Alyce Dixon, the nation’s oldest female veteran, who expedited mail delivery in wartime and later worked as a civilian at the Pentagon, facilitating what she called the purchase of everything from “pencils to airplanes,” died Jan. 27 at a veterans’ retirement center in Washington. She was 108. The Department of Veterans Affairs announced the death.
Dixon was working for the War Department’s secretarial pool at the newly constructed Pentagon when in 1943 she enlisted in the Women’s Auxiliary Army Corps, soon to be called the Women’s Army Corps.
She was initially limited to administrative assignments in Iowa and Texas before joining the newly established 6888th Central Postal Directory Battalion in early 1945. The battalion was the only unit of black women in the WACs to serve overseas in World War II and was led by Charity Adams, one of the first black female commissioned officers in the war.
The Army was still segregated at the time, and Dixon’s battalion – comprised of more than 800 African-American woman and based at posts in England and France – dined and was housed separately from other WACs.
The 6888th was tasked with sorting and distributing what she estimated were “billions” of backlogged letters and packages to soldiers – a pileup attributed to the disruption in delivery caused by the Battle of the Bulge.
Their mission was deemed vital to sustaining GI morale on the front lines, but a significant hurdle was identifying their ultimate destination based on incomplete information supplied by families.
“A lot of mothers wrote to ‘Buster, U.S. Army,’ or ‘Junior, U.S. Army,'” Dixon told an Army publication. “We knew every service member had a number and we had difficulty finding them; however, we found every person … There were stacks and stacks of mail we had to send back indicating ‘deceased.’ That was sad.”
She added, “We had to fight mice and rats while sorting the mail. People down south from Alabama were sending fried chicken and bread to soldiers in France.”
Working three shifts a day, seven days a week, the battalion accomplished in three months what was projected by the brass to take half a year.
She returned to Washington in the late 1940s and worked for the Census Bureau and later the Pentagon, retiring in 1972 as a purchasing agent.
“I was able to buy everything from pencils to airplanes,” she told the American Forces Press Service in 2009. “I became a good buyer. I dealt with all the stores here in Washington that sold office supplies.”
Dixon, the third of nine children, was born Alice Lillian Ellis on Sept. 11, 1907 in Boston. The family later settled in Washington.
She graduated in 1925 from Washington’s Dunbar High School and briefly attended Howard University before quitting to find work and help her struggling father pay bills. She became a secretary at the Lincoln Theatre, which catered to black audiences, for $15 a week.
At 23, she married George Dixon and moved to New York. They divorced several years later.
Dixon had no children and leaves no immediate survivors.