• Monument honors all-black, all-female unit

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  • Katie Peterson | Staff Writer
    The first African-American women in the Women’s Army Corps. The first African-American women as commissioned officers. The first and only all African-American unit to be deployed overseas during World War II. These firsts can all be traced to the same unit, the 6888th Central Postal Directory Battalion, and it is because of these firsts that the battalion was the latest unit recognized in the Buffalo Soldier Commemorative Area. The official monument dedication ceremony was Nov. 30 at Frontier Chapel.
    “We take pride in our mission here at Fort Leavenworth of training the Army’s future leaders. However, we must also ensure that we remember the past and honor those who have paved the way for future generations of soldiers,” said Garrison Commander Col. Marne Sutten. “It is due to hard work and dedication that we are able to come together today to honor this very important unit and the women that have served their country.”
    The Buffalo Soldier Commemorative Area, off Grant Avenue, began with the dedication of the Buffalo Soldier Monument on July 25, 1992. In 1995, the area was expanded to include the Circle of Firsts and the Walkway of Units, near Smith Lake and the Buffalo Soldier Monument, to recognize the achievements of black soldiers and units.
    “Our Buffalo Soldier Commemorative Area is a constant reminder that due to the commitments and sacrifices of so many African-American soldiers, we have evolved into a diverse and inclusive Army that is the strongest in the world,” Sutten said.
    The 6888th, nicknamed the “Six Triple Eight,” joins fellow honorees Gen. Roscoe Robinson Jr.; the 555th Parachute Infantry Battalion; 2nd Lt. Henry Flipper; Brig. Gen. Benjamin Grierson; and Gen. Colin Powell.
    The monument was designed and created by Carthage Stoneworks, Kansas City, Mo., the primary granite contractors; Kaaz Construction, Leavenworth, Kan., which did the foundation and cement work; sculptor Eddie Dixon of Lubbock, Texas; and architect John Freshnock of Williams, Spurgeon, Kuhl, and Freshnock Architects, Kansas City, Mo.
    The graphic images and narratives were cut and etched by Coldspring Granite Company, Cold Spring, Minn., and the design and layout of the graphics was done by Young Sign Company, Leavenworth, Kan., and Alicia Plomino Creative Services, Las Vegas.
    The text includes the names of battalion members.
    “The goal was to make this monument unique enough that no one would have to look for it when they came into the park,” said Carlton Philpot, Buffalo Soldier Monument Committee chairman and project director.
    On top of the monument sits a 25-inch bronze bust of Lt. Col. Charity Adams, the battalion commander, who also had notable firsts including being the first African-American Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps commissioned officer.
    Page 2 of 3 - “My mother was always enormously proud of the Six Triple Eight,” said Adams’ son, Stanley Earley. “This monument is a statement of the responsibility, determination and honor, and it is a gift from the recent past addressed to the future.”
    The 6888th was established in November 1944 and consisted of 817, later 824, enlisted personnel and 31 officers of all African-American women from the WAC, the Army Service Forces and the Army Air Forces, according to the official Army website.
    The battalion’s mission was to sort millions of pieces of mail intended for service members serving in the war.
    “Let’s imagine what these women encountered when they arrived in Birmingham, England,” said Maj. Gen. Douglas Crissman, Mission Command Center of Excellence director, who served as the keynote speaker. “It is February 1945. English winter weather in February is not much different from Kansas, maybe a little less windy, but a lot more fog.
    “These ladies are shown to their office, which is a series of warehouses filled with millions of pieces of mail intended for American service members serving somewhere in the (European) theater,” Crissman said. “Picture airplane hangars literally full of undelivered Christmas packages with more mail coming in each day. There was no heat, so the women wore long johns and extra layers of clothing under their uniforms. There was poor lighting since the windows had been blacked out to prevent lighting showing through during nighttime air raids. Rats sought out packages of spoiled cakes and cookies. There were 7 million troops in theater at the time and most were constantly on the move as the allies continued their drive across Europe. Mail delivery was difficult at best.”
    To properly sort the parcels, the soldiers organized themselves into three separate eight-hour shifts so that work could continue around the clock. They kept track of the more than 7 million service members with cards, which included their name, their unit and their likely location, Crissman said.
    The women also had to sort mail determined to be “undeliverable” by investigating insufficiently addressed mail for clues, including some simply addressed to “Junior” and “U.S. Army,” and returning mail addressed to service members who had been killed in action.
    “There were no automated databases, no barcode scanning, no Googling to find the right Zip code,” Crissman said. “There was only the hard work, ingenuity, grit and diligence of the 6888th. They were given six months to get it all sorted out. They did it in three.
    “The unit broke all sorts of records in sorting, repackaging and redistributing letters and parcels,” Crissman said. “Before the Six Triple Eight arrived, the monthly average for parcels sorted was 624,000. These women averaged more than 5 million letters and parcels per month in the 90 days they served in England. That can-do spirit would remain a hallmark of the unit and carry them through a second seemingly impossible task by clearing two additional backlogs of mail in France before the war ended and they returned home.”
    Page 3 of 3 - When the women did come home, they simply returned to their lives with no recognition or thanks, Crissman said.
    “For the most part, their story remained untold, at least not far beyond their family and friends,” Crissman said. “Today, we are here to do our part to tell their story and commemorate their service by dedicating this monument in their honor. We are forever grateful for their willingness to serve during a time of war and for their unwavering commitment to each other, to our seven million service members and to our nation.”
    To further acknowledge the service of the unit, Kansas Sen. Jerry Moran presented a copy of a resolution from the U.S. Senate to Earley, and the five veterans of the unit who attended: Pvt. Maybelle Rutland Tanner Campbell, Pfc. Elizabeth Barker Johnson, Cpl. Lena Derriecott Bell King, Pvt. Anna Mae Wilson Robertson and Pfc. Delores Ruddock.
    Moran said he is also working for a Meritorious Unit Citation for the 6888th.
    “It saddens me that we didn’t do this earlier when you could not only see and hear and feel the respect, but that all those you served with could have the same experience that you’re having, today,” Moran said. “I’m sorry we were so slow.
    “When we unveil this memorial, when we unveil this monument,” Moran said, “what we are really saying is this: Thank you for your service. We respect you and we love you.”
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