ARLINGTON, Va. –
Military and civilian leaders joined family members inside the Military Women’s Memorial at Arlington National Cemetery June 15 to celebrate President Joe Biden’s signing of the “Six Triple Eight” Congressional Gold Medal Act of 2021.
The act awards the Congressional Gold Medal to the members of the Women’s Army Corps who were assigned to the 6888th Central Postal Directory Battalion, better known as the “Six Triple Eight,” during World War II.
“The ‘Six Triple Eight’ is now the only women’s military unit to receive the nation’s highest civilian honor, the Congressional Gold Medal,” said retired Army colonel and current Army Reserve Ambassador Edna Cummings. “Since the American Revolution, Congress has commissioned Gold Medals as its highest expression of national appreciation for distinguished achievements and contributions.
“Since 1776, less than 200 Congressional Gold Medals have been awarded,” said Cummings, who volunteers with the Army Reserve’s 99th Readiness Division in her role as an Army Reserve ambassador. “General George Washington was the first recipient.”
Cummings and retired Army Master Sgt. Elizabeth Helm-Frazier were instrumental in working behind the scenes to ensure the act’s passage.
“It has been a grand time for us,” said a visibly emotional Helm-Frazier. “I can’t even tell you how it has affected me personally.”
The 6888th was the first-and-only all-Black, all-female Army unit to deploy overseas during World War II. It consisted of 855 women under the command of Lt. Charity Adams, the first African-American woman commissioned in the Women’s Army Corps.
“Thank you to your mommas for making a difference, and giving me the opportunity to serve how I serve today,” said Brig. Gen. Hope Rampy, 62nd Adjutant General of the U.S. Army. “Because of their service, it really makes a difference for women who are serving today, but also for how we provide support for Soldiers.”
Divided into three separate eight-hour shifts, the women of the 6888th worked around the clock, seven days a week. They kept track of seven million identification cards with serial numbers to distinguish between Soldiers with the same names. They investigated incomplete addresses and returned mail addressed to Soldiers who had been killed in the war.
“I’m so proud to share this special moment with the ‘Six Triple Eight’ family members who have travelled across this great country to salute these remarkable women, your moms your grandmoms,” said Denis R. McDonough, 11th Secretary of Veterans Affairs.
“I don’t know that anything like this has happened before for a group of Black women,” said Dr. Elwood L. Robinson, chancellor of Winston-Salem State University. “The magnitude of this event, the magnitude of this historic moment, is overwhelming.”
The event was held inside the Military Women’s Memorial, whose mission it is to honor and tell the stories of women, past and present, who serve the nation in uniform.
“This is where we tell the stories of the three million [service] women like myself, like Edna, like all of the women of the ‘Six Triple Eight,’” explained retired Chief Warrant Officer 5 Phyllis Wilson, president of the Military Women’s Memorial, former command chief warrant officer of the U.S. Army Reserve, and current Army Reserve Ambassador. “I stand on their shoulders just like the rest of us do.”
“No place could be more fitting than this memorial that enshrines and honors the profound sacrifice, remarkable stories and legacies of these Black women veterans who served a cause so much greater than themselves,” McDonough added.
In addition to representation by Army Reserve ambassadors, the 99th Readiness Division’s deputy commanding general, Brig. Gen. Beth Salisbury, and command sergeant major, Command Sgt. Maj. Subretta Pompey, attended the event.
The 99th RD has history with the “Six Triple Eight” dating back to 2020. On Jan. 19 of that year, Maj. Lakisha Hale-Earle from the 99th RD’s Directorate of Human Resources presented a certificate of recognition to Sgt. Hilda P. Griggs of the “Six Triple Eight” during a Martin Luther King Jr. event at the New Jersey State Museum in Trenton.
“Sergeant Griggs … fully embodies the spirit of her fellow sisters-at-arms who were patriotic, brave, accomplished and loyal,” Hale-Earle said. “Sgt. Griggs, your personal courage and sacrifice are not forgotten – we recognize the fact that we stand on your shoulders and want you to know we lead because you led!” (https://www.usar.army.mil/News/News-Display/Article/2060755/army-reserve-soldier-honors-trailblazer-at-martin-luther-king-event/)
The following month, the 99th RD commanding general presented a Meritorious Unit Citation to Griggs during the division’s Black History Month celebration at its headquarters on Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, New Jersey.
“The goal was to honor Sgt. Griggs and tell this virtually untold story about Black history, women’s history and American history,” said Hale-Earle. (https://www.usar.army.mil/News/News-Display/Article/2097340/army-reserve-soldiers-honor-african-american-history-pioneer/)
Two-plus years later, the story of the “Six Triple Eight” is no longer untold.