LT COL Charity Adams Earley
2 major sources – A New York Times Article that was part of the “Beyond the World War II We Know,” series and an article by By Dr. Kelly A. Spring in 2017 for the National Women’s History Museum.
Both were great articles and I wanted to give them the credit up front, and I’ll also link them and the other sources I used in the show notes
Lt. Col. Charity Edna Adams (Married name would become name Earley) was born on December 5, 1918 in Kittrell, North Carolina. She grew up in Columbia, South Carolina. She was the oldest of 4 children. Her father was a minister, and her mother was a teacher. Adams was intellectually advanced, and began elementary school as a second grader. During her last year in elementary school she tested for early advancement to high school. Adams and twelve others passed the test for high school. However, her parents did not allow her to move up early, because she has already several grades ahead of her peers.
Later she graduated as valedictorian from Booker T. Washington High School. Graduating top of her class enabled her to gain a scholarship, so that she could attend Wilburforce University in Ohio, one of the best African American higher educational institutions at the time.
While at Wilburforce University, Adams majored in mathematics, Latin, and physics, and minored in history. Towards the end of her studies at, Adams also took courses in education, so that she could teach after completing her degree. She was also very active in school groups, participating in the university’s branches of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), the Women’s Self-Government Association, and the Greek sorority, Delta Sigma Theta. She graduated from Wilberforce University with a Bachelor of Arts in 1938.
From 1938 until 1942, she taught math and science at a junior high in Columbia, South Carolina. In the summers, when she was not teaching, she took graduate courses at Ohio State University, later declaring her major for her graduate degree as vocational psychology.
In 1942, the United States was expanding its military forces as it went to war with Germany and Japan. As part of this effort, the Women’s Auxiliary Army Corps (WAAC), later known as the Women’s Army Corps (WAC), was created in the spring of 1942.
Hearing about the formation of the WAAC, Adams decided to apply for a place in the organization. She was accepted in July 1942 and travelled to Iowa to begin training at Fort Des Moines as a member of the first WAC officer candidate school. She completed training and was commissioned on August 29, 1942. Adams remained at the training center in Fort Des Moines until 1944. During that time, she worked as a staff training officer, a station control officer, and a company commander. In September 1943, she was promoted to major, making her the highest-ranking female officer at the training center.
In January 1945 26-year-old MAJ Charity Adams was the first African-American commanding officer in the Women’s Army Corps to be deployed to a theater of war. She was given her orders, marked “Secret,” and she wasn’t allowed to unseal them until her flight was in the air. When she opened her orders, they said that her destination was somewhere in the British Isles; she would be briefed on the mission once she was on the ground.
She was to be the Commander of 6888th (Six Triple Eight) Central Postal Directory Battalion, which was part of the Signal Corp. Their mission was to organize and direct mail to U.S. servicemen which had gone undelivered.
A couple of weeks later in Birmingham England, Adams addressed her battalion of hundreds of black women soldiers. MAJ Adams explained that they would begin work immediately. The battalion was faced with air hangers full of undelivered post, which needed to be sorted and redirected. The work was grueling, the hours long, and what little sleep they were allowed was often to interruption by air raids. Progress would be measured by the depletion of undelivered mail they had been sent to England to sort out. “No mail, no morale,” was their motto.
With the war now at its bloody peak, mail was indispensable for morale, but delivering it had become a logistical nightmare. The backlog, piled haphazardly in air plane hangars, amounted to more than 17 million letters and packages addressed to military personnel scattered across Europe. MAJ Adams was allotted six months to complete her mission. The Six Triple Eight would do it in three.
In the winter of 1945 more than 1,800 tons of ordnance had been dropped on the city Birmingham, England during the Battle of Britain. The Six Triple Eight was delivered by convoy to a bombed-damaged school on the edge of town. There was little heat and barely any light, as the windows had been painted black to avoid detection by the Luftwaffe, or German Air Force. In addition to serving as a barracks for the unit’s more than 800 enlisted personnel, the building would also be their workplace. As for the daily mechanics of the operation, there was still a lot that needed to be figured out.
MAJ Adams split her battalion into four postal-directory companies, and duties were divided up. The women worked around the clock, seven days a week, in rotating eight-hour shifts. Each shift sorted and processed approximately 65,000 pieces of mail bound for troops scattered across Europe. Letters and packages were often labeled without key identifying information, like serial numbers, making it exceedingly difficult to locate the intended recipients, especially because many soldiers shared the same name. More than 7,500 Robert Smiths served in the European Theater.
Once the initial shock of the workload wore off it was replaced with a collective determination. Before long, the Six Triple Eight was operating the fastest and most reliable mail directory in the entire European Theater. Looking back years later, women who served under Adams would recount how she earned their full support by going above and beyond to safeguard the unit’s integrity. Like the time an American general appeared in Birmingham for a surprise inspection. When he complained of low turnout, Adams explained that a third of the battalion was occupied with their work, while their strict scheduling required another third to be sleeping. Appalled, the general threatened to replace her. “I’m going to send a white first lieutenant down here to show you how to run this unit,” he said. But Adams didn’t budge. Her reply: “Over my dead body, sir.” The general made moves to court-martial Adams for insubordination but ultimately, he backed down, and she remained in charge.
Adams also clashed with the Red Cross after it prepared a segregated hotel specially for Six Triple Eight members on leave in London. Apparently worried about black servicewomen socializing with white soldiers and civilians in the city, the organization suggested to Adams that “colored girls would be happier if they had a hotel all to themselves.” At the encouragement of Adams, nobody from the unit ever stayed there. Instead, she coordinated with black troops stationed in London to ensure her soldiers stayed only in integrated hotels. The outcome was a victory for Adams. “What we had was a large group of adult Negro women who had been victimized, in one way or another, by racial bias,” she wrote in her memoir. “This was one opportunity to stand together for a common cause.”
During this time Adams believed that she and her troops had been set up for failure. Before the formation of the Six Triple Eight, it was unfathomable that a unit composed entirely of black women would be posted overseas and trusted with such a monumental task. The Six Triple Eight was an experiment — a pass-fail test to determine the value black women brought to the military. Years of pressure from civil rights activists, including the first lady, Eleanor Roosevelt, had convinced the War Department to give Black women a shot, but those who strongly opposed their inclusion in the ranks expected to be validated by seeing the Six Triple Eight fail.
Adams later stated in her memoir that “The eyes of the public would be upon us, waiting for one slip in our conduct or performance,” She knew that just getting the job done wouldn’t be enough. The Six Triple Eight would need to not only pass the test but also, as Adams wrote, prove to “be the best WAC unit ever sent into a foreign theater.”
And they became just that.
Following Germany’s surrender in May 1945, the Six Triple Eight was sent to France. They had been summoned to the city of Rouen to clear another postal backlog while noncombat military operations continued in the aftermath of the war. It was there that MAJ Adams tragically lost three of her own to a motor-vehicle accident: Mary Bankston, Mary Barlow and Dolores Browne, a trio known in their company as the “three B’s.” Adams was determined that they receive a proper burial. A few members of the battalion had worked in a mortuary before joining the military, and they prepared the bodies. The services, paid for with money the unit raised, were held in a hospital chapel. Bankston, Barlow and Browne account for three of just four women buried at the Normandy American Cemetery.
In December 1945, Adams and much of the Six Triple Eight sailed back to the United States. That same month, the Army promoted Adams to lieutenant colonel, making her the first African-American woman to achieve that rank.
Despite the enormous sacrifices made by black soldiers overseas, the military wasn’t officially desegregated until 1948. It would take another two decades for the country as a whole to follow suit — and that process is still far from complete. Five more decades passed before the Six Triple Eight, as a unit, received any formal recognition for its contributions during World War II. In 2019, the Army awarded the battalion the Meritorious Unit Commendation. As Lena King, 97, one of the Six Triple Eight’s few still-surviving members, put it, “We were never made to feel like anything we’d done was special. We never got a parade. We just went home to our families.”
And that’s how the story ended for most of the Six Triple Eight.
Lt. Col. Adams left the service the following year. Following the completion of her graduate degree, she went to work with the Veterans Administration in Cleveland, Ohio as a registration officer. In this position, she reviewed WWII veterans’ requests for educational funding and other benefits offered under the G.I. Bill. She determined how much each veteran would be awarded. She continued in this position from 1946 to 1947. She then turned to a variety of roles in academic administration. She worked as the dean of student personnel services at Tennessee Agricultural and Industrial State College in Nashville, Tennessee and the dean of students at Georgia State College in Savannah, Georgia.
After getting married in 1949, Earley moved to Zurich, Switzerland, where her husband, Stanley A. Earley Jr., was training to be a doctor. In Zurich, she attended Minerva Institute for ten months to learn German. When she had mastered the language, she attended courses for two years at the University of Zurich. In her second year, Earley also studied at the Jungian Institute of Analytical Psychology, but she did not pursue a degree.
Upon her return to the United States in the 1950s, she was extremely active in community and civic work in Ohio, where she lived. She sat on a number of boards including: the board of directors and the board of governors of the Dayton chapter of the American Red Cross, the board of the Sinclair Community College, and the board of the Dayton Power and Light Company. Adams stated in her book that “The problems of racial harmony, black acceptance and opportunity were still unresolved, but these were problems I could still work to help solve as a civilian.”
She was the founder of the Black Leadership Development Program (BLDP) in Dayton in 1982, which seeks to educate and train African Americans to be leaders in their communities.
It wasn’t until November 2018 that the Six Triple Eight was received some of the recognition that they deserved. The Army dedicated a monument to the Six Triple Eight. Designed by sculptor Eddie Dixon, the monument features 841 of the 855 women of the Six-Triple-Eight, a bust of Lt. Col Adams and iconic photos highlighting the unit’s mission.
Dominc Johnson, a researcher who helped identify the names for the monument said in an interview with Connecting Vets that, “Obtaining the 6888 names for the both of us was an obsession. It still is a sticking point not to have all 855. What we did accomplish was we identified all 31 officers and 810 NCOs and enlisted members of the battalion … But, to find the rest has to come from family members. We need help from their families if they are still living and their mothers even spoke about their military careers.”
Johnson recently recovered two more names of women who served with the unit and while they’re names cannot be added to the granite monument; his intent is to place the remaining 14 names on a plaque
Of the over 800 servicewomen, five were present at their monument dedication ceremony at Fort Leavenworth.
When Adams died in January 2002, her family requested an honor guard but was turned down by an Army. The Army stated they were stretched thin by the recent invasion of Afghanistan and couldn’t spare the soldiers for an Honor Guard. Only after an Air Force general learned of Adams’s passing and offered to provide an honor guard for her funeral, as an acknowledgment of the importance of her legacy to all of the armed services, did the Army reverse its decision. So, two honor guards — the Army’s, and one from the Air Force, composed mostly of women — helped lay to rest the commander of the Six Triple Eight and the first black woman to ever lead American troops overseas.
COL Ruby Bradley
Ruby Bradley was born in Spencer, WV in 1907
She went to college and worked as a school teacher in a one room school house near her home town in W. Virginia. She loved her work, but wanted more adventure.
Her sister Sally, was an Army nurse working in Walter Reed. One day Sally invited her sister shadow her at the hospital. During her visit she decided that was exactly what she was looking for.
During the depression it was difficult to get a nursing job, but ruby’s college degree and teaching experience gave her an advantage. She was accepted and trained at the Philadelphia General hospital.
After graduation she joined the Army Nurses corps and took the Army officers oath was given the rank of Second lieutenant on October 16th 1934.
This was however different than the normal ranks of the Army. It was a relative rank which meant that not only did they receive two thirds less than other regular army officers, but enlisted soldiers did not have to salute them. These nurses did not attend basic training and were not considered actual soldiers.
She was stationed at Water reed, following in her sister’s footsteps.
She was quickly assigned as a surgical nurse and was always the favorite of both the patients and the doctors.
In January 1940 she was sent to the Philippines. And in February 1941 she was one of two nurses in the small hospital on Camp John Hay. She was about two hundred miles from Manilla.
Then the day that will live in infamy arrived and ruby was right in the middle of it in the Philippines. When the bombing started the little army hospital was overrun with burn victims. In that first day of bombing alone she assisted with 37 operations.
When the Japanese invaded the Philippines, the camp was evacuated and they ended up making their way through the jungle to a local miner’s home at the top of a mountain. Ruby and the other nurse Bea set up a small aide station to help the fleeing American families that found their way through the jungle to the mill where they were greeted and housed by the family there.
They soon realized they had nowhere to go and capture was inevitable. So they made the long trek with the families through the jungle back to camp john hay, later camp john Holmes, and finally Santo Tomas where they were held as POWs. Ruby was a POW from 29 Dec 1941 until she was finally liberated on 12 Feb 1943
During her time as a POW she assisted in over 230 operations and personally delivered over a dozen babies. The conditions in these internment camps was awful. Reading about the trials they experience, it was heartbreaking. These nurses were tough as nails, so people are just cut out for this line of work. Being a POW is awful, being a POW and also spending your days exhausting yourself in the constant care of others in another thing entirely.
The camp at Santo Tomas held over 6,000 prisoners and contained three hospitals. Ruby’s time in this camp was from September 1942 to feb 1943 and by the time they were freed they were existing off 6 oz of food a day.
She was promoted to 1LT in 1945- (she spent 12 years as a 2LT) and then to CPT that same year. Five years she would see Major, two more to LTC and then three to COL.
You would think that after surviving the camps as long as she did under such extreme conditions that she would have been ready to take a break, but not Ruby.
She had a few assignments as head nurse in different hospitals and eventually was assigned to Korea in 1950, during the Korean war. She worked as the head nurse of the 171 expeditionary hospital. Once again Ruby was in the thick of it as her hospital had to be evacuated before it was overrun by the enemy.
Shortly after the escape she was assigned as the head nurse medical section for 8th Army. Ruby was all over performing battlefield rotations and checking on all of her units. This was the woman you wanted in your corner, advocating for her patients and her teams. She retired in 1963.
Was amazes me most about this was how ruby and her friend Bea were treated after they returned home from their time as POWs. The women stated that the other nurses would demean them and make comments about how the prisoner of war did know much. They were assigned to work under other nurses that were lower ranking and less experienced than them. And for the years following their return they were shuffled from one crap assignment to the next.
Angel in Fatigues, The Story of Ruby Bradley, the most decorated woman in the history of the United States Army by Nancy Polette 2013