When CW2, USA Retired and NAACP Armed Services and Veterans Affairs Committee, Chair, Latia Suttle, attended a screening for the ‘Six Triple Eight’ documentary a few years ago, she left having learned about members of the Women’s Army Corps (WAC). The Battalion, also known as the “Six Triple Eight,” were 855 Black women who were deployed overseas during World War II. They were assigned to the 6888th Central Postal Directory Battalion.
Suttle could not believe that she had not heard about the ‘Six Triple Eight’ growing up or during her time serving in the U.S. Army from 1993 to officially retiring in 2014. She explained that she has been to numerous military bases, including Germany, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Korea, Chicago, and others, but hadn’t heard a single story about these women.
“I just couldn’t believe I never heard this story of 855 black women being in World War II. I’ve heard about the Tuskegee airmen which is a story that struggled to get out but, I was just shocked I had never heard that story during the entire time that I was in the military,” she explained.
While at the screening, she met Alva Stevenson and Rosenda Moore. Their mother, PVT Lydia Esther Thorton Moore, was a member of the 6888th and was in the documentary. The ladies exchanged contact information, and Suttle ensured them she would continue to spread the word about the story and film.
On February 28, 2022, it was announced that the act to award the Congressional Gold Medal to the members of the WAC (Six Triple Eight) had passed. On Monday, January 3, 2022, the 117th Congress of the United States of America at the Second Session in the City of Washington enacted the ‘Six Triple Eight’ Congressional Gold Medal Act of 2021, and on March 14th, just two months later, the legislation was signed into law.
Suttle was extremely thrilled that the act had passed and felt that it was “about time” it happened.
“I felt good about it. It’s about time. There’s finally some acknowledgment. Then this way, more people will learn about it. Even though they have the congressional gold medal, a lot of people still don’t know about the story. This will help spread more awareness about them and the work that they had done,” she stated.
A year prior to the passing of the act, Latia had set in motion the idea to do a Wreath Laying Ceremony for the members of the 6888th that were laid to rest at the Inglewood Park Cemetery. COL (Retired), Irma Cooper, who is President of Women in Service and Vice President and Chair of San Gabriel Valley NAACP Armed Services and Veteran Affairs Committee, had done a wreath laying ceremony before, so Latia and Army Veteran and Chair of NAACP Los Angeles Branch Armed Services and Veteran Affairs Committee, Dr. Felicia Banks put the idea together to make this ceremony happen.
Instead of having the ceremony during December – when it usually takes place – it was planned to occur in March for Women’s History Month.
Cooper, was also shocked when she heard the story of the women.
“I had been in the military for about ten years before I had even heard of them. Like Latia, I was totally shocked because the only two I heard was the Hellfighters from New York and the Tuskegee airmen. I had never heard anything about black women in a combat zone. That really blew my mind and I wanted to learn more because at that time I wanted to be a commander. At that time, nurses were not allowed to command,” Cooper emphasized.
She also shares the same excitement Suttle has for the passing of the act,
“I was so excited. I just felt like for those women to have accomplished everything they did, to come home without a ceremony, no award. These ladies were so powerful just to go home and continue to live their lives without saying negative things about the country. It was 70 years late, but I was so glad that they were given that recognition and it was so well deserved,” Cooper expressed.
The ceremony took place Sunday, March 27, 2022 at Inglewood Park Cemetery. The Washington Preparatory High School JROTC Color Guard opened the ceremony under the leadership of John Williams, JR., 1SG (RET). The National Anthem was sung by Navy Veteran, Audra Jefferson with Dr. Felicia Banks opening the program with an acknowledgment to the 6888th family members, and attendees.
The Mayor of Inglewood, James T. Butts Jr. also gave a warm welcome and participated in laying the wreath for PVT Lydia Thornton. Cooper says the ceremony was “flawless,” and addresses how the final resting place for these women were in his city, Inglewood, made it more important.
“He addressed the family members personally which was really, really good. It really made me feel good. We’re talking about women that looked like us and then for Latia to come up and say, “These are our people and we need to initiate this ceremony.” Latia did a lot of research which made it even more exciting. I heard about the ‘Six Triple Eight,’ but I did not know they were in my backyard, right here in Inglewood. I had missed that all these years,” she continued.
The ceremony included memorable speeches from Suttle, Cooper, Banks, Antwanisha Williamson, Virginia Wimmer, a poem by Navy veteran Daphne “Dee” Wright, a dove release, benediction from Pastor Byron L. Smith Sr., musical selections sung by Navy veteran, Audra Jefferson and a harpist selection by Elaine Litster.