History of America's Military Mail

The Group Effort

Promote Letter Writing

Bringing mail to military personnel overseas requires a collaborative effort by both the public and private sectors. The Department of Defense subsidizes transportation of military mail to final destinations overseas. Members of the armed forces have often been granted free mail privileges in wartime, sparing them the challenge of finding stamps.

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Letters like these from school children, displayed aboard the USS Kitty Hawk in 2001, remind military personnel of support back home.
U.S. Navy photo by Photographer’s Mate 3rd Class Jessica Granger

Assistance from the private sector has been just as important. Non-profit organizations have supplied free materials and volunteers to help military personnel write home. The business community has provided advertising campaigns to inspire people to send mail to service personnel.

So Much to Give

Non-profit organizations like the American Red Cross and the Salvation Army have provided stationery and facilities to help service men and women communicate with their families. Volunteers assisted wounded personnel by writing or typing letters. This World War I postcard was supplied by the YMCA to help military personnel alert loved ones that they were returning home.

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YMCA postcard

For Immediate Release

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New Haven Railroad advertisement

Large and small businesses alike contribute to the military mail system by mobilizing the public to write letters to service personnel. These public awareness campaigns became popular during World War II and businesses continue to support the men and women of the military with similar promotions today.

The New Haven Railroad published this advertisement in 1943, urging Americans to send letters to members of the armed forces deployed overseas during World War II.

Public awareness campaigns during World War II

“Only you can put the magic in mail call. You mean to write often, but you're busy—busy?—and sometimes you forget to, or put it off. Don't. And if you have no one in Service to write to, remember the men who have no one to hear from — and find out what you can do about it.”
—Caterpillar Tractor Co. advertisement, 1951
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In 2008, the Postal Service began offering customers a discount for shipping large Priority Mail Flat Rate boxes to APO or FPO addresses.

How Is POW Mail Handled?

Prisoner of War (POW) mail is delivered by humanitarian organizations like the International Red Cross. Mail is often censored by the enemy before being distributed to the POWs. While it takes longer to reach POWs, mail delivery is generally reliable.

During the Vietnam War, this was not the case. The North Vietnamese hoped to use mail to break the spirit of the POWs. Naval aviator Bob Shumaker, pictured here, remembered that it was very rare for North Vietnamese officials to distribute mail. In eight years of captivity in the ‘Hanoi Hilton,’ he received only eight letters.

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POWs in Hanoi during the Vietnam War.