Women of Courage
....World War II
(Posted by permission from Ms. Alice Thomas, Associate Publisher, The Jackson Advocate, Jackson, Mississippi).
In 1942, when the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps (WAAC) [and later became the Women’s Army Corps (WAC)] was formed, it was announced that up to 10 percent of the women’s force could be made up of Black women. The Navy did not accept Black women into its women’s auxiliary corps (WAVES) until 1945 and then took only 72 Black enlisted women and two Black officers. The European Theater of Operations was the only overseas theater to request and utilize Black WAC’s.
As the result of political pressure from the Black community, approximately 400 Black women from the Army, the Air Force, and the Army Service Forces were organized into the 6888th Central Postal Battalion. Their mission would be to establish a central post directory in Europe in February under the command of Major Charity Adams (Earley).
In March 1943, the first contingent of Black medical personnel was sent overseas. Nine doctors and thirty nurses were shipped to Liberia where they treated Black troops stationed there. By December 1943, every nurse in the unit had contacted malaria and they were returned to the United States.
In July 1944, the Army announced that it would accept Black nurses without regard to numbers.
In mid-1944, some of the Black nurses who had returned from Liberia joined a group from the United States and sixty-three Black nurses were sent to England. Black nurses were also sent to the Pacific.
Earley, of Ohio, commanded the only unit of Black women to serve overseas during World War II. Earley was sworn into the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps in 1942 and assumed command of the 6888th Battalion on January 1945, one month prior to being sent abroad. The “Six Triple Eight”. which broke all records for redirecting military mail as Earley commanded the group through its moves from Birmingham, England to Rouen, France, supported Earley’s boycott of segregated living quarters and recreational facilities. Earley was discharged from the Women’s Army Corps in 1946 with the rank of Lieutenant Colonel, the highest rank below that of the WAC director. Earley’s book, “One Woman’s Army,” honors those women who paved the way for others, regardless of color or gender.
Margaret E Bailey, Colonel, United States Army (Ret.), of Maryland, was the first Black nurse to be promoted to Lieutenant Colonel in the Army Nurse Corps. She was assigned as Chief Nurse of the 130th General Hospital, Chinow, France - - the first Black nurse to hold this position in an integrated hospital. In January 1970, she was promoted to Colonel, the first Black nurse to hold this rank in the Army Nurse Corps. Gladys O. Thomas Anderson, of Michigan, was a member of the 6888th Central Postal Directory, the first group of Black members in the Women’s Army Corps to be deployed overseas. She is the recipient of the Victory Medal, Good Conduct Medal and Army of Occupation Medal-Germany.
Elva Jones Dulan, from Delaware, was one of the first Black nurses commissioned in the Army in 1941.
Dr. Clementine McConico Skinner, of Illinois, played the trumpet and French horn in the 404th Army Service Forces Band. She is a recipient of the Women’s Auxiliary Army Corps Service Ribbon and the Good Conduct Medal.
Anne Mitchell Borden Felder, from Florida, was the first enlisted member of the Women’s Army Corps in the 4th Service Command to be awarded the Army Commendation Medal.
Anne Chaney is a World War II Army veteran who now lives in the Bronx. She is a dedicated and involved member of the 369th Veterans Association and a member of the Black Women WAC Association. Ms. Chaney is a respected advocate for women and a member of the New York State Board of Literacy Volunteers of America.
Nancy Leftenant-Colon, Major, United States Army Nurse Corps (Ret.), of New York, served from January 1945 until October 1965 and is recognized as the first Black nurse commissioned and integrated into the regular Army Nurse Corps. Some highlights of her career include graduating as a qualified flight nurse, evacuating “wounded warriors” from Dien Bien, meeting Bob Hope in 1949 in Alaska and Marilyn Monroe in Japan and having Prince Saud Iben Jewele as a patient in Weisbaden, Germany.