February is Black History Month—a time to reflect on the influence of African Americans in our history and celebrate their achievements and contributions to the fabric of our nation. We honor the sacrifices of such brave men and women who persevered through countless challenges and we celebrate these champions of equality for all Americans. One such trailblazer, Anna Mae Wilson Robertson, was a member of the historic 6888th Central Postal Directory Battalion.
Robertson was one of 16 women from Arkansas to serve in the “Six Triple Eight,” the first and only all-female, all-black battalion to be deployed overseas during World War II. The unit performed essential and meaningful duties during the conflict.
American troops serving abroad were desperate to hear from loved ones, but with soldiers continuously on the move and fighting on the frontlines, the chaos and uncertainty affected the postal system's ability to deliver mail.
To address the backlog, the War Department expanded the role of African American women in the war by allowing overseas postings. Deployment to Europe was considered an honor that white servicewomen already had. It took years of lobbying by civil rights activists and an overrun postal system before these women earned the same opportunity.
The Women's Army Corps launched the Six Triple Eight in November 1944 with 824 enlisted personnel and 31 officials. Two months later the women were on their way across the Atlantic Ocean to their assignment. The battalion's accommodations in Birmingham, England were grim. These soldiers found themselves working and sleeping in old schools with no heat and little light. Yet, the resolve of the Six Triple Eight did not waiver. Fueling them was their motto, "No Mail, Low Morale," which stemmed from the belief they were not only handling mail, but the very items that motivated and inspired troops to continue the fight.
The battalion's tireless determination to process the stockpile of mail was reflected in how quickly it accomplished the assignment. Working eight-hour shifts for seven days a week, the women completed their mission in half the time one military official predicted it would take, finishing in three months. The pioneering unit’s service continued in Rouen, France where it successfully cleared the backlog of mail again in three months.
In recent years, the women of the Six Triple Eight have begun to receive the attention and recognition they deserve for their service. After leaving the Army, Robertson called Wisconsin home and supported veterans as a nurse’s aide at the Milwaukee VA Center. The local news reported that Robertson had received her service medals in 2014. In November 2018, she was one of five surviving members of the battalion to participate in the dedication of a monument at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas recognizing the 6888th.
We should all be inspired by the courage, determination and willingness of Robertson and her fellow service members to serve a higher calling. That’s why last Congress I supported legislation to award the women of the Six Triple Eight the Congressional Gold Medal. I will continue to advocate that they receive this honor. Such recognition would be a fitting tribute to commemorate the legacy of these trailblazing Americans.