Remarks by Secretary Denis R. McDonough - Office of Public and Intergovernmental Affairs
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Office of Public and Intergovernmental Affairs

Remarks by Secretary Denis R. McDonough

6888th Central Postal Battalion Congressional Gold Medal Celebration
Military Women’s Memorial, Arlington National Cemetery
June 15, 2022

It’s a privilege to be with you in this beautiful memorial to pay tribute to the legacy of the first and only all Black female unit to serve during World War II, women of The Greatest Generation.

I’m so proud to share this special moment with so many distinguished guests, leaders, and public servants to honor and remember those great women of the Six Triple Eight Central Postal Battalion who came before us, on whose shoulders so many stand.

Let me acknowledge COL Retired Frank E. Underwood Sr., a Vietnam Veteran. Sir, welcome Home. Let me also recognize Brigadier General Rampy, Mr. Blair Underwood, Chancellor Elwood Robinson, and most of all, the proud Six Triple Eight family members who’ve traveled from across the country to salute these remarkable women.

With Memorial Day, the 78th anniversary of D-Day, and Women Veterans Day fresh in our memories, I’m reminded there are so few who answer the call to serve and protect our nation’s freedom, and even fewer still who made the ultimate sacrifice. So let us especially remember the three Six Triple Eight women taking their final rest overseas at our American cemetery at Normandy—Sergeant Delores Browne, Private First Class Mary Bankston, and Private First Class Mary Barlow.

Please, join me in a moment of reverent silence.

No place could be more fitting than this memorial that enshrines and honors the profound sacrifices, the remarkable stories, and the legacies of these Black women Veterans who served a cause so much greater than self. 

I offer my deep thanks to Phyllis [Wilson, Pres., Mil. Women’s Mem.] and her team here for helping give women Veterans a voice, for honoring their service, and for telling their remarkable stories. Their stories are stories of progress in spite of great opposition, stories of the struggle for women’s rights, for civil rights, for human rights, for opportunity and inclusion … stories about bringing this country ever closer to that “more perfect Union” towards which we still strive today… guided by the kinds of examples they gave us, by the kind of hope they instilled in us. That’s why their work remains a source of pride, a wellspring of hope.

Now, we know how the women of the Six Triple Eight helped this nation and our allies win the war. Their task was unprecedented—clearing a two-year backlog of mail in three months. Overcoming that challenge alone would have made their indelible mark in history. But their story is much larger than that.

Representing Black women in the ways that they did, that they have in the years since—with such incredible courage, such grace, and such dignity—those are stories for generations. With the eyes of the world upon them, these ordinary women did extraordinary things, and drove extraordinary change for decades to come.

Because of the courage and efforts of the women of the Six Triple Eight and other Veterans of color, President Truman integrated the Armed Forces in 1948, emphatically stating that “there shall be equality of treatment and opportunity for all persons in the armed services without regard to race, color, religion, or national origin.”

Think about that. Their powerful achievements helped this country begin to overcome segregation and integrate the Army. In the face of unimaginable discrimination, their achievements advanced one of our nation’s greatest  struggles—the struggle for equal rights.

Their achievements—in the face of an unfair system and an unjust society—catalyzed meaningful change that helped edge us closer to that more perfect union … a more perfect union to which we still aspire. That’s the enduring legacy we celebrate today—and unite the next generation of leaders behind—in order to continue their work, and their cause.

Let me take just a moment to share a story about what that legacy looks like.

It looks like Major Retired Sequana Robinson, a combat Veteran of the Iraq War, who’s here with her son, Sean-Michael, husband Sean, and several members of her family. Sequana found great inspiration in the stories and images of the legendary Six Triple Eight.

While serving as a supply sergeant at Fort Myer, Sequana escorted her grandmother to the opening ceremony of this Memorial. On these grounds and in these halls—even as Sean-Michael’s father was standing guard at Tomb of the Unknown Soldier just up the hill—she heard stories of iconic women Veterans who’ve made their marks on history, put their lives on the line for this country. 

That experience inspired Sequana to become a warrant officer, and then a commissioned officer. Deployed to Korea as a Forward Support Commander, she led soldiers as the only African American woman in an infantry battalion. Later she would become the face of the new Army combat uniform, designed with women in mind. And today, as a Veteran, Sequana continues to serve this country, providing soldiers going into battle with the best equipment possible.

And here’s the point. All that Sequana’s accomplished goes back to one woman who served in the Six Triple Eight—Corporal Ruth Elizabeth Jefferson Wright, Sequana’s grandmother, the woman she escorted to the grand opening of WIMSA back in 1993. Corporal Wright was one of those women who helped pry open wider that door to the promises of America. 

It’s because of women like her and the Six Triple Eight that we can even talk about legacies like equality, access, inclusion, and opportunity for women in the military. So many here today proudly stand tall on the strong shoulders of these incredible women who came before, who paved the way for the next generation. And now, now Sean-Michael, Sequana’s son, is on those shoulders, a gift his great grandmother bequeathed him. Someday, he’ll be passing it on to his own children, and grandchildren.

Sean-Michael, Sequana—please stand. I know that Corporal Ruth Elizabeth Jefferson Wright and all the women of the Six Triple Eight would be so proud that their vision for a better world lives on, in you, and in so many others. And in your hands, it’s well placed.

It is an honor to share this moment with you. God bless all of you, and may He continue to bless our Veterans, their families, caregivers, and survivors. And may we always give them our very best.