If you subscribe to THE RRBC PIPELINE MAGAZINE, you probably have. If not, keep reading to learn about the incredible battalion of women whose story is featured in The Contributor’s Cornerof the latest issue of the PIPELINE.
The Six Triple Eight, by contributing author, Karen Black
This is the story of the 850 women of the 6888th Battalion of the Women’s Army Corp, the only African American enlisted women to serve overseas in World War II.
In 1943, President Franklin D. Roosevelt established the Women’s Army Corp, referred to as the WAC. With the support of the First Lady and the cooperation of civil rights advocate, Dr. Mary McLead Bethune, permission was granted for African American women to be admitted to the Women’s Army Corp. They were, however, limited to assignments in the United States, while the white WAC could be assigned overseas. Although military segregation officially ended in 1948, it was still practiced throughout much of the military when the Women’s Army Corp was established. It took just over a year of lobbying, but they changed the rules to allow the African American women to be sent overseas.
In November 1944, approximately 850 African American WACs were assigned to the newly created 6888th Central Postal Directory Battalion, known as the SIX TRIPLE EIGHT. Because of long-term shortages of postal officers, mail was not being processed properly. Addresses were incomplete, assignments had changed, and soldiers had died, which meant mail needed to be returned. As a result, mail was as much as six months behind. The entire postal system was a mess. The 6888th was assigned to fix the problem. Major Charity Adam’s Earley was placed in charge of the battalion. They went to Georgia for overseas training.
After two months of training, they were sent to New York to board the ship, Ile de France, and set sail for Britain. The eleven-day trip was not without danger, with Nazi U-Boats in the area they travelled, but they made it without incident. When the ship got to Scotland, on February 14th, however, they were met by a German rocket. The explosion was close enough to sound the alarms, but no one was hurt. Soon afterward, the WACs boarded a train and headed for the central mail supply warehouse for the European theatre in Birmingham, England. The European theatre was one of two major areas of combat during World War II.
Faced with warehouses filled with letters and packages addressed to officers, enlisted men, Red Cross personnel and government employees, the assignment was to match the mounds of mail to the individual addressees. To find the soldiers, the women were given access to seven million information cards, each of which contained a name and serial number for one of the enlisted personnel. To make the assignment even more difficult, the addresses on much of the mail were less than precise. It was not uncommon for a letter or package to be addressed to “Johnny, United States Army.” Even those addresses with first and last names could be a puzzle. For example, in 1945, there were 7,500 soldiers named Robert Smith.
The SIX TRIPLE EIGHT was given six months to complete the assignment, working in cold warehouses with little light, since the windows were blacked out because of air raids. As if cold and dark wasn’t bad enough, they had to deal with the rats who found a food source in the warehouse, because of all the cookies, cakes and candy sitting in the packages stacked to the ceiling.
Undaunted, the WACs dove in. Wives, daughters and mothers themselves, many had relatives enlisted and understood the need for letters from home. Their motto became “No mail, low morale,” and they were determined to do what they could to raise morale. Working three shifts of eight hours each, seven days a week, the SIX TRIPLE EIGHT completed the assignment in three months. They averaged 65,000 matches each shift, an incredible rate, given what they had to work with.
In 2016, the SIX TRIPLE EIGHT was inducted into the Army Women’s Hall of Fame.
Shamrocks sprinkled throughout the internet remind us that St. Patrick’s Day is fast approaching and spring is right behind it. The robins are making an appearance and the days are getting longer. No matter what the groundhog said, (he said six more weeks of winter) the Spring Equinox arrives on March 20, 2023 and that is less than three weeks away.
I went to the grocery store the other day and found some beautiful herbs for sale. I bought one of each and transplanted them so they’ll have time to spread their roots and get ready for the great outdoors. This is usually the time of year that I plant seeds and have baby plants ready for April, so I’m delighted that I’ll have some mature plants when it’s time to move them to the herb garden.
No matter what the season, I want to thank those of you who are reading my books and short stories! With so many books to choose from, I appreciate it when you choose mine.
My latest release, Deadly Repercussions, tells the story of Juan Velasquez and his family. A character driven drama of mystery and suspense, the plot takes Juan from a teenager in the gang-ridden streets of Mexico to a successful career, both inside and outside of the law. In Juan’s world, crime is a part of life, but pursuit of justice is his mission, and one that he takes personally.
Here is an excerpt from the beginning of Deadly Repercussions that I hope you will enjoy.
Short of breath from his quarter-mile run, Manuel pounded on the door. “Alejandro! Trouble is coming!”
“How long do we have?” Alejandro opened the door for Manuel, and then barricaded it behind him.
“It is Jorge. He is not far behind me,” Manuel panted. “At the pub, I overheard two of his soldiers. They were waiting for Jorge and said your name. You know there is talk. Because of the following that has assembled behind you, he wants you gone. There is fear that you wield too much power and could challenge him.”
Like his brother, Alejandro, Manuel was a dual citizen of the United States and Mexico. Manuel, however, lived in Texas and worked for the United States Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms. Alejandro lived in Mexico with his son, in the house where the brothers had been raised.
An accomplished gun smith, Alejandro occasionally spent his time as a runner for one of the larger street gangs in the area. Although the brothers had chosen different paths in life, their loyalty to each other overcame their philosophical differences and their ability to surreptitiously share information had helped them both more than once.
Fourteen-year-old Juan climbed down the ladder from the loft where he had been sleeping. “Hi, Uncle Manny. What’s going on, Papa?”
“Trouble might be coming.”
Manuel helped Juan’s father lift the kitchen table, move it three feet to the side and raise the trap door that was almost invisible in the center of the wooden floor. Alejandro dashed to his bed, grabbed the quilt, and shoved it into Juan’s arms.
“Down you go,” he directed. “Don’t make a sound. No matter what you hear, stay there until Uncle Manny or I come to get you.”
As Juan climbed down the steep steps to the small enclosure, Alejandro pulled a wedge of cheese and a container of orange juice from the refrigerator and grabbed the bread from the counter. He handed them down to his son, along with three bottles of water and a flashlight.
“Take this. It might be a day or even two before it is safe for you to come out.”
“I can fight,” Juan said.
“Not yet, my young warrior. There is no more time for talking.”
“Are they coming to kill you, Papa?”
“No. I think they are coming to recruit me, or maybe to try to frighten me. Now climb inside and be silent.”
Just before the trap door closed, Alejandro noticed Juan’s book, The Works of William Shakespeare, lying on the table. Juan had been using the book as the basis for a code he was working on so that his dad and his uncle could send messages without fear of interception. Alejandro grabbed the book and tossed it through the opening before pushing the wooden cover back in place. Then he and his brother moved the table back above it.
“I remember when our father dug that space for the root cellar,” Manuel said. “Is there still a way in from outside?”
“After I cut the entry through the floor, I blocked off the outside entrance. The cellar walls have been covered with wood but there is a crowbar and a shovel down there. It would not be hard to open the old exit from the inside. In case of emergency, like this one, I keep some essentials, water, apples and walnuts and there is a sleeping bag. Juan will be safe for a while.”
Alejandro slipped a revolver into his belt behind his back and pointed to the loft. “Go up and wait. It is better if Jorge thinks I am alone.”
Manuel climbed the ladder, as Alejandro turned off the lights and went into the bedroom to wait.
Only minutes later, Juan felt the vibration from the thud of the front door slamming against the wall. Followed by two men, Jorge strode inside and in a hoarse voice hollered, “Amigo, it is Jorge! We need to talk!”
When Alejandro walked from the bedroom to greet his uninvited guests, he was met with an explosion of gun fire. Juan closed his eyes and pressed his hands to his ears. He was afraid that this time, his father would not lift the cover to his sanctuary.
The smell of smoke and gun powder seeped into the enclosure where Juan was crouched in the corner on the stone floor of the wooden compound. He listened to the men talking in muffled tones and the shuffling of their footsteps, until there was no sound. He waited.
A husky voice said, “Let’s get him outside and load him on the truck. We can drop him in the desert outside of town. Grab his shoulders and I’ll get. . .”
Before the sentence was finished, there was another eruption of gunfire accompanied by a scream that sounded like the devil himself. A thud was followed by the creek of the floorboard near the ladder to his loft. Again, everything became quiet. Afraid to breathe, Juan stayed immobile while he listened for any noises above him.
A loud, gravelly moan filled the silence before Juan heard the rage in the voice of his uncle. “When you killed my brother, you signed your death warrant, Jorge.”
“Wait!” Jorge’s hoarse command was followed a single gunshot.
Manuel crossed the kitchen to the door to the outside. Less than a minute passed, and footsteps signaled Manuel’s return.
“Stay where you are, Juan,” Manuel called. “I will come back for you when I know it is safe.”
Tears trickled from Juan’s eyes and dripped untouched to the stone floor. His father was dead.
Manuel lifted Alejandro and carried him to the bed where he gently placed his brother’s body, before he dragged Jorge and the two others outside and heaved them up into the bed of the pickup truck. He tossed their weapons alongside them, went back into the house, dragged the table from above the hideaway, and pulled the door open.
“I am so sorry, Juan. Your father was a good man. They killed him before he had any chance to talk but they will never kill again. Tomorrow, we will have a funeral for Alejandro. Tonight, you will have a lesson in the consequences of pledging to a street gang.”
Manuel covered the hideaway and Juan helped him lift the kitchen table back over it before he went to his father’s side. He stroked Alejandro’s cheek and whispered, “I will remember what you taught me. And I will fight for justice, no matter what.”
Juan pulled the sheet over his father and followed his uncle to the truck.
After an hour’s drive, they were outside of the ambient lights from the scattered homes of the small town. Off the roadway and into the darkness and the solitude of the desert, Manuel drove to a spot where it was unlikely for people to wander.
“You can help me, or stay in the truck,” Manuel said, when he turned off the engine.
Without a second thought, Juan hopped out of the cab and walked to the back of the pickup. Before Manuel directed him, Juan reached for the leg of one of his father’s murderers, as his uncle grabbed the other. The two of them dragged Jorge’s body from the truck bed and let it drop to the sandy ground. They did the same with the other two killers.
A shallow grave would do little to protect the bodies from the rapid deterioration that the sun would encourage, or to shield them from the feast that the mountain lions or coyotes would find. For that reason, Manuel didn’t bother to bury them. He closed the tailgate and he and his nephew turned toward home.
About ten miles from the road, Manuel stopped the truck. He removed the license plate and heaved it as far as he could, then set the vehicle on fire.
“We have a three hour walk ahead of us,” he said to Juan. “And we have a lot to talk about. You will come to live with me. Your father would have wanted that.”
“I will stay in my home,” Juan countered. “My father would understand. I am ahead in my classes. In two years, maybe less, I will finish high school.”
“You are only fourteen, Juan. You can’t hold down a job and go to school. How will you pay for food and electricity?”
“I have a job,” Juan said stubbornly. “And I have money.”
“What job and what money?”
“For a long time, Papa has hidden money under the stones of the escape room. He said it was for my college. But if I don’t finish high school, college won’t matter, and so that money will buy food and pay bills until I get a paying job.”
“You said that you have a job,” Manuel said. “Is it a job for no pay?”
“There is a border agent who allows me to cross and sometimes asks what I have seen. I will talk to him. I will ask him if I can look more closely and get money for the information.”
“Is that border agent named Diego?” Manuel asked.
“I will not tell you his name. We have an agreement not to speak of our arrangement.”
With a sigh and a nod of his head, Manuel accepted Juan’s response. Loyalty was a family trait.
His nephew knew the mountains and the desert better than most of the border agents who patrolled it. And they knew Juan. They called him Chameleon because of the way he could seemingly disappear right before their eyes.
Not happy that his young nephew was practically working as an informant, Manuel was aware that Juan was wise beyond his years. In school, he was lucky enough to have gotten the attention of a teacher, who encouraged his fascination with education. She pushed him to excel and he did.
“Besides, I cannot leave Marissa,” Juan continued. “I help her and her mother with some chores.”
“Tell me about Marissa.”
“She is my girlfriend. Marissa and her mother live very close to my house. Marissa and I are going to be married.”
“Aren’t you a bit young to be thinking of marriage?” Despite the circumstances, Manuel grinned.
“You know that Papa married when he was sixteen. In eighteen months, I will be sixteen.”
Manuel understood that relocating Juan was going to be difficult and maybe impossible. Without the boy’s agreement to stay with him, his uncle did not doubt that Juan would keep leaving Manuel’s home and returning to Mexico. He was his father’s son.
“Tomorrow, I will meet Marissa and her mother. If her mother agrees to watch over you, I will agree that you can stay in your home. But you must stay in close touch with me and go to school every single day.”
“I will agree,” Juan said. He stopped walking and offered his hand to Manuel.
His uncle clasped Juan’s hand, surprised at the youngster’s sturdy grip.
“We have a contract,” Juan said, his jaw set with determination.
“…descriptive and exciting plot where, with the turning of a page, the unexpected occurs.” The International Review of Books (Deadly Repercussions is a Gold Star recipient)