By Corinne Murdock |
Military members rely on letters from home to maintain morale, something jeopardized for World War II troops overseas — that is, until an all-black group of women soldiers known as the 6888th Central Postal Directory Battalion stepped in to help. On Tuesday, over 76 years after their disbandment, two Arizonans from the 6888th Battalion, Major Fran McClendon and Corporal Lydia Thornton, received the highest honor given to Americans: the Congressional Gold Medal.
McClendon and Thornton served their country by a special motto the “Six Triple Eight” battalion invented as they fixed the military’s mail delivery systems broken by the war: “No mail, low morale.” Their battalion successfully devised a new tracking system and cleared a two-year backlog of mail in England in under three months, half the assigned time of six months, handling around 17 million pieces of mail. They did the same for another backlog in France, again sorting millions of pieces of mail in half the amount of expected time.
“Really, I didn’t think like this could ever happen and I never looked forward to it until people started talking about it,” said McClendon, now 101 years old. “These are the memories, that people are now understanding what we accomplished while we were there.”
Thornton passed away 11 years ago at the age of 89. Her daughters accepted the Congressional Gold Medal on Thornton’s behalf. Thornton also served as a Spanish translator during the war.
The Six Triple Eight were the only battalion of all-black women to serve abroad in the war.
The women were awarded the medals during a ceremony at the Commemorative Air Force Museum in Mesa. The physical medals are still being produced; McClendon and Thornton’s family will receive them once they are finished.
In March, President Joe Biden signed an act into law awarding all 855 members of the Six Triple Eight with Congressional Gold Medals.
Even until the end, members of the Six Triple Eight have expressed their pride in being able to serve the country they love.