History of America's Military Mail

A World Away

Sustaining Connections

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While serving overseas in Australia in 1943, Army nurses of the 268th Station Hospital receive their first mail from home.
Courtesy National Archives

Mail is important for deployed personnel and their families. The postal system enables service personnel to receive news from loved ones and stay current with and participate in events in their home town. Care packages provide military men and women with some of the comforts of home. Messages from a service man or woman let those waiting at home share in their experiences and their hopes for the future.

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Members of U.S. Air Force 4th Fighter Inceptor Wing wait anxiously as mail is sorted in Korea, 1950.
Courtesy National Archives

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Officer in Tampa, Florida during the Spanish-American War.
Courtesy of the U.S. Army Military History Institute

Missing You
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[music]

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July 24th, 1861, Dear mother, I received

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your letter after a return to camp yes

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we have been and gone and done it the

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rebels opened a very destructive fire

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upon us Captain Smith was struck by a

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round shot completely cut into we kept

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on to Washington more dead than alive

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the last five miles of that March was

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perfect misery having been on our feet

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36 hours my dear mother I have just time

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to write you a word that I'm in bully

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condition and have got to enjoying the

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life much today's mail is made up for

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past injustice and neglect by bringing

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me five envelopes for enclosing letters

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and one even better a toothbrush

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d read when you get this picture you

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won't say any more about my getting

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another chap four you will see that I

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have grown so homely that a fellow must

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be a fool to have anything to say to me

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dear husband we are well and get along

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first-rate my wood is all saved up and

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I've got it paid except the two chords

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of hardwood I shall be glad when this

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war is over and you get safely back to

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us before you get this you will know how

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immense the butcher's bill has been

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these nearly two weeks have contained

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all of the fatigue and horror that war

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can furnish your letters are the one

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pleasure and you know my love your

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affectionate son may twenty eighth

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nineteen eighteen dear cousin grace

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reached camp last night about 1145 watch

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to barracks received a kit bag I took

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out bed ticking and filled with straw

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with fed beef stir and coffee turned in

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this comes to you Walter from my

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headquarters in the front lawn distinct

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pull Jerri boss with 500 yards from

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where I am right I'm in a cellar dear

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mother the knitted socks arrived ok

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as to eat doughnuts got to dry on route

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cookies are fine but a bit crumbly best

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things the chocolate if I am the last

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officer that is left of 5 it is an odd

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feeling to watch them go one by one

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until you are the last my recommendation

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is in and and I will be promoted if I

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live with my best ken

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jun 1944 our outfit was the first to hit

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france the flight over was strange the

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plane was dark except when someone lit a

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cigarette and you could take a quick

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glance at white drawn faces then there

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was the door all of a sudden the night

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came alive with flashes and streaks of

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life

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one really lives for letters from home

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out here it's hard to express but mail

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gives me just that much greater desire

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to come back from each skirmish with the

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enemy that was a truly wonderful letter

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when the letter came I was fixing lunch

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for the children hurry to the mailbox

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and tore open the envelope I'll Ram down

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the garden to the fruit trees shouting

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for your mother and she looked up and I

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said letter from Bob written the third

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and we embraced later I read it again

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darling you to steal I must admit I'm

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not exactly the same girl you left and

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twice as independent and I shall

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definitely have to work on my life do

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you think you'll be able to bear living

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with me I don't doubt that many a night

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my dear Joe we saw in the papers that

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your division is attacking Iwo Jima we

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who hit the beach in liver guided by the

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hands of God I said your special prayer

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mom each day and night so I'm certain

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your prayers were responsible for my

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safety I have prayed constantly that you

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will emerge unharmed

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god love you and be with you every

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minute goodnight my little Joey

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november 1951 my darling husband I knew

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in my heart that you soon you would be

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called for duty in Korea don't be afraid

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because I'll be with you every single

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minute if something should happen to

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either one of us the other will always

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have the wonderful memories I don't

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worry about me a grenade landed right

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next to me but it was a dud I got within

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five feet of him when he started to

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throw another I shot him straight

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through the head I'm sorry I had to take

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a human life but it was him or me wei

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hua 7 februari 1966 dear mom I know you

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must be worried to death from not

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hearing from me I got into it pretty

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heavy a few days ago and it was a

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miracle that i'm alive i'm a door gunner

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strapped inside door of a chopper with

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an m60 machine gun chained in front of

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it we fly at treetop level and look for

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the viet calm and getting another sixty

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five dollars a month hazardous duty this

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is the most exciting thing I've ever

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done don't forget to send me a few of

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those pictures when they are taken I

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don't know if I told you my last letter

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but I'm uncle

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I'd kind of like to hear Elena's voice

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again but some kind of anxious to get

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get a tape from home I imagine she's

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grown so much I probably recognize her

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Harley on R&R; is every picture you said

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it seems like she's changed so much

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every step you take is into the unknown

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the thought ever-present in your mind

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will I return februari 1991 Saturday

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night is when I heard that the ground

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war and the Gulf had started it just

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made my heart sink I didn't realize I

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was so upset but when I can and I love

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Alden come home safely soon his caboose

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and excelling this year it's not really

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the same here and i hope this cheers you

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up and whoever

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I never thought that heartache was

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really your heart aching for someone i

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miss you i love you so much I don't mean

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to keep saying it but I want you to come

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home Forever Yours dear mom we are

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leaving for Bagram to flesh out 600

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Taliban soldiers from the mountains this

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is the biggest battle of the war on

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terrorism it's hard to see all the guys

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who were shot or wounded and to know

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you're going right back in there every

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morning for a month I woke up and the

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first thing I did was go to cnn.com and

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go to the casualties list I was so

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scared I'm sitting in my little hole

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trying to relax when a large jet takes

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off the ground shakes and dust reigns

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from the ceiling one thing's for sure

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the majority of the time spent here is

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an incredible boredom interspersed with

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brief periods of sheer terror hey little

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bud no you make sure you're being a good

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boy and helping mommy while I'm gone I

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love you so much man hey next time I

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call try to think of another one of your

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funny jokes to tell me okay there's a

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hole in me when you're not near

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I need to sleep now but i'll see you in

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my dreams

Video Credits »


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Letter from Private John Zimmer to his sister Frances, January, 1919.

Dear Frances

In 1919, Private John Zimmer wrote to his sister to tell her that he hoped to come home soon. He wrote the letter from a hospital in France using stationery provided by the American Red Cross. Zimmer used the opportunity to thank her for the letters he had received, ask for more correspondence from friends, and express concern about his love life.

Semper Fidelis

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A sheet from a multipage letter by Major DuVal.

Marine Corps Major Reina DuVal sent this letter to a friend while serving in Saudi Arabia during the Persian Gulf War. DuVal expressed her feelings on the war, her desire to come home, and some of the strange experiences of living in the desert. Telling her friend that “we live for mail call,” she used the occasion to express gratitude to her friend for writing.

 
“I sincerely appreciate that you've taken the time to remember us over here. At times we feel so disconnected from reality, but I must tell you we are all endeared to people like yourself who pray, write &/or remember.”
—Major Reina DuVal to her friend, February 27, 1991

What Happens to Mail Addressed to a Service Man or Woman Who Is Deceased, Missing, Captured, or Hospitalized?

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A Marine writes a letter of condolence to the family of a fallen comrade, 2003. U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Corporal Kenneth E. Madden III.

Mail addressed to wounded personnel is forwarded for delivery to the hospital treating the recipient. Letters or parcels mailed to a member of the armed forces who is deceased or missing are held until the next of kin is notified by the Department of Defense. Mail that had not been delivered is returned to the sender. Items that were received are forwarded to the next of kin.