Ken Beaton: Mail call, news from home
February 1, 2018
Hey kids, what month is February? If you answered Black History Month, you're an informed person.
In December 2017, I received a 2018 calendar from the American Air Museum in Britain. "While the American Air Museum in Britain is best known for its collection of remarkable aircraft, our growing archive of materials relating to the U.S. Air Force helps to tell the personal stories of the men and women whose service and sacrifices have kept freedom alive."
The pilot pictured in January, Leland MacFarlane, was 23 years old when killed in action. The pilot pictured in June, Henry "Hank" Hyde, was 21 when he was KIA.
Black History Month has a picture of a WAC, Sgt. Evelyn Johnson, inspecting a unit of African American WACs in Birmingham, England.
Evelyn was born in Philadelphia on April 15, 1919. She graduated from the Berean Institute renamed the Philadelphia Technician Training Institute. Desiring to serve her country in 1942, she enlisted in the Army becoming a WAC.
(If you served in the Army, you know there's the right way, the wrong way and the Army way). The Army took an orthopedic medical clerk and assigned her to be a mail clerk. The person doing Evelyn's paperwork was confused since both job titles had the word "clerk." She was assigned to the 6888th Central Postal Directory Battalion. The 6888th cleared a two-year backlog at the U.S. mail depot shortly after arriving in Birmingham.
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What if you were a scared 17-, 18- or 19-year old male away from home for the first time? You had one connection to the people in the States who loved you: letters. During World War II, there were no smart phones, email, Skype, FaceTime, Twitter, etc. Mail call was a GI's only connection to his family and his girl. The 6888th had an important morale building mission, process and deliver the mail to our boys in a foxhole fighting Nazis.
Evelyn learned a person of color who spoke up about being treated as a second-class citizen, only made the situation worse. "So, I took it and remained quiet."
One of her oral interviewers asked, "Evelyn, did you experience any discrimination in the Birmingham or Rouen, France?"
She responded, "No, the Brits and the French were accepting to all of us African Americans. They treated us better in their countries than we were treated in America. During our off-duty hours, I saw the horrible destruction in the UK and France. It was a horrible sight."
For a variety of Evelyn's oral history topics, visit https://fcit.usf.edu/wwii/johnson/index.php.
After being honorably discharged from the Army in late 1945, Evelyn became a model traveling to various photographic locations. She married and gave birth to one son, Dennis. She retired in 1975 at 56 years. She traveled with Dennis in the United States and to a number of foreign countries expanding their knowledge of cultures.
Evelyn discussed a variety of topics on her oral history website. When asked if she had any words of wisdom, she answered, "Read books. You learn when you read." She encouraged everyone to learn more, "Never stop learning. I have all my books. I can't get rid of them." She encouraged positive relationships, "Associate with people who are doing something as opposed to doing nothing."
The last website I visited was the funeral home that handled Evelyn's memorial service and posted her obituary, http://www.phillytrib.com/obituaries/evelyn-l-grant-served-in-women-s-army-auxiliary-corps/article_56b1dcc1-8fc2-5ef7-a3c1-dae3756007cb.html.
She passed away on Oct. 15, 2017, at 98 years young. She outlived her son and most of her relatives. Evelyn, thank you for your service and for all you did to make our world a better place.
This commentary was the result of me looking at a calendar, seeing a story and researching on the web to honor Evelyn. There are 11 potential commentaries waiting to be written.
Ken Beaton of Carson City contributes periodically to the Nevada Appeal.