|Monday, November 19, 2012 10:56 AM|
The Museum of Postal History and I lost a good friend during the last week. Having served his country proudly in the US Navy, it was only fitting that he be buried on Monday – the National Holiday for Veterans. There wasn’t a dry eye when the military honors and the playing of Taps concluded. We’ll miss you, Jimmy Wilcox. You were right, cooks do rule the world and everyone who ever enjoyed hors d’oeuvres or a meal at this museum had you to thank for it.
Following the funeral, I was asked about the delivery of mail during World War II. The person wanted to know if there was five day or six day delivery during the war. I am still researching the answer so I must beg off and talk about something related. In an article that was written in the Army and Navy Journal of December 7 1942, then Postmaster General Frank C. Walker stated very clearly the importance of the mail in the war effort. “It is almost impossible to over-stress the importance of this mail. It is so essential to morale that army and navy officers of the highest rank list mail almost on a level with munitions and food.”
I remember waiting for letters from my father during my time in the military. Dad was the creative writer in the family so I never knew what to expect. He was an amateur cartoonist and sometimes the outside of the envelope was more interesting than its contents; although I did enjoy Russell Baker’s column from the NY Times. But I digress.
The real story today is about a group of unsung heroes from World War II. An article about these heroes was first published in the January/February 2012 issue of The American Postal Worker Magazine. The article was about the 6888th Central Postal Battalion of the Women’s Army Corps. Women had served as civilian aids during every war fought by Americans prior to World War II. Because of the shortage of manpower, Congress made an unprecedented move by allowing the Army, Navy and Coast Guards to recruit and enlist women in military roles other than as nurses (3 cent issued Sept 11, 1952). One more interesting fact about this group of WACs is that they were a battalion of officers and enlisted personnel who were African-American. Segregation was permitted in the military and many even questioned the right of these women to serve their country but through the efforts of Eleanor Roosevelt (5 cent issued October 11, 1963) and Mary McCleod Bethune (22 cent issued March 5, 1985) these women were asked to serve.
After the rapid deployment across Europe following the invasion of Normandy, the delivery system was overloaded with undeliverable mail. Some of the mail was over a year old and just sat in airplane hangars in Great Britain. It was estimated that over 7 million letters had not reached their destination and this, according to the military leaders, was having a significant effect on morale. After two grueling and treacherous weeks at sea, the 855 members of the 6888th Battalion arrived overseas to tackle this monumental task.
“Some people didn’t understand about addressing letters, so they would just write a letter to their son or husband addressed ‘To Junior, U.S. Army,’ or ‘To Sam, Army,’” noted Mary Crawford Ragland. “It was our job to figure out who those soldiers were and get them their mail.” They were given six months to complete the task even as troops continued to move at a rapid pace and the task became more challenging. By working around the clock with three shifts, seven days a week, the job was completed in just three months. They were able to clear 65,000 pieces of mail during each work session.
Following completion of this assignment, the battalion was deployed to Paris to ensure that the mail continued to find its home with the front lines of our troops. As one of these soldiers noted, “When we came back, though, there were no parades, there were no speeches, [and] there was no recognition. They gave us our papers discharging us and sent us on our way.”
Sixty-four years after the completion of World War II in a ceremony at Arlington Cemetery, the 6888th Postal Battalion was recognized for their service just as the Tuskegee Airmen and the Buffalo Soldiers had been recognized previously. These soldiers should stand proudly for serving a grateful nation.