenix, Arizona. As a native Spanish speaker and perhaps due to her skin tone, the Army gave her the choice to join either the White or Black WAC unit. Rather than have the privileges and freedom of working with the White WACs, she chose the Black unit that would be later known as the Six Triple Eight.
After the war, Lydia followed her best friend from Nogales, Carmen Ochoa Patton, to Los Angeles, California. While in California, Lydia met her husband Alfred Scott Moore while they worked nights at the Department of Water and Power. They had three children: Alva Phoebe, Alfred Scott II (deceased in 1975), and Rosenda Elizabeth. Moore enlisted in the Air Force and served in the Korean War as a radio operator. Racial quotas prevented him from applying to be a pilot. After his military service Moore became a Los Angeles educator and community activist.
While in her 50s, Lydia returned to school, for a bilingual teaching credential from Immaculate Heart College. She taught in both public and parochial schools before retiring and was a poll worker during the elections. In 1984, Lydia was a member of the volunteer security team for the 1984 Olympic boxing team. Her translation skills were particularly valuable for the Spanish-speaking athletes. Also impactful was her role within community as a volunteer social worker. She assisted Latinas and Afro-Latinas to understand and apply for U.S. citizenship, and acquire life skills such as driving, accessing social services, or returning to school.
Lydia died on May 2, 2011 at the age of 89. She is buried at Inglewood Park Cemetery, Inglewood, California.
Crescencia Garcia, age 101, enlistment records reveal that she joined the Army in May 1944. Her race, Puerto Rican. In the February 24,1945 Afro Newspaper article, 23 Officers in 738 Wacs to England as First All-Woman Army Postal Unit, Garcia’s name appears in the list of women from Bronx, NY.
As a common practice in the military, personnel are sometimes sent elsewhere to work or detailed away from their parent unit when they arrive at a duty station. When Garcia arrived in England, she was assigned to the 6810th Hospital Center, later designated as the 804th Hospital Center operating out of Whitchurch, Flints, United Kingdom. The 6810th Hospital Center was about an hour northwest of Birmingham, England where the Six Triple Eight was stationed. Garcia treated soldiers in the burn unit that also housed a neuro and plastic surgery center.
Garcia resides with a family member in Yonkers, NY. In 2020 she made headlines when she was released from the hospital after battling the COVID-19 virus.
More than seven decades after the end of WWII, volunteers and organizations have worked to honor the Six Triple Eight. In November 2018, a 6888th monument was dedicated at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas at Buffalo Soldier Park. The monument bears the names of Thornton and Garcia along with 839 members of the unit. In February 2019, the Army awarded the Six Triple Eight the Meritorious Unit Commendation, their only performance award. In March 2019 the Women’s Memorial at Arlington Cemetery premiered the Six Triple Eight documentary. In May 2019, the U.S. Ambassador to the United Kingdom, dedicated a Blue Plaque at the King Edward School in Birmingham, England where the Six Triple Eight was stationed during WWII.
In February and June 2019, and again in February 2021, Congress introduced legislation to honor the Six Triple Eight with the Congressional Gold Medal , our nation’s highest expression of appreciation for distinguished achievements. When passed, the award will secure the Six Triple Eight’s legacy alongside our nation’s other distinguished military units, organizations, and individuals. Other recipients of this honor include the Montford Point Marines, the Tuskegee Airmen, the Hidden Figures of NASA, and most recently, the Harlem Hellfighters.
In December 2020 and April 30, 2021, the bipartisan Senate Six Triple Eight Congressional Gold Medal bill, led by Senator Jerry Moran, R-KS, passed unanimously. Led by Congresswoman Gwen Moore (D-WI-4), The House of Representatives Bill, H.R. 1012 requires 290 cosponsors to pass and currently has more than 200 cosponsors. The goal is for the bill to pass the House by Veterans Day 2021.
Many organizations including have sent Letters of Support to Several organizations have sent Letters of Support to Representative Moore including AUSA, Bills Honoring 1st All-Black, All-Female Unit Gain Support | AUSA Military Officer’s Association of America Montford Point Marines, the Women’s Memorial and many others. In September 2021, the Congressional Hispanic Caucus released a statement of support for the Six Triple Eight Congressional Gold Medal.
Our team of volunteers, Six Triple Eight family members, and countess supporters worldwide look forward to the passage of the Six Triple Congressional Gold Medal. We honor the service of Thornton and Garcia who broke through racial barriers to serve. I encourage female veterans to share your military journey and register your service with the Women’s Memorial. Your military service matters.
Author’s Note: Special thanks to the Thornton and Garcia families for sharing their stories.
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