Millie Dunn Veasey might not have anticipated how much of an inspirational part in history she would play when she signed up for military service in 1942.
In joining the only all-female, all-black unit in the Second World War, however, she would not only spark the embers of a trailblazing legacy that led her into a leading role in the American civil rights movement but also earn her recognition later in life for helping to change the perceptions of women of colour and their capabilities.
Born Millie Dunn in Raleigh, North Carolina in January 1918, and one of six children, her life could not have turned out more different than that of her grandparents, who were born into slavery.
Her life-changing moment came when she spotted war posters in December 1942, encouraging women to join the military.
The posters all featured white women but she thought to herself that if they could do it, so could she.
Speaking to the Defense Visual Information Distribution Service in February 2018, in a video shown below and filmed shortly before her death later in the year in March, she said:
“My reason I guess to go? If others could sign up and go why not me?”
In the video, she tells of how she joined the US Army's 6888th Central Postal Directory Battalion, the only all-black Women’s Army Corps unit to serve overseas.
By her own account, the unit was somewhat of a culture shock for the people of Scotland when the unit arrived in Glasgow in 1945, and its later assignment in Birmingham, UK, during the final year of the war.
Her part in that assignment has not only been credited with inspiring a generation of women, but changing attitudes towards people of colour in the military - a legacy which made Millie herself proud, and proud of the women who followed on from her.
“As I said, you know, I'm just so proud of the women in the Army today. All our women can do anything they want to do. I think that's good.”
The unit's work might not have been glamorous but their role was seen, nonetheless, as a crucial part of the overseas effort at a time when morale among US troops had hit a low ebb.
Nicknamed 'Six Triple Eight', the battalion's motto was "no mail, no morale". In 1945 they sailed to the UK and were solely responsible for managing US Army post overseas, some of which had not been delivered in two years.
“I was on leave in London the day that they declared victory in the European theatre.”
VIDEO: US Army
After the Second World War Millie was a civil rights activist and helped organise Dr Martin Luther King’s powerful march on Washington DC in 1963.
It was at this march for the civil and economic rights of African Americans that Dr Martin Luther King delivered his iconic “I Have A Dream” speech, the defining moment of the civil rights movement.
"I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the colour of their skin but by the content of their character."
Picture: Dr Martin Luther King giving his "I Have A Dream" speech on August 28, 1963.
She went on to become the first female president of the Raleigh Chapter of the 'National Association for the Advancement of Colored People' (NAACP).
“I guess I was the first woman president during the '65,'68 because some education kind of thing. We do a lot of the education things."
Picture: Members of the 6888th Central Postal Directory Battalion take part in a parade ceremony to honour Joan of Arc at the marketplace where she was burned at the stake.
Millie donated her 6888th uniform to the Raleigh Museum Of History.
Earl Ijames, the curator of the North Carolina Museum Of History, believes it is the only uniform from the 6888th left in existence.
“Ms Millie Dunn Veasey is a national treasure."
"We sat down and had a little bit of conversation. And then she goes to the back and come and says, "This is what you've been looking for," and it's the uniform, you know we get the provenance, and straight from her mouth exactly what it is and then there's a photograph of her in the uniform on her wall. I mean this doesn't get any better so...”
Picture: Major Charity Adams and Captain Abbie Campbell inspect 6888th Central Postal Directory Battalion in February 1945 in England.
When asked why serving others is important to Millie she responded with:
“If you're able to do what you can do for that individual, there's always somebody else there who's always able to do things for you.”
Former President Barack Obama met Millie in September 2016 at a presidential town hall meeting in Fort Lee, Virginia and saluted her as she proudly wore her 6888th Central Postal Directory Battalion cap.
Credit: White House / Pete Souza
Cover photo used with the permission of Millie Dunn Veasey's family.