Elizabeth B. Johnson is proof how greatness and big things can come in small packages. We had the honor to meet and photograph her earlier this month in Hickory, North Carolina. She was an Army veteran serving in the Six-Triple Eight Central Postal Battalion, an all African-American-Woman unit serving overseas during WWII, as a truck driver and postal clerk.
“My career with the Army started on March 11, 1943. After joining I was sent to Fort Devens, Massachusetts, for basic training for approximately eight weeks. From there I was sent to Camp Campbell, Kentucky, which is now called Fort Campbell. I was stationed there for approximately 16 months.” Johnson explains.
“From Fort Campbell, I was sent to Fort Oglethorpe in Georgia for basic overseas training. After leaving Fort Oglethorpe, I was sent to New York where we were going to be shipped overseas. During our travels to Birmingham, England, the captain of the ship noticed a submarine in the waters ahead of us, we were told we had to sleep in our clothes that night. Consequently, the ship turned around and headed back to New York.”
Later, Johnson’s captain had the okay that things were clear and they continued to England. “While in England I drove a truck transporting goods to different locations. Sometimes I would even transport soldiers to different locations as well. I served in England for approximately eight months, and was then shipped to Rouen, France.”
While Johnson was in Rouen, she worked in a makeshift post office building. That was where she and the others in the Six-Triple Eight Central Postal Battalion separated mail that “had been stacked to the ceiling”. Johnson recalls, “We worked tirelessly trying to separate all the mail and get it to the troops. Mail was one thing the troops looked forward to getting each week, and we worked to make sure they received their mail.” Johnson and almost 800 other women of the unit sorted mail for over seven million people in the European Theater of Operations. She worked at the makeshift post office for around eight months, and then the war ended. “We had a choice to stay there or come back to the United States,” Johnson said, “Since I had lost my father during this time and found out that my mother was sick, I decided to come home and be with her.” In November of 1945, she sailed back to the United States on the Queen Mary.
When asked what was the most memorable or most significant during her service, she said, “While serving in Rouen, France, I remember bombs dropping and shaking the building we were working in.”
Special thanks goes to Johnson’s daughter, Cynthia, for providing the great personal photographs.
© Veteran portrait by Stacy L. Pearsall, story by Des’ola Mecozzi