Actor and filmmaker Tyler Perry knows a great story when he comes across one. And when he read Kevin Hymel’s dramatic narrative of the 6888th Central Postal Battalion in the pages of WWII History magazine, he knew it was something special.
Perry, whose partnership with Netflix has been quite successful in recent years, is putting together Six Triple Eight, a feature film that is already in production. And star power is contributing strongly to the anticipated Netflix release to viewers with Oprah Winfrey, Kerry Washington, Sam Waterston, and Susan Sarandon committing to key roles.
Six Triple Eight relates the experiences of the U.S. Army’s only all-Black, all-female unit to serve overseas during World War II. Based on Hymel’s exhaustively researched work, the film will recount the struggles of these women in uniform as they faced discrimination, separation from their families overseas during wartime, and the daunting task of sorting and distributing a three-year-old mountain of undelivered mail to service personnel in the European Theater of Operations. Adopting the motto “No Mail, Low Morale,” the 850 female officers and enlisted personnel of the 6888th waded into the backlog of 17 million pieces of mail—letters from home, parcels, and card—that lifted the spirits of countless GIs engaged in the great conflict.
The women arrived in England in February 1945, crossing the U-boat infested waters of the Atlantic, and began their task just days later. They worked endless hours in difficult surroundings —unheated, rat-infested warehouses with the windows blacked out. Occasionally, a Nazi V-1 buzz bomb or V-2 rocket exploded nearby, shaking the buildings.
The achievement of the 6888th was a virtually unknown triumph of World War II until Hymel, a longtime contributor to WWII History, noted author, and historian, undertook an effort to interview the few living members of the unit and bring their accomplishments to the attention of the readers of WWII History. Lena Derriecott King was with the 6888th, and she vividly recalled an evening in a local theater when Military Police explained that the women were not sitting in an area designated for “colored people.” One of the officers of the 6888th made a stand, speaking directly to the colonel responsible for the surrounding facilities. The following day the colonel announced that the theater, bowling alley and cafeteria would no longer be segregated.
While the story of the 6888th is compelling, it is also illustrative of the need—the responsibility, really—for future generations to keep history alive. Without Hymel’s effort the story of the 6888th might never reach the vast audience that Perry’s Netflix film promises to engage. More than 75 years after the end of World War II, the U.S. government recognized the 6888th in February 2022, with the passage of a resolution to award the Congressional Gold Star to its members. Just a month later, President Joe Biden signed the bill, which noted the award “in recognition of their pioneering military service, devotion to duty, and contributions to increase the morale of personnel stationed in the European theater of operations during World War II.”
“When I wrote my interview with Lena Derriecott King, I just wanted to share her story with our readers,” explained Hymel. “I never imagined it would be made into a major motion picture with Mr. Tyler Perry at the helm. This experience has surpassed my wildest expectations. I hope other historians, or anyone wanting to write about an important figure or event, realizes that their work may surpass their expectations too.”
Winfrey is known for roles in The Color Purple, Lee Daniels’ The Butler, Selma, and more, while Washington starred as Olivia Pope in ABC’s Scandal for seven seasons. Sarandon starred in Thelma and Louise, Bull Durham, and other feature films; Waterston has appeared in a host of productions, including The Great Gatsby (1974), The Killing Fields, and the NBC television series Law & Order.
WWII History is proud to have first published Mr. Hymel’s important work, and honored to be associated with the Netflix film of Six Triple Eight, the telling of a tremendous story of the greatest armed conflict in human history, to a wider audience. And congratulations to Hymel, one of our own, who has done so much to celebrate our vibrant collective history.
—Michael E. Haskew