The Six Triple Eight’s Eternal Homes: A Legacy Created for Black Women Veterans
Several of the 855 women from the historic WWII all black 6888th Central Postal Directory Battalion (Six Triple Eight) are laid to rest in some of the world’s most visited landmarks. Three are buried at Normandy American Cemetery and fourteen have a final resting place among the nation’s notables at Arlington National Cemetery.
The Legacy Begins
Under the leadership of 26 year-old Major Charity Adams, an all-black Women’s Army Corps (WAC) unit The Six Triple Eight, arrived in Birmingham, England in February 1945. The Army tasked them to fulfil an arduous, no-fail mission. Other military units had attempted to restore troop morale and complete the approximately two-year massive backlog of undelivered mail and packages stacked to the ceilings in rat infested and dirty warehouses in Europe. In just three months, well under the six-month goal, they processed for delivery over 17 million pieces of mail in Birmingham. In May 1945, they relocated to Rouen and Paris, France and cleared those mail backlogs. By war’s end, the Six Triple Eight far exceeded the U.S. Army’s expectations of clearing the mail backlog. In March 1946, Six Triple Eight returned home unheralded and without recognition for their achievements.
In December 1945, after almost four years in the Army, Adams was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel, the highest possible promotion for any woman in the WAC. This promotion placed her directly under the supervision of WAC Director Colonel Oveta Culp Hobby. At the end of WWII, Adams was also the highest-ranking black female in the WAC. When discharged from the Army in March 1946, The National Council of Negro Women Inc., presented her with a scroll of honor for distinguished service to the military. Adams died on January 13, 2002 at the age of 83 and was laid to rest in Woodland Cemetery and Arboretum in Dayton, OH. In her book, One Woman’s Army she stated, I was the one Negro WAC who made it.”
Arlington National Cemetery
Until now, the three Six Triple Eight soldiers (Mary Barlow, Mary Bankston, and Delores Browne) appeared to be the only women from this groundbreaking unit of black women interred at an international landmark. While stationed in Rouen, France in July 1945, they died in a Jeep accident and are buried at the historic Normandy American Cemetery. Only four women’s graves are among the 9,386 at Normandy, and three are from the Six Triple Eight. Researchers uncovered that 14 veterans claimed their eternal homes at one of our nation’s most revered locations, Arlington National Cemetery.
Gatha Louise Amos enlisted in the U.S. Army from Illinois. After serving in Europe, she remained in the Army throughout the Korean and Vietnam wars. According to a February 14, 1970, article in the Afro Newspaper, Amos was the only licensed mortician in the WACs. There is no evidence that she was involved in the burial preparations of the three women at Normandy. However, that experience could have inspired her to pursue mortuary affairs as career field. Amos retired with the rank of Sergeant First Class and died on November 8, 1996; Gravesite: Section 67, Grave 1603.
Catherine Louise Bowie from Texas was one of several Six Triple Eight women who served in three of America’s wars during World War II, Korea, and Vietnam. She passed away on October 6, 2010. Gravesite: Section 54, Grave 1432.
Allie Harshaw had a remarkable military career that spanned 30 years from 1943 to 1973. Her biography does not mention the 6888th, however her name is on the 6888th roster of women. After her wartime service in Europe, she joined the Air Force where she became the first black female Master Sergeant to retire with 30 years of service. Her career spanned three American wars: World War II, Korea, and Vietnam. Harshaw passed away on November 28, 2013. Gravesite: Section 64, Grave 5494.
Margaret Ellen Barnes Jones, highest rank was major. She was responsible for a unit of African American women assigned to clean floors and latrines in the Camp Breckinridge, KY hospital. Afterwards, she lobbied for better work assignments for the women under her command. A graduate of Howard University, Jones died on April 14, 2000. Gravesite: Court 6, Section N1, Column 14, Niche 3. Her husband retired Major Everett L. Jones died in 2004 and was buried with her.
Annie Beatrice Knight Jordan ,a Georgia native, lived in Washington, D.C. after WWII. In 2019, a family member contacted Six Triple Eight researchers and advised them that she was a member of the 6888th. She attended Howard University was a member of the Sigma Gamma Rho Sorority Inc. Jordan is pictured in the iconic 1946 Staten Island photo when the Six Triple Eight returned from Europe (highlighted upper left). She died on January 13, 2010. Gravesite: Section 3, Grave 4353-B
Mary Crawford Ragland was raised in Wilmington, DE, and enlisted in the Army right out of high school. She decided to join the Army after seeing a recruiting advertisement in the newspaper that offered black women a chance to go overseas. Ragland recalled her service, “We represented our country, our organization and ourselves. We were so proud.” Ragland died on July 30, 2010. Gravesite: Court 7, Section PP, Column 2, Niche 5.
Major Blanche L. Scott or “Scottie” of Boydton, VA, worked as a nurse’s assistant at St. Elizabeth’s Hospital in the 1930s and enlisted in the Women’s Army Corps in 1942. After completing Officer Candidate School, she served as battalion personnel officer with the Six Triple Eight. She remained in WACs after the war and served in the Public Affairs office at the Pentagon under then-Colonel Benjamin O. Davis, Jr. “Scottie” passed away on February 26, 2007. Gravesite: Section 64, Grave 2962.
The remaining Six Triple Eight women interred at Arlington National Cemetery are:
Hortense Pollard Cole: Court 7, Section NN, Column 19, Niche 1, Lila Virginia Burt Dale in Section 68, Grave 1308, Margaret Y. Jackson: Court 8, Section PP, Column 23, Niche 1, Ardella C. Pitts: Section 59, Grave 1762;Bessie Lee Robinson: Section 43, Grave 887, Willia G. Knighton: Section 64, Grave 6306 and Mary Louise Peterson: Section 66, Grave 1657.
Other Final Resting Places
Thanks to the efforts of Vietnam veteran, Marsha “Cricket’ Holder we have now insights into the final resting places of 456 Six Triple Eight veterans in the All Black WAC 6888th Postal Directory Battalion: a Virtual Cemetery.
The 6888th Virtual Cemetery also shows clusters of women who are buried together — either by circumstance or by choice. Due to southern Jim Crow Laws laws, many Six Triple Eight women left the south and joined the Army from New York and died there. We know of 20 gravesites at Calverton National Cemetery and 11 gravesites at Long Island National Cemetery, both in New York. Riverside National Cemetery in California is the final resting place for 13 of these unsung “sheroes” and Quantico National Cemetery in Virginia has eight gravesites.
The Legacy Continues
More than seven decades later, several federal, state, and local organizations have honored these pioneers. After several years of planning and fundraising in November 2018, a monument to the 6888th Central Postal Directory Battalion was dedicated at Buffalo Soldier Park, Fort Leavenworth, KS. The family of Six Triple Eight veteran Vashti Murphy, daughter of Afro newspaper publisher, Carl H. Murphy Jr. attended this dedication AFRO’s Murphy-Matthews Among Those Honored For WWII Service | Afro.
In February and June 2019, and again in February 2021 Congress introduced legislation to honor the women 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 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 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 needs 290 cosponsors to pass and currently has more than 200 House members in support of the legislation. The goal is for the bill to pass the House by Veterans Day 2021.
In April 2019 The Six Triple Eight documentary by Lincoln Penny Films premiered at the Military Women’s Museum. During the film’s premiere, then Lieutenant General Nadja West presented the Six Triple Eight their only unit award for performance, the Meritorious Unit Commendation.
More than seven decades after WWII, the Six Triple Eight’s roles as civil rights champions in the military and beyond have reached millions of audiences worldwide. National WWII Museum February 2021 article highlights some of their lives and contributions post WWII. Their unrelenting efforts contributed to our Allied Victory in Europe, and as private citizens they helped their communities. Like our military personnel today, the Six Triple Eight also fought racial and gender barriers to serve, and this fight continues. Related link Race in the Ranks: Investigating racial bias in the U.S. military .
Army Major General (Ret.) Mari K. Eder highlighted Adams in her book, The Girls Who Stepped Out of Line: Untold Stories of the Women Who Changed the Course of World War II. When Eder learned of the 6888th women buried at Arlington, she commented, “I knew that Lt. Col. Charity Adams Earley wasn’t buried in Arlington. She is with family in her hometown of Dayton, Ohio. What I didn’t know is that there are 14 members of Adams’ groundbreaking unit buried in Arlington. I haven’t been to visit these pioneering women yet, but I will.”
Seven women are known to be alive from this trailblazing WWII unit, ranging in ages from 98 to 102. On September 22, retired Air Force Major Fannie McClendon, Tempe Arizona celebrates her 101st birthday.
I am personally grateful that the these black women and many others fought for social justice within the military and beyond. They achieved dignity and equality at their final resting places.
Follow the author: Twitter @SixTripleEight FB: @6888thgold IG @6888WW2
Author’s note: See my review of the The Girls Who Stepped Out of Line: Untold Stories of the Women Who Changed the Course of World War II.
James Theres, Executive Producer, The Six Triple Eight documentary contributed to this article.