ALEXANDRIA, Va. -- Melody Campbell came to work at the U.S. Army Geospatial Center on the day after Veteran's Day with no idea of her mother's legacy of military service as part of the Women's Army Corps 6888th Central Postal Directory Battalion.
There were 150,000 women who served in WWII as WACs, and Pfc. Maybelle Campbell was not only one of them, her commander was the first African-American woman to be commissioned into the Women's Army Auxiliary Corps in the summer of 1942 to lead their 800-person battalion.
The Six-Triple Eight, as they have been called, under the direction Lt. Col. Charity Adams, was the first and only all Black Female Women's Army Corps unit to be deployed overseas during WWII.
"My mother's unit replaced another group," said Campbell. "The mail was piled to the ceiling and my mother's unit had nine months to turn it around."
The Six-Triple Eight's mission was to clear several years of backlogged mail in the European Theater of Operations.
"They did it in three months," Campbell said. Their motto was, "No mail, low morale."
Campbell had been at AGC, part of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, nearly 10 years supporting geospatial analysts, finding maps and other references, as a cataloger, before she knew the story.
What she knew was that the elder Ms. Campbell was high on respect. Campbell said of her mother, "She said you give respect and you don't let anyone disrespect you."
Campbell also inherited her mother's attention to detail and knack for timeliness. "I hate being late," she said.
"Growing up I knew my mother was an Army veteran," Campbell said. "She mentioned she learned to drive a stick shift [vehicle] there."
The elder Ms. Campbell had mentioned doing pushups in the mud and rain over the years to her three children. But, in 2018 when the Six-Triple Eight was first recognized with a monument in the Buffalo Soldier Military Park at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, not only had Campbell not heard the story of her mother's WWII experience, as she spoke to other families in attendance, the thing she said they strangely held in common, is no one came back from WWII and discussed what happened with their families.
The women of the Six-Triple Eight took care of each other. Some of them were nurses, hair dressers and others seamstresses. If someone was sick or just needed a hair do, they did it among themselves, Campbell said.
"When the unit came to the U.S. there was not a public mention of their existence. No welcome. No parade," Campbell said. "They were celebrated in Britain and France, but not in America."
It took 70 years to thank the unit on the home front, Campbell said. "One thing I hate is at her age she does not fully understand all that has happened in her honor due to suffering from dementia."
The elder Ms. Campbell, 98, uses a walker to get around. Her body is frail in comparison to the spirited 19-year-old who pushed ahead in spite of being told she was too young to join the Army. Her memory has faded from those early days.
Since 2018, there have been ceremonies, parades, articles, and even a Dream Flight, where the elder Ms. Campbell donned her gear and sat in the front of a restored 1940s Boeing Stearman open Cockpit biplane from WWII.
"The American Valor Salute to Heroes put on by the American Veterans Center and airing Monday has by far been the most grand of the celebrations," Campbell said of the four-hour event held Oct. 26 at the Omni Shoreham Hotel.
"An actor who was familiar to me came up to us and pointed out my mother as Six-Triple Eight. He said, 'I know all about you. Thank you!'"
Terry Crews narrated the story of the more than 800 women who served with the Six-Triple Eight, Campbell said. Of those women, only seven veterans lived to see this recognition. All of them were in attendance.
"It was breathtaking," Campbell said. "They set the standard not just for black women, but for all women in the Women's Army Corps."
Campbell and her family will be tuning in with her mother this Veterans Day, to watch American Valor with an entirely new perspective about military service than she started with when she came to work at the Army Geospatial Center 11 years ago.
"My mother is a hero, a trailblazer, Campbell said. "I'm so proud of her."