MESA, Ariz. — Maj. Fran McClendon was surrounded by well-wishers taking pictures with her and shaking her hand Tuesday morning.
The 101-year-old served with the little-known 688th Central Postal Directory Battalion also called the “Six Triple Eight.” An all-black women's battalion whose mission was to fix a broken down mailing system in Europe during World War II.
Their motto is “No mail, low morale”
Defying the doubters these women got the system running efficiently in three months connecting the troops on the front lines with messages from home.
“Pleased at the memories that people are now understanding what we accomplished while we were there,” said Major Fran McClendon.
At a ceremony held at the Commemorative Air Force Museum in Mesa, McClendon received the Congressional Gold Medal proclamation bestowed on members of the “Six Triple Eight.”
The Congressional Gold Medal is the highest honor an American can receive – past honorees include George Washington, Martin Luther King Jr. and Thomas Edison.
McClendon is one of only a few members alive to experience this honor.
“Amazing I didn’t think anything like this could happen and I didn’t look forward to it until people started talking about it,” said McClendon.
The late Corporal Lydia Thornton who grew up in Nogales, Arizona not only served with the battalion but also acted as a Spanish translator during the war.
She was half Mexican American and half African American. She was given the choice of joining an all-white battalion or a black battalion. She chose the latter.
Her daughters accepted in her honor.
“My heart is full. It’s just overwhelming in a good way for my sister and I,” said Rosenda Moore.
Thornton never spoke about her service much but she did come from a family history of relatives who served. Her grandfather served in the Civil War and her brother also served in World War II.
“A lot of it was about family. She was serving because her brother was bayonetted in the Pacific theater. So, with honor and love of her brother. So the family had to do with a lot of it,” said Alva Stevenson.
Not only did the ladies serve their country at a time when racism was high – they broke down barriers for black women when there were very few opportunities.
The actual Congressional Gold Medal is currently in mint. It’ll take about a year before the recipients will receive it.
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