FEW THINGS are more important to soldiers in wartime than mail from home.
But getting mail from home in wartime can be a logistical nightmare for those who have to collect, sort and deliver it, particularly to combat troops moving rapidly in battle.
In World War II, the job fell to a dedicated band of black female soldiers who were members of the 6888th Central Postal Directory Battalion, the only black Women's Army Corps unit to serve overseas in the war.
One of its proud members was Janyce Stovall, who sneaked away from her Philadelphia home in 1943 as the war was raging to join the WAC.
She was assigned first to Fort Dix, N.J., and then sent to Europe as a member of what the troops called the "Six Triple Eight."
It was somewhat of an exclusive unit, consisting of 855 enlisted African-American women and officers, whose daunting job was to get mail to some 7 million American troops in Europe.
Janyce Taylor, as she became after marrying George Taylor in 1948, looked back on that experience with proud memories. After the war, she studied nursing and sociology, became a caseworker for the Pennsylvania Department of Welfare and raised a family.
She died May 6 at age 91. She was living in a nursing home, but had lived for years in Mount Airy.
"She was a real lady," said her niece, Catherine Taylor Owen. "She was short; she was like a little general. She was a leader, and a proud person."
When the 6888th arrived in Birmingham, England, at the height of the war, it was confronted with a formidable stack of undelivered mail, one that reached to the ceiling. Some of it had been waiting two years for delivery to soldiers.
The 6888th worked in England and in Rouen, France, to get that mail moving.
Janyce was aware of the responsibility of her segregated unit. "If we had fouled up, it would have been a black mark against black women and women in general," she said in an Inquirer interview in 1998. "But we didn't foul up. We did our job."
Janyce, who in later years traveled with her career Air Force husband to nearly every continent and every state in the union, described how awed she was when she first saw Paris as a WAC:
"I was just walking down the street, and I had to pinch myself. It was such a thrill. I couldn't believe I was there."
She was born in Philadelphia, the oldest of the five children of Arthur Stovall and Edith Gilbert Stovall. She graduated from West Philadelphia High School in 1941, and completed a nine-month government course in nursing.
She went on to Temple University, where she earned a bachelor's degree in sociology. She later received a master's degree from Antioch College in social work.
In the early '70s, she served as a caseworker for the state Welfare Department for eight years.
She married George Taylor, a 25-year career Air Force enlisted man. They lived wherever George was stationed, including the Philippines. After his discharge, he worked as a lineman for the old Bell Telephone Co.
Janyce became an active member of Canaan Baptist Church, where she was a deaconess, usher and the originator of Canaan's Recreation, Education and Athletic Committee. She also served on the scholarship and education ministry, culinary ministry and youth ministry, and was always available for whatever the church needed doing.
Janyce was easy to buy presents for. All you had to do was find miniature swans, or something blue. She had a thing for swans, and blue was her favorite color.
Besides her husband and niece, she is survived by a son, Alan; a sister, Bertha Stovall Waters; four grandchildren; and numerous other nephews and nieces. She was predeceased by another son, George Taylor Jr.
Services: 10 a.m. today at Canaan Baptist Church, 5430 Pulaski Ave. Friends may call at 8 a.m. Burial will be in Washington Crossing National Cemetery.