My Grandfather's Letters
These are my Grandfather's letters. Some are written many years before he joined the war effort and underscore the difficulty of living in that time. Other letters are written from boot camp, both at Leavenworth and Camp Wolters, TX. They describe a man sometimes confident and proud of his accomplishments, and other times unsure of his place in "this man's army", as he put it. The rest of the letters, at best, hint at the plodding pace of war as he fought in France. Because of the censor's watchful eye, his letters are almost benign as they speak of simple things like wishing for hot coffee, fresh pancakes, and music. Nevertheless, they allowed me to glimpse into the heart and mind of a man I never knew. To see what our fighting brave and their families at home gave up to preserve the freedoms we can so easily take for granted.
During the latter years of World War II, V-Mail became a popular way to correspond with a loved one serving overseas. V-mail consisted of miniaturized messages reproduced by microphotography from 16mm film. The system of microfilming letters was based on the use of special V-mail letter-sheets, which were a combination of letter and envelope. The letter-sheets were constructed and gummed so as to fold into a uniform and distinctively marked envelope. The user wrote the message in the limited space provided, added the name and address of the recipient, folded the form, affixed postage, if necessary, and mailed the letter. The V-mail correspondence was then reduced to thumb-nail size on microfilm. The rolls of film were flown across the world and then developed at destinations closest to the recipient's position. Finally, individual facsimiles of the V-mail letter-sheets, which were about one-quarter the original size, were then mailed and delivered to the addressee.
A "V-Mail" was comprised of a single sheet of paper measuring 4-1/4 by 5 inches. During World War II cargo space and weight on ships was at a premium and the hundreds of sacks of mail weighing tons took up too much valuable space. Mail was often held up in favor of supplies. To overcome the demoralizing effect of not getting the mail delivered,the post office came up with a standardized size paper and envelope. Letters were written and then microfilmed. The microfilm was then sent in place of the letter, saving valuable space and still getting letters to our troops and home to soldiers families. The letters were printed on the receiving end and then delivered. V-Mail was sent and received from June 1942 through November 1945.
The development of the V-Mail system reduced the time it took a soldier to receive a letter by a month - from six weeks by boat to twelve days or less by air. However, the main advantage of V-Mail was its compact nature. Reduction in the size and weight of the letters translated into more space for crucial military supplies on cargo planes. One roll of film weighing about 7 ounces could hold over 1,500 letters. Putting that another way, two pounds of microfilm replaced 100 pounds of letters! Over a billion letters (556,513,795 pieces of V-mail were sent from the U.S. to military post offices and over 510 million pieces were received from military personnel abroad) were sent via V-mail between 1942 and 1945. Think of it as the earliest form of e-mail.
Americans on the home-front were encouraged by the government and private businesses to use V-Mail. Letters from home were compared to "a five minute furlough," and advertisements that instructed how, when, and what to write in a V-Mail reached a peak in 1944. Letters were to be cheerful, short, and frequent. V-Mail made it possible for servicemen halfway across the world to hear news from home on a weekly basis.
These are my Grandfather's letters.