MEMPHIS, Tenn. — FedEx honored Indiana Hunt-Martin, one of seven surviving members of a pioneering World War II unit of black women, during its annual Veterans Day salute at FedEx Express World Headquarters.
Hunt-Martin, 97, was a private in the 6888th Central Postal Director Battalion, a little-known unit that was tasked with untangling a giant postal snafu and making sure the Greatest Generation's armed forces got their letters and packages from home.
Hunt-Martin served in England and France in 1944-45 with "the Six Triple Eight," which is the subject of a recent documentary and an effort to get the women recognized by a Congressional Gold Medal. A monument honoring the battalion was dedicated at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, last year.
Hunt-Martin, a retired Labor Department employee, also rode in a place of honor in the National Memorial Day Parade in Washington in May.
The documentary traces the history of the 6888th and talks about incidents of racism members faced as they were deployed first to Birmingham, England, then Rouen, France.
Hunt-Martin dwelled little on that in her comments to FedEx, but talked about her work and travel experiences and visits to London and Paris.
She dispensed wisdom gleaned in nearly a century on the planet, suggesting that young people should be trained to march in school. "The way things are going in the world today, you don't know who's fighting who," she said.
Hunt-Martin signed on with the Women's Army Auxiliary Corps after graduating high school in Niagara Falls, New York, and working as a fruit picker.
"Eighty, 90 years ago, it was kind hard for blacks to get a decent job," she said. "I read about the WAACs in a magazine and signed up for the Army."
The unit traveled by ship, the Ile de France, from New York to Liverpool. "Then the train took us to Birmingham. No, not Alabama, but Birmingham, England," Hunt-Martin said.
There, they set up in a former school and began chipping away at a backlog of some 17 million letters and packages. "The pile was something to see," Hunt-Martin said. "Everything was in there."
Hunt-Martin said she and other members of the 800-member unit were in awe of the commanding officer, Lt. Col. Charity Adams Earley.
"To me, coming from a little country town, it was something to see — a big general, and black, too," Hunt-Martin said.
Earley was the first black female to serve as an officer in the Women's Army Auxiliary Corps.
Neil Gibson, FedEx Services senior vice president, customer experience and former Air Force captain, said the 6888th handled 65,000 pieces of mail a shift and lived by the motto of "No mail, low morale."
Gibson said besides members of the 6888th, the only black women who served overseas during World War II were nurses.
Hunt-Martin said, "We were trying to do our best for the U.S. and ourselves, because the Germans and the Japanese, they weren't playing."
"We cleaned it up (the backlog) before we left, then they shipped us to France. Rouen, France. We knew exactly what it was. The Germans had ruined it," Hunt-Martin said.
One of her enduring memories is the food. "When we landed, they gave us Spam. That was delicious stuff. After eating it day after day, I didn't want to eat Spam. I don't eat it today," she said.
After her return to the United States, Hunt-Martin found work as a typist and got a job at the Department of Labor, where she worked for 41 years. She has one daughter and one grandson.
During a question-and-answer session, she said she had no regrets about serving her country.
"If I knew what I know now, I would have gone in the service earlier and I would have stayed in longer," Hunt-Martin said.
The program, held in advance of Veterans Day on Monday, Nov. 11, was put on by FedEx Express' military veterans network affinity group.
Reagan Strange, former semi-finalist on the NBC program "The Voice," and Red Street Records recording artist, sang "The Star-Spangled Banner," "America the Beautiful" and "Proud to be an American."
Lt. Gen. Robert Ruark, CEO of the Marine Corps Scholarship Foundation, thanked FedEx for its support for the foundation. FedEx-funded scholarships are helping about 30 children of Marine or Navy Corpsmen this year.
Shannon Brown, senior vice president, eastern division U.S. operations and chief diversity officer, said military service is "part of our corporate DNA" and deeply ingrained in the culture at FedEx.
FedEx founder, chairman and chief executive officer Fred Smith "was the first military veteran at work at FedEx," Brown said. "He is employee No. 1."
Smith, who did not attend the event, was a platoon leader and forward air controller in the Marine Corps in Vietnam and was awarded Silver and Bronze stars and two Purple Hearts.