World War II Army veteran honored at Women Who Shape the State
al.com March 9, 2023
(Tribune News Service) — Pvt. Romay Davis, a 103-year-old World War II veteran from Montgomery, received the first Lifetime Achievement Award at the 10th annual Women Who Shape The State event Wednesday.
Davis served in the 6888th Central Postal Directory Battalion at a time when Black women in the military were separated by both gender and race. Nicknamed “Six Triple Eight,” Davis and her unit were part of the largest African-American Women’s Army Corps unit to serve overseas during World War II.
Women Who Shape the State, hosted by This is Alabama and the Alabama Media Group, honors accomplished women who make a difference across Alabama.
Col. Eries L. G. Mentzer, former commander of Maxwell Air Force Base and the first Black woman to hold the role, gave a keynote speech that honored Davis and two other women who also worked at Maxwell — Rosa Parks and Sharron Frontiero — who blazed trails that allowed greater equality for women in the armed forces and beyond.
“On my toughest days in command at Maxwell — and there were some tough days — I would say ‘If Miss Romay can do it in far less favorable conditions than what I have, I can too,’” Mentzer said. “I’m here today because of you, because you paid my freedom to serve.”
Davis, a native of Virginia, enlisted in 1943, following her five brothers.
Her unit, comprised of more than 800 Black women, set sail for Europe in February 1945.
When they arrived in England, they were faced with a six-month backlog of mail due to a shortage of soldiers at a time when mail played a crucial role in morale.
“They relied on the mail for people on the frontlines, to know why they were serving, and for the people back home to know that those members that were serving on behalf of their freedom were still with us,” said Mentzer, who gave the keynote speech for the event. “They relied on a piece of mail.”
Davis and the women in her unit worked 24/7 and processed an average of 195,000 pieces of mail per day, clearing the backlog in just three months. In June, the unit moved to Rouen, France, where they served until the last members returned in Feb. 1946.
“They had to work sometimes in very poor conditions, sometimes in the dark so the enemy didn’t know when they were asked, but they still showed up and they did their duty,” Mentzer said, adding that the unit also faced racism and sexism.
Now, Davis is the oldest living member of the Six Triple Eight. Filmmaker Tyler Perry is making a movie about the unit that will release on Netflix.
After serving in the Army, she had a career in fashion for 30 years, earned a black belt in her late 70s and later worked at Winn-Dixie in Montgomery for more than 20 years. At age 100, she was still working five days per week.
Davis was awarded a Congressional Gold Medal in 2021, along with the other members of the unit.
In her keynote speech, Mentzer also shared stories of NAACP leader Rosa Parks and Sharron Cohen (formerly Lt. Sharron Frontiero), both of whom worked at Maxwell Air Force Base.
Parks and her husband worked on the Maxwell Air Force Base in the 1941 — she was a secretary and he was a barber — 14 years before she refused to give up her seat on a bus to a white passenger and the Montgomery bus boycott.
Cohen was integral in allowing military spouses to receive benefits after she sued the Secretary of Defense in Frontiero v. Richardson in 1973. Her lawyers, Joe Levin and Ruth Bader Ginsburg, successfully argued her case to the Supreme Court. Maxwell Air Force Base called Frontiero v. Richardson the “first successful sex discrimination case filed against the federal government and set the precedent for future gender equity cases.”
Mentzer said the three women inspired change for many women who would come behind them. This year will also mark the 75th anniversary of the Women’s Armed Services Integration Act, which allowed women to serve as officially serve in all U.S. military branches, and the 70th anniversary of Executive Order 9981, which banned segregation in the armed forces.
“Those things would not have happened without people like Rosa Parks, Sharron Frontiero, Romay Davis,” Mentzer said before presenting Davis with the Lifetime Achievement Award.
“These are women who at times when they were not fully accepted or embraced by our society still showed up, and did their duty, raised their hand and said ‘Send me regardless of the conditions. I want to serve. I want to help move us closer from who we say we are as America to who we really are, and make sure that everybody is welcome into that dream.’”
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