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Photo contributed by Chris McKeever / Women of the 6888th Central Postal Directory Battalion were assigned to deliver over 17 million pieces of backlogged mail to American soldiers in Europe. An award-winning documentary focused on their mission will premiere in Chattanooga on Feb. 13.

It was 855 black women who made up the U.S. Army's 6888th Central Postal Directory Battalion during World War II. Commonly known as "The Six Triple Eight," this battalion was the only all-African American, all-female unit to serve overseas during the war.

The women had a one-year assignment to organize and ship over 17 million pieces of mail to American soldiers in Europe. They did it in six months.

And their story started at the Third Army Women's Army Corps Training Center in Fort Oglethorpe.

On Thursday, Feb. 13, the documentary "The Six Triple Eight" will share their story in a free screening at 3 p.m. in the University of Tennessee's University Center Auditorium in Chattanooga. There will also be a Q&A with producers James W. Theres and Edna Cummings, National Park Service interpretive ranger Brian Autry, and Beverly Foster, president of the Walker County African American Historical and Alumni Association.

Following their two-week training in Georgia, this group of women from across the country was shipped off to Birmingham, England, where the mail waited. The women worked 24 hours a day, usually in triple shifts, to clear the backlog of letters.

It's estimated they cleared about 65,000 pieces of mail per shift. They worked under the motto "No mail, low morale."

Their training at the Army Corps consisted of drills like crawling under barbed wire, identifying planes overhead, and gas mask drills, said 6th Cavalry Museum Executive Director Chris McKeever.

While they were training to serve their country in Fort Oglethorpe, they faced both sexism and deep-seated racism in the South. In one book McKeever read, she said the women were warned not to visit Chattanooga.

"There they are, they've taken on the same responsibilities and were still treated differently," she said.

McKeever first learned about the documentary early last year when a couple from North Carolina visited the museum and asked if there was an exhibit on the 6888th.

"I just about fell off my chair," McKeever said with a laugh.

They were neighbors of a producer of the documentary and told McKeever about the movie premiering across the county. In the next few months, McKeever got in touch with the film's director and saw the movie premier in Atlanta last November.

The local screening kicks off a bigger project to honor the legacy of the 6888th in Fort Oglethorpe with a permanent exhibit and educational curriculum offered to local schools.

"This is a real opportunity to say 'thank you' to these ladies," said McKeever.

The museum is also looking to locate descendants of the 6888th in the Chattanooga area to collect records, letters and photos. McKeever said there were about 40 from Georgia, 11 from Tennessee and 25 from Alabama.

Last February, U.S. Sen. Jerry Moran (R-Kan.) introduced a bill to award the Six Triple Eight with a Congressional Gold Medal. The bill was referred to the Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs on Feb. 28, 2019.

"These are the stories that need to be told," McKeever said.

Email Sabrina Bodon at sbodon@timesfreepress.com.

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