Groundbreaking Black WWII veteran turns 104; recalls anniversary of law that allowed women in the military
MONTGOMERY, Alabama — Women have always served their country in some capacity. During the Revolutionary War, many took on traditional... The post Groundbreaking Black WWII veteran turns 104; recalls anniversary of law that allowed women in the military first appeared on NABJ Black News & Views.
MONTGOMERY, Alabama — Women have always served their country in some capacity. During the Revolutionary War, many took on traditional roles as nurses and cooks. During the civil war more than 400 women courageously served in combat disguised as men and some even went behind enemy lines as spies.
But the threat of World War II changed the landscape for women and the military.
In 1948, President Harry Truman signed the Women’s Armed Services Integration Act, which allowed women a chance to serve in all branches of the military. The legislation gave women the ranks and privileges of their male counterparts.
It has been 75 years since that historic law passed. Women continue to play a pivotal role in this country’s military, and they have trailblazers like Romay Davis to thank.
Davis, who turned 104 on Sunday, Oct. 29, is the oldest living member of the 6888th Central Postal Directory Battalion, a mostly Black female unit that served overseas during World War II. The womens’ mission was to sort through more than 17 million pieces of mail abandoned in warehouses that never made it to troops, who were desperate to hear from home.
“They knew they had packages from family.” Davis said.
It was Davis’s dream to serve in the military and to follow in the footsteps of her five brothers who were serving in the Army. With the blessing of her parents a young Davis, who was about 19- or 20-years-old, left her home in King George, Virginia, to join the Women’s Army Corp.
She called it “a wide-open experience.”
The 6888th Central Postal Directory Battalion was created in 1944, More than 800 women were stationed in Birmingham, England, to begin the daunting task of sorting through thousands of pieces of mail.
They worked around the clock, three eight-hour shifts, seven days a week to make sure the troops received long-awaited letters and packages from home, and they did their job in record time. It took only three months to get things organized and to get mail to men waiting to hear from loved ones.
Davis, however, never touched a piece of the mail.
As part of the 6888th, she worked in the motor pool as a chauffeur, but she’ll never forget seeing the warehouse and the bags of letters and packages stacked to the ceiling.
“Big bags” she recalled, “one stacked on top of the other all the way to the ceiling, and the women would sit at long tables and they would sort it from the bags.”
The women of the 6888th Central Postal Directory Battalion, also called “The 6 Triple 8,” served with honor and dignity. Still, they faced discrimination. First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt and educator Mary McLeod Bethune, who served in President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s administration, fought to give Black women the opportunity to serve in the Army despite opposition.
But Davis never wavered. She knew the work her unit was doing was crucial to the country and to the men on the frontlines.
“They could not do their duties sufficiently without a touch from home,” Davis said.
Changes in the military
Another milestone for the armed forces came in 1948. President Truman signed Executive Order 9981 that mandated the desegregation of all branches of the military. The Air Force was the first to fully integrate.
The 75th anniversary of the Women’s Armed Services Integration Act and Executive Order 9981 coincide with the year Davis turns 104, and despite having so much to celebrate, she is not looking forward to the pomp and circumstance.
“I never thought about a birthday party or bothered with age,” she said.
But Romay Davis is worth every accolade. After leaving the Army, she worked for 30 years as a fashion designer in New York, creating children’s clothing patterns and designs for Glen of Michigan.
After New York, love took her to the deep South. She married Jerry Davis, an Alabama native. They had been together for nearly 50 years when he died in 1999. Today, Davis shares wonderful memories of their life together.
“We danced together, we traveled together from here to out West,” she said. “Wherever we went, we went together.”
Davis eventually settled in Montgomery, Alabama, and has lived her life to the fullest. She’s dabbled in real estate, taught herself to paint and in her late 70s, earned her second-degree black belt in Taekwondo.
And Davis did not stop there. At the age of 80, she rejoined the workforce, stocking shelves at a local Winn-Dixie grocery store for more than 20 years
“I just enjoyed myself. I did the work, and I did it in excellent fashion.” Davis said.
But it is the job that earned her the highest civilian award in the country that has landed her on the pages of history.
On July 26, 2022, Davis received the Congressional Gold Medal on behalf of the 688th Central Postal Directory Battalion for their groundbreaking service to their country. While she is not much into birthdays, Romay Davis is a pioneer who deserves to be honored, whether on her birthday or any other day for bravely breaking down barriers so that other women can proudly serve their country.
But Davis prefers humility and graciousness.
She says about the medal: “It’s not mine, it’s everybody’s.”