Civil Rights Leader Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune once said, “The true worth of a race must be measured by the character of its womanhood.”
Former East Orange resident Gladys E. Blount, who used to live at 32 North Oraton Parkway in East Orange and raised her two children there, is a living testament to this statement.
Blount, who recently celebrated her 100th birthday this past June, was one of 855 women selected from over 6,000 African American women serving in the Army Air Corps and Service Corps during WWII to become part of the exclusive All-Black, All-Woman WWII Central Postal Directory Battalion.
Blount is reportedly one of only six surviving members.
The 6888th Battalion Unit, nicknamed the “Six-Triple-Eight,” historically completed the massive undertaking of clearing a six-month backlog of letters and packages – millions of pieces of mail – while stationed in Europe in 1945 in just three months. Adhering to the motto: “No Mail, Low Morale,” these women provided essential support during wartime linking soldiers to their loved ones back home.
Under dire conditions, these extraordinary women toiled around the clock sorting, tracking, and re-routing mail, averaging 65,000 pieces per shift and a total of more than 17 million by their assignment’s end.
Dr. Bethune, along with First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, was instrumental in enlisting these African American women to the Women’s Army Corps (WAC), which consisted of a physical training program, often followed by four to 12 weeks of specialist training, which included learning to identify enemy aircraft, ships, and weapons; climb ropes; board and evacuate ships, and to perform long marches with rucksacks, which were rugged backpacks used to carry heavy loads.
In early March 1946, the Army deactivated the Six-Triple-Eight without any recognition or praise for their service, but now nearly eight decades later, the unit is finally receiving the attention it deserves.
In recent years, the history of the 6888th Central Postal Directory Battalion has been explored and celebrated in written accounts, documentaries, museum exhibits, and public ceremonies, including in 2022 when the Six-Triple-Eight was awarded a Congressional Gold Medal – the nation’s highest award for distinguished achievements – by President Joseph Biden.
The unit is also the subject of a new project by movie mogul Tyler Perry and a Broadway musical “6888: The Musical” (working title) by executive producer Blair Underwood.
And on Friday, July 29, Mayor Ted R. Green will be traveling to Blount’s current home in Ruskin, Florida, to personally honor the East Orange heroine for her pioneering contributions during WWII and pay homage to her determination, dedication, and distinction as part of this esteemed unit of women.
“Words cannot adequately express how proud we are of our native daughter, Mrs. Gladys Blount — who during a time of racial strife both home and abroad — courageously answered the call to duty for our country,” said Mayor Ted R. Green.
“This honor is long overdue and we found it fitting to make this special trip to visit Mrs. Blount in her home and recognize her as one of our living legends on whose shoulders we humbly stand.”
Mayor Green will present Blount with a Key to the City, a proclamation and a “Green Medal of Honor,” a new award to bestow the city’s highest expression for East Orange citizens who have made notable contributions and achievements with global impact.
A ceremonial street re-naming on North Oraton Parkway is currently being planned for this August.
A beautician before WWII, Blount said she initially enlisted because she was restless and concerned as “there were only old men and young boys around.” As an able-bodied young woman, Blount said she was compelled to help in any way she could.
Upon her sister’s suggestion, Blount joined the armed forces and completed basic training in Des Moines, IA, before being assigned to Fort Benning in Georgia. While working in the dispensary at Fort Benning, Blount seized the chance to go overseas, an opportunity that would satisfy her strong desire to travel around the world.
“I felt secure because there were so many women with me,” said Blount.
Although Blount acknowledges experiencing several incidents of racism and segregation during her tour, she says that the critical mission at hand eclipsed those moments: “Our assignment may have seemed simple, but the work we did was important to so many,” she said, citing the motto edged in her memory: “No Mail, Low Morale.”