Several years ago in this column we profiled Lt. Col. Charity Adams who, during World War
II, was commander of the 6888th Central Postal Directory Battalion, famously known as the “Six Triple Eight.” In the few stories available on Charity, she was often accompanied by Captain
Abbie Noel Campbell, and the photo here shows her walking behind Charity in England around
1945 reviewing the troops under their command.
Composing articles on either of the women meant assembling bits and pieces on them, and
even more daunting when completing one on Abbie. One of the longer snippets on Abbie
appears in Gail Buckley’s American Patriots. She captures the two women in bucket seats on a
C-54 cargo plane with no real understanding of the assignment and destination. “Adams and
Campbell were two of three women among the 19 passengers,” Buckley wrote. “The third
woman was a civilian who arrived with suitcases, hat boxes, and a cosmetic case, and ignored
the Black WACs. She would speak only to the most senior male VIP. The male passengers
included military officers, civilian VIPs, and a war correspondent who wrote nonstop throughout
“A very young captain,” Buckley continued, “doubtless thinking that ‘the three of us were the
most lost souls of the group’ attached himself to Adams and Campbell. Another man made it a
group of four, dining together to stare [at us] on the Bermuda stopover.” Like most of their fellow passengers, Adams and Campbell carried sealed envelopes with instructions to open sometime after takeoff. About forty-five minutes over the ocean, envelopes began appearing, all fingered self-consciously. ‘I’m going to open this thing,’ said one man, breaking the ice. Reactions varied from surprise to pleasure to indifference. Adams and Campbell were ‘shocked’ to discover that their secret orders were for London. In their bags they carried lists of places and people to see in Paris.
It took a few days for them to become accustomed to life in London that was often disrupted
by dark nights and shelling. The racism they expected from residents, and particularly for Black
women in the military, occurred but not with the viciousness often experienced in the States.
Even so, as Abbie recalled, there “was among U.S. military personnel who could not believe
Negro WAC officers were real. Salutes were slow in coming and, frequently, returned with great
But before they could meet the women in their unit, most of them chosen by Abbie, they had to make a trip to Paris to report to the European Theater of Operations and the officers in charge. During one dining session with the command officers, Adams was asked “Can your troops march?” To Adams it merely meant, were they ready to fulfill their duties. “Yes, sir, and you will find they are the best marching troops you will ever see,” Adams responded. During their stay in Paris, they had an opportunity to meet the legendary Brig. General Benjamin O. Davis Sr. whose extensive career began with the Ninth Cavalry of the Buffalo Soldiers.
If the commander and the executive officer of the 6888th were unaware of their mission and
destination, there was no reason to expect their unit to be in the know. Eight hundred Black women were aboard the SS Île de France when it departed the U.S. on Feb. 3, 1945. Eleven days later, fortunate to avoid German U-Boats, they arrived in Glasgow, Scotland.
Waiting on the docks for them was Charity and Abbie. “Thanks to seasickness, the salt water spray, and the limited personal conveniences, when they arrived after twelve days at sea, the group was a very unhappy looking lot,” Adams recalled in her book “One Woman’s Army: A
Black Officer Remembers the WAC,” published by Texas A&M University in 1989.
Unable to secure a copy of the book, I have no knowledge how much she discussed Abbie, though it seemed impossible for her to leave out the memorable occasions they had together. Nor am I aware of the extent to which Charity discussed the tragedy that occurred while the unit was stationed in Rouen, France. A Jeep accident there killed three members of the unit—Sgt.
Delores Browne, Pfc. Mary Bankston, and Pfc Mary Barlow. They are buried at Colleville-sur-Mer-Normandy American Cemetery. Of the nearly 9,400 Americans buried there, only four are
women, three of them from the 6888th. Abbie recalled their burials. “We had women who had
worked in funeral parlors before,” she said, “they fixed up the ladies real nice.”
We are thankful for the creative nonfiction of Tanita Davis and her book “Mare’s War” to
provide at least a glimpse of what the women endured during the war. When Abbie died July
2, 2007 a memorial service was conducted at St. Andrews Episcopal Church at Tuskegee
Institute, in the town where she lived and worked for years at the Tuskegee Veterans
Administration Medical Center. A tweet to an Internet posting on Abbie’s passing came from
Karen Owens, who appreciated the recognition of an aunt she was very proud of.