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Stirring up memories


Letters From Home
May 25, 2005

            Next Tuesday is Flag Day.  The Stars and Stripes will be waving over my house, and waving all over the country.  We’ll think of all the Americans who have served and defended that flag in many places and many times.  Here’s a salute to all of them, and especially one of them.

            It’s tough being away from home.  It’s tougher when you are half-way around the world and fighting a war to boot.  For all time, the greatest boost to the morale of those away at war has been contact with home.

            For many of today’s service members, it’s not too hard.  The folks serving in Afghanistan and Iraq and other far-flung posts often have access to the telephone or the internet so they can keep up with their loved ones while they are defending all of us.

            But this has not always been so.  During the waning days of World War II the soldiers in the European Theater were almost constantly on the move.  The mail wasn’t following them.           

            Around seven million American personnel (this included everyone from General Eisenhower to U.S.O. workers and civilian personnel) were spread across Europe.  The mail came in through Birmingham, England and in the spring of 1945, it was severely backed up, when a bunch of heroines appeared on the scene.  They cleaned the place up, rolled up their khaki sleeves and went to work around the clock.  They were the 800 enlisted women and thirty officers of the 6888th Central Postal Directory Battalion.  Wacs  to the rescue.

            They had a separate card for every one of those seven million people.  When troops moved, they kept up with them.  The backlog disappeared and the mail moving right on up to the front lines.

            What is noteworthy about the women of the 6888th was that in those days of the segregated Army, every one of them was an African-American.  These were the first black women to serve the United States Army overseas. They arrived in Glasgow in the middle of February of 1945.   Later, they moved on and put in the same outstanding performance in France.

               These women did their great job, in part, because they had a great commander. Charity Adams (Earley) was born 87 years ago on March 20, 1918.  She grew up in Columbia, South Carolina, the daughter of a minister and a school teacher.  No one was surprised when she graduated as valedictorian of Booker T. Washington High School.  She headed off to college and graduated from Wilberforce University in Ohio.  She was a mighty bright girl—she majored in science and math!  She then taught school back in Columbia for a while and went to graduate school at the same time.

            Like so many young Americans, Charity’s life changed when the war began.  As soon as the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps (later the Women’s Army Corps) began seeking applicants, Charity was there to sign up.

            She entered the very first Officer’s Training Class held at Ft. Des Moines in Iowa.  In August, 1942 she became the first African-American woman to be commissioned as an officer in the WAAC.  For a while she continued at Ft. Des Moines, training other women to serve their country.

            She progressed quickly and received several promotions.  But her dream, her goal was to serve overseas.  At that time it was Army policy that the African-American women could not serve do so.

            That changed in December, 1944, when now-Major Adams was ordered to London to prepare for the arrival of the 6888th.  They followed in short order and these Wacs went to work to get the mail to the fellows at the front. 

            My two uncles—Fred and Jack Beeman—were among those fellows.  I remember the long hours my mother and grandmother spent writing letters and hoping desperately that they would get through to “the boys.”  When both came home, they told us how much the letters meant.

            Now we know to thank the brave women of the 6888th!

            Of course, more than letters crossed the ocean as families sought to cheer up their soldiers and sailors.  I also remember Mother making up packages for Fred and Jack.

            Sometimes she was lucky enough to come across some butter.  Other times she bought cream from a farmer friend.  She had a big glass jar with a beater in it—a miniature churn.  My sister and I took turns turning the handle until the cream turned into butter.   But we didn’t get much of it on our morning toast.  It was set aside to make cookies for the boys.  This recipe was Jack’s favorite.  I’m going to go and visit him in San Mateo, California later this spring.  I believe I’ll stir up some cookies and take them with me.

            I found the recipe written out in pencil in my mother’s handwriting in the 1933 Pillsbury Cookbook her mother gave her when she got married.  

Hunk of heaven cookies

1/2 cup butter

1/2 confectioner’s sugar

2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon vanilla

3/4 cup chopped nuts

            Cream butter and sugar together and then gradually add sifted flour and salt.  Work in vanilla and nuts.

            Chill, and then roll into balls about one inch in diameter.  Place on a slightly greased cookie tin and bake 14 to 17 minutes in a 400 degree oven or until the cookies are lightly browned.  Roll in confectioner’s sugar while hot and again when cool.

            Store in an airtight container.

            I have been doing some research on the WAC; that’s how I became interested in the intriguing story of Charity Adams and the 6888th. I know that there are women who served in World War II who live in our region.  If you are one or know one, please let me know.  I am particularly interest in finding people who served in the WAC, but I want to talk to all WWII service women.

Post-script: If you would like to know more about the fascinating Charity Adams, read her memoir One Woman’s Army: A Black Officer Remembers the WAC by Charity Adams Earley. 

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