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The ‘Six Triple Eight’
By Ivan D. Butts
NAPS Executive Vice President
I recently read an article about a group of soldiers who served with no fame or notoriety. Rather, they were unflinching and unwavering by the times in which they lived and the surroundings that faced them. These soldiers had a motto that drove them to the excellence that has defined the efforts of postal supervisors and other managerial personnel in NAPS for nearly 113 years: “No mail, low morale.”
These soldiers are why you hear me speak of the USPS binding Americans worldwide because that is what we do—day in and day out. These soldiers served as an extension of that USPS dedication to America in the European theater during World War II.
Inside warehouses in Birmingham, England, letters and packages piled up nearly to the ceiling during the war, with thousands more flooding in every day. A shortage of qualified postal officers, the challenge of delivering mail to service members constantly on the move and the sheer volume of some 7 million Americans serving in the European theater resulted in a colossal logjam.
These soldiers were tasked with doing what no one before them could do: raising soldiers’ morale by delivering a lifeline in the form of reading a word from a friend or family member to help distract them from the pains of war. This lifeline was in the piles and piles of mail—a tall order, indeed.
These soldiers worked around the clock, nonstop, in eight-hour shifts. The belief was, at best, maybe these soldiers could get it done in six months. However, in the spirit of postal employee dedication—yes, the same dedication that saw us deliver 65.2 million ballots in the 2020 general election—these soldiers got the task done in three months.
Not only did they move the mail and packages, they also developed a method to track individual service members to distinguish those with the same name (including some 7,500 Robert Smiths, according to records). The soldiers were processing 65,000 pieces of mail per shift. After completing their task in England, the unit moved to France, with the same impact within two months. In all, over eight months, these soldiers processed more than 17 million pieces of mail.
They did their job with dignity and respect, dedication and commitment in the face of, at best, challenging odds. They didn’t ask for pity. They had volunteered to join the Army and serve their country. They didn’t get a parade. They didn’t get an award. There was no, “Thank you for your service.” But they did not despair.
So, who are these soldiers? Before I identify them, let me say that reading this article made me consider how important it has been for me over the past seven years to honor our female service members by their inclusion in our yearly wreath-laying ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery. It has been my humble honor to recognize all our NAPS members who have served our country in various military branches.
I am incredibly grateful for the opportunity to honor Sue Goodall, Branch 406; Kelly McCartney, Branch 919; Patricia Jackson-Kelley, Branch 39; Virginia Price-Booker, Branch 131; Mary Mitchell, Branch 61; Karen Douglas, Branch 183; Tomica Duplessis, Branch 73; and Regina Holland-McCloud, Branch 909.
The 6888th Central Postal Directory Battalion commanded by Major Charity Adams was the first and only African-American Women’s Army Corps (WAC) battalion deployed overseas in 1945. The “Six Triple Eight” needed only three months to clear a backlog that one general estimated would take six. It then went to Rouen, France, where the women again got the mail moving in half the time given.