News from home was a lifeline for soldiers in World War II. But as fighting intensified in Europe, undelivered mail piled up, deflating the morale of Americans on the front lines desperate for letters from loved ones. It was a problem Sgt. Hilda P. Griggs crossed the Atlantic in 1945 to fix.
February marks 79 years since the first and only all-African American and Hispanic Women's Army Corps (WAC) unit was deployed to Europe during World War II. Griggs, now 99 years old, was one of the 855 members of that unit, the 6888th Central Postal Directory Battalion, which was tasked with sorting through the two-year backlog of mail intended for service members and other personnel serving in the European Theater. The motto of the 6888th wasn't ambiguous: “No mail, low morale."
"My mother didn't want me to leave, but I came to Philadelphia and joined,” says Griggs, adding she was inspired to enlist because she had five brothers in the service and was lonely at home.
At first, Griggs recalls that her captain thought she didn't want to go to Europe.
6888th Central Postal Directory Battalion
"I let her know immediately that, that's not the way I look at it. I wanted to go because I wanted the experience,” she says.
Troops were constantly changing locations during the war, which hampered mail delivery, and many soldiers shared common names. The 6888th encountered 7,500 undelivered letters addressed to “Robert Smith” alone. Morale suffered more and more as mail languished in warehouses.
To get the job done, members of the 6888th arrived in England and were put on eight-hour shifts that went around the clock, seven days a week. When a package was insufficiently addressed the battalion would look for clues within the contents to determine the intended recipient.
"There was always something to do,” says Griggs. “If there was nothing in our quarters, then we would go to the headquarters and do whatever they had there."
The women processed an average of 65,000 pieces of mail per shift. Given six months by the Army to work through a backlog of nearly 18 million pieces of mail, the 6888th completed the formidable task in just three months. In between shifts, the women were welcomed by locals and even established friendships.