Military Mail Call

black and white photo of WWII soldiers sitting at tables next to a banner that says Remember to Write that Letter Home!

Mail remains a critical morale booster for military personnel. The specter of death magnifies the separation between family and friends and has led many to pour heart and soul into wartime correspondence.

"We have moved so often that letters couldn't find us. Write often, and I will run the risk of getting the letters." 
— Hermon Clarke, a Union soldier encamped at Bermuda Hundred in the South, to his father, June 23, 1864

V-Mail envelope to J.H. Spiegleburg

In 1942 the U.S. postal service began offering military personnel and civilians the choice of using V-mail letters. Microfilmed letters helped the military save precious cargo space.

"That's when I miss you the most darling. At night when everything is still & quiet. On the nights that I sit up alone I can feel you very close to me." 
— Lieutenant Emery to his sweetheart, Audrey Taylor, July 6, 1944

Military censors crossed out, and sometimes snipped out, sections of letters, including references to a soldier's location or plans.

Missing You - Letters from Wartime

About wartime letters, 1861-2010, this video expresses the essential connection of mail between military personnel and the families and friends left behind.


[music]

Soldier 1: July 24th, 1861.

Dear Mother, I received your letter

after a return to camp.

Yes, we have been and gone and done it.

The rebels opened a very destructive fire

upon us. Captain Smith was struck by a

round shot completely cut in two.

We kept on to Washington more dead than alive.

The last five miles of that march was

perfect misery having been on our feet

36 hours.

Soldier 2: My dear Mother, I have just time

to write you a word that I'm in bully

condition and have got to enjoying the

life much. Today's mail has made up for

past injustice and neglect by bringing

me five envelopes, four enclosing letters

and one, even better, a toothbrush.

Wife 1: Dear Ed, when you get this picture you

won't say any more about my getting

another chap, for you will see that I

have grown so homely that a fellow must

be a fool to have anything to say to me.

Wife 2: Dear husband, we are well and get along

first-rate. My wood is all saved up and

I've got it paid except the two chords

of hardwood. I shall be glad when this

war is over and you get safely back to

us.

Soldier 3: Before you get this you will know how

immense the butcher's bill has been.

These nearly two weeks have contained

all of the fatigue and horror that war

can furnish. Your letters are the one

pleasure and you know my love. Your

affectionate son.

Soldier 1: May 28th, 1918.

Dear Cousin Grace,

reached camp last night, about 11:45.

Marched to barracks. Received a kitbag.

I took out bed ticking and filled with straw.

We're fed beef stir and coffee. Turned in.

Soldier 2: This comes to you, Walter from my

headquarters in the front line. Just think.

Old Jerri Bosch, but 500 yards from

where I am writing. I'm in a cellar.

Soldier 3: Dear Mother, the knitted socks arrived

okay. As to eats, doughnuts got too dry on route.

Cookies are fine, but a bit crumbly.

Best thing is the chocolate.

Soldier 4: I am the last officer that is left, of five.

It is an odd feeling to watch them go, one by one.

Until you are the last. My recommendation

is in, and and I will be promoted if I

live. With my best, Ken.

Soldier 1: June, 1944.

Our outfit was the first to hit

France. The flight over was strange. The

plane was dark except when someone lit a

cigarette. And you could take a quick

glance at white, drawn faces. Then there

was the door. All of a sudden the night

came alive with flashes and streaks of

light.

Soldier 2: One really lives for letters from home

out here. It's hard to express but mail

gives me just that much greater desire

to come back from each skirmish with the

enemy. That was a truly wonderful letter.

Wife 1: When the letter came, I was fixing lunch

for the children. Hurried to the mailbox

and tore open the envelope. I ran down

the garden to the fruit tree, shouting

for your mother, and she looked up and I

said, "A letter from Bob, written the 3rd!"

And we embraced. Later I read it again.

Wife 2: Darling, I must admit, I'm

not exactly the same girl you left. I'm

twice as independent and I shall

definitely have to work on my life. Do

you think you'll be able to bear living

with me? I don't doubt that many a night...

Mother: My dear Joe, we saw in the papers that

your division is attacking Iwo Jima.

Soldier 3: We who hit the beach and lived were

guided by the hands of God. I said your special prayer

mom each day and night so I'm certain

your prayers were responsible for my

safety I have prayed constantly that you

will emerge unharmed

god love you and be with you every

minute goodnight my little Joey

november  my darling husband I knew

in my heart that you soon you would be

called for duty in Korea don't be afraid

because I'll be with you every single

minute if something should happen to

either one of us the other will always

have the wonderful memories I don't

worry about me a grenade landed right

next to me but it was a dud I got within

five feet of him when he started to

throw another I shot him straight

through the head I'm sorry I had to take

a human life but it was him or me wei

hua  februari  dear mom I know you

must be worried to death from not

hearing from me I got into it pretty

heavy a few days ago and it was a

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

strapped inside door of a chopper with

an m machine gun chained in front of

it we fly at treetop level and look for

the viet calm and getting another sixty

five dollars a month hazardous duty this

is the most exciting thing I've ever

done don't forget to send me a few of

those pictures when they are taken I

don't know if I told you my last letter

but I'm uncle

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

again but some kind of anxious to get

get a tape from home I imagine she's

grown so much I probably recognize her

Harley on R&R is every picture you said

it seems like she's changed so much

every step you take is into the unknown

the thought ever-present in your mind

will I return februari  Saturday

night is when I heard that the ground

war and the Gulf had started it just

made my heart sink I didn't realize I

was so upset but when I can and I love

Alden come home safely soon his caboose

and excelling this year it's not really

the same here and i hope this cheers you

up and whoever

I never thought that heartache was

really your heart aching for someone i

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

to keep saying it but I want you to come

home Forever Yours dear mom we are

leaving for Bagram to flesh out

Taliban soldiers from the mountains this

is the biggest battle of the war on

terrorism it's hard to see all the guys

who were shot or wounded and to know

you're going right back in there every

morning for a month I woke up and the

first thing I did was go to cnn.com and

go to the casualties list I was so

scared I'm sitting in my little hole

trying to relax when a large jet takes

off the ground shakes and dust reigns

from the ceiling one thing's for sure

the majority of the time spent here is

an incredible boredom interspersed with

brief periods of sheer terror hey little

bud no you make sure you're being a good

boy and helping mommy while I'm gone I

love you so much man hey next time I

call try to think of another one of your

funny jokes to tell me okay there's a

hole in me when you're not near

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

my dreams

 

Video credits »

Additional Imagery

Soldier's Mail Free sticker

letter with sections cut out
Military censors crossed out, and sometimes snipped out, sections of letters, including references to a soldier's location or plans.

Notice to Appear for Physical Examination: You are hereby directed to appear before this Local Board for physical examination at 10 am on 2-22-18. Failure to do so is a misdemeanor, punishable by not to exceed one year's imprisonment, and may also result in your losing valuable rights and your immediate induction into military service- postcard reminding a draftee he was due to report for his physical
Of course, the mail did not always bring good news to potential military personnel. This postcard was sent to remind a draftee that he was due to report for his physical.