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102-year-old WWII veteran honored as segregated battalion is awarded Congressional Gold Medal

An all-Black, all-women's unit was tasked with clearing the backlog of letters loved ones had sent to the military during World War II.

102-year-old WWII veteran honored as segregated battalion is awarded Congressional Gold Medal
Cover image source: YouTube Screenshot/MSNBC

A 102-year-old World War II veteran was recognized for her service on July 26 and her unit has been awarded the Congressional Gold Medal. Romay Davis was part of a segregated unit that worked overtime to help sort the mail and deliver it to military members desperately seeking hope from back home. A massive backlog of letters and packages sent to U.S. troops had accumulated in warehouses in Europe toward the end of World War II and an all-Black, all-women group of the 6888th Central Postal Directory Battalion cleared the backlog in record time. Davis, the oldest living member of the unit, was honored at Montgomery City Hall in Montgomery, Alabama. “I think it's an exciting event, and it's something for families to remember,” said Davis, acknowledging that she wasn't just representing herself but many of the other members who weren't present or had passed away, reported 11 Alive. “It isn't mine, just mine. No. It's everybody's.”



 

 

“Though the odds were set against them, the women of the Six Triple Eight processed millions of letters and packages during their deployment in Europe, helping connect WWII soldiers with their loved ones back home, like my father and mother,” said US Senator Jerry Moran who was instrumental in passing the bill. President Joe Biden announced in March that he would be signing a bill authorizing the Congressional Gold Medal for the unit, nicknamed the “Six Triple Eight.” The medals will take more time to be ready but considering the age of the six survivors, including Davis, an event was organized to honor them at the earliest. Davis said it was about time that the 6888 was being recognized. Davis had followed in the footsteps of her five brothers and signed up for the Army in 1943. Racial segregation was still in practice and that meant she was part of a segregated unit. African-American units had been added after being urged by First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt and civil rights leader Mary McLeod Bethune. 



 


The 6888th all-Black women unit was easily the largest group of African-American women unit, and consisted of at least 800 Black women, according to the Pentagon. As the Allied troops marched towards the heart of Hitler’s Germany towards the end of World War II, mail had piled up and needed to be delivered to boost the morale of the troops who hadn't heard from home in a while. This was a time before video calls, texting, and regular long-distance calls. The 6888th unit also faced sexism and racism as they worked doubly hard to help clear the backlog. The women worked with the motto “No Mail, Low Morale” and worked 24/7, in shifts, to help process roughly 65,000 items each shift. The efficiency and initiative of the unit helped clear a six-month backlog of mail in just three months. “The mail situation was in such horrid shape they didn’t think the girls could do it. But they proved a point,” recalled Davis. The 6888th  unit had been honored with a monument in 2018 at Buffalo Soldier Military Park at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas.



 

The unit headed to France to clear backlogs after initially working in England, and realized that they were treated much better than they were back home under racist Jim Crow regimes. They were honored and celebrated by the liberated French during a victory parade in Rouen and invited into private homes for dinner, said Davis. “I didn't find any Europeans against us. They were glad to have us,” she said. Even after returning home, it would take more than a decade for the advent of the modern civil rights movement with the Montgomery Bus Boycott in 1955.



 


Davis went on to have a successful 30-year career in the fashion industry in New York before retiring to Alabama. She also earned a martial arts black belt while in her late 70s and rejoined work, at a grocery store in Montgomery for more than 20 years until she was 101.



 

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