This month we are celebrating a 100-year old resident of Marquis Centennial Hills and an unsung hero of World War II, Lena King, Corporal of the Women’s Army Corp “Six Triple Eight” Battalion.
Today was mail call, which meant word from back home. Word that was so desperately needed for those serving overseas during World War II.
Mail meant news about the health of aging parents, the growth and accomplishments of children or love letters from a spouse or sweetheart.
But then, it suddenly stopped.
This is where the work of the Six Triple Eight began, and where Lena King, now a Marquis Centennial Hills resident and recipient of the Congressional Gold Medal, sprang into action.
Ready to serve her country, Lena began her military service in the Women’s Army Corps (WAC) 6888th Central Postal Directory Battalion (The “Six Triple Eight”). Their unit was unique, in that it was the only Women’s Army Corps unit comprised of primarily African American women that was deployed during World War II.
In fact, when World War II started, Black women were not allowed to serve at all in the Women’s Army Corps. It was only following successful lobbying by First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt and Mary McLeod Bethune that they were admitted into service.
As part of this ground-breaking unit, Lena’s mission was to travel with them to Birmingham, England, to help clear a backlog of over six months of mail written to the troops overseas.
Crossing by boat on the Ile de France, they survived harrowing close encounters with Nazi U-boats before landing in Glasgow, Scotland. Finally arriving in Birmingham, the women were brought to the old King Edward’s School where they would be staying during their deployment. Other accommodations that had been prepared for them were destroyed in a bombing days earlier. “I was so glad that we weren’t there when that happened,” exclaimed Lena.
The motto of the “Six Triple Eight” was, “No Mail, Low Morale,” and their work in clearing that mammoth backlog was truly vital to maintaining the spirits of the troops serving in the war effort. Being away from loved ones was difficult enough, but not communicating with their families or knowing if they were safe was even harder.
The “Six Triple Eight” jumped right in and tackled the task ahead of them: several warehouses filled to the ceiling with letters and packages for the troops. Working in three eight-hour shifts, seven days a week, they processed an estimated average of 65,000 pieces of mail per shift. Each day during mail calls in Birmingham, Lena could see soldiers running excitedly to the post office. “They wanted to hear from home!” she said.
Through their dedication and tireless efforts, the “Six Triple Eight” cleared the mail backlog in just three months—half the time that had been estimated for a project of this size. In celebration, the unit traveled to Rouen, France, where they participated in a victory parade which Lena described as, “amazing!” But when the unit returned home to the United States, they received no welcoming ceremony for their service. As time passed, the contributions of the “Six Triple Eight” began to slowly fade from history.
That is, until Carlton G. Philpot, Commander, US Navy (Ret.), discovered the legend of these amazing women and began to tell their story. Through careful research, Commander Philpot identified the women who had served in the battalion, and brought their names forward in celebration of their service. These names – including Lena’s – were then listed on a monument erected in their honor on Nov. 30, 2018, in Fort Leavenworth, Kan., at the Buffalo Soldier Monument Park during the dedication ceremony.
In 2021, the “Six Triple Eight” finally received national recognition when the Senate passed a measure honoring their service and dedication. And in February of 2022, the U.S. House of Representatives voted 422-0 to award the Congressional Gold Medal to Lena and all the women of the 6888th Central Postal Directory Battalion.
In celebration of their service, Tyler Perry, recently announced that he is creating a movie titled, “The Six Triple Eight” that will help to tell the story of these unsung heroes. During a recent meeting with Ms. Lena, Tyler noted her wit and wisdom along with thanking her for her service.
Serving Ms. Lena has been an honor for our team at Marquis Centennial Hills. Supporting her care and recovery, we have learned so much about her amazing story and all that she has done for our country.
Thank you for your service, Ms. Lena!
For more reading on the work of the 6888, we encourage you to check out the following resources: