• Veterans recall service in 6888th Postal Battalion

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  • Katie Peterson | Staff Writer
    “It is only the five of us left,” said former Cpl. Lena Derriecott Bell King as she grabbed the hands of her fellow 6888th Central Postal Directory Battalion members during a meet and greet upon their arrival Nov. 28 at the Installation Holiday Inn Express.
    King, former Pfc. Elizabeth Barker Johnson, former Pfc. Delores Ruddock, former Pvt. Maybelle Rutland Tanner Campbell, and former Pvt. Anna Mae Wilson Robertson are five surviving members of the World War II battalion. They traveled to Fort Leavenworth for the Nov. 30 dedication ceremony of the monument in honor of their unit at Frontier Chapel. The monument is the sixth to be dedicated in the Buffalo Soldier Commemorative Area near Smith Lake.
    King, 95, joined the 6888th in 1945 after only being married for two months.
    “To me, it was really worthwhile,” King said. “I really was so happy to go even though it meant leaving my husband.”
    She said she joined the service to honor a close friend who was killed.
    “His name was Abraham Davis, and he was shot down on his first mission,” King said. “When I heard that, I felt so terrible, and that was one of the things that inspired me to join, to do something in his name. I felt that he gave his life, and he was such a very close friend. I was just really anxious to do something. It was that drive that had me wanting to go into the service.”
    King said she was thrilled when she found out about the dedication.
    “I thought, ‘Someone thought we did a good job. Somebody cares and someone feels that it was a worthwhile cause,’ and I just couldn’t believe that we would be remembered in such a way,” King said. “It wasn’t an easy life over there as far as comfort. Even though I was away from the unit for the last five or six months after the mail thinned out, it was difficult.
    “The English people were very, very kind to us and they thought a great deal of us, but when I was in England I met with some conflict from some of the white American service men. They seemed to resent the fact that we were there,” she said.
    “I thought, ‘We were fighting on the same side for the same causes.’ America was my home and whatever faults we had as black people, it was the only home we knew. I felt just as in love with my home and felt it was dear to me to fight for the freedom of all people. We did take time out of our lives and our families and so forth. So, I’m so glad I lived to see the recognition.”
    Page 2 of 3 - Following her discharge in 1947, King served as a nurse from 1950-1995. She now resides in Las Vegas.
    Johnson, 98, joined the service in 1943, serving until she was discharged in 1945.
    “I just sat at home and kept looking at the paper and it said, ‘Uncle Sam wants you,’” she said. “I threw it on the floor, but then I picked it back up and said, ‘You got me.’”
    Johnson’s first assignment was at Fort Devens, Mass., for six weeks of training. Then she went to Camp Breckinridge, Ky., where she took a truck driving course before going overseas to England to drive a truck. She joined the 6888th when they relocated to France.
    “I never saw so many letters or so many packages piled in one place in all my life,” Johnson said. “It was difficult to do some of it and was quite a handful, but we made it, and I felt good about it.”
    Following her discharge, Johnson taught sixth grade for 33 years in middle schools throughout North Carolina. Even after her retirement, she volunteered in the school system for 17 years. She currently resides in Hickory, N.C.
    Ruddock, 95, joined the Women’s Army Corps in October 1943 and the 6888th in February 1945.
    “I was just a private doing the days’ work, but it was very interesting,” Ruddock said of working in the post office. “You just go with the flow at the time.”
    Ruddock said she was surprised when she found out about the monument dedication.
    “After my discharge, my life went on and I really didn’t think too much of it,” she said. “I read the Army newsletter and that sort of thing, but I didn’t have any contact with anybody really. So, it was just one of those things you live and your life goes on to different paths.”
    Ruddock was discharged on March 16, 1946. She went to school in New York City to study fashion design, but due to the excess number of designers in the industry by the time she graduated, she went to work for a bank, where she worked for 27 years before retiring. She currently resides in Laurel, Md.
    Campbell, 97, enlisted into the WAC on Aug. 4, 1943, at Fort Des Moines, Iowa.
    “(The monument dedication) makes me feel great,” she said. “The contribution to history means a lot.”
    Following her discharge in 1944, Campbell worked as a federal employee in a printing office for more than 30 years. In June 2018, she took a Dream Flight in a restored 1940s-era Boeing Stearman open cockpit biplane from World War II. The flight was sponsored by the Ageless Dream Foundation. Campbell currently resides in Alexandria, Va.
    Page 3 of 3 - Robertson, 94, enlisted into the WAC in March 1943 and joined the 6888th in 1944.
    “I worked in the post office,” Robertson said. “I remember the windows were painted (to blackout the light at night).”
    Robertson discharged in 1946. She currently resides in Milwaukee, Wis.
    Janice Banyard, Robertson’s daughter, said she was elated when she found out about the dedication.
    “I told Mom, ‘This is history.’ I’ve been to college and I don’t think I’ve ever seen the WAC or the 6888th in the history books,” Banyard said. “I told her, ‘God seen fit.’ The monument itself is the most beautiful thing and to have her name put in there, that is history. I can’t say it any other way.”
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