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To Pay or Not to Pay?

During the Second World War, military personnel were granted the privilege to send first-class mail for free by Congressional act of March 27, 1942. Being a first-class mail piece, V-Mail met the requirements. Beginning on April 1, 1942, they could endorse letters on the upper right-hand corner with the word “FREE” and were supposed to include their name, rank, and designation of service in the left corner. See the first two images, below, for a free mail V-Mail and third and forth images, below, for the civilian’s response.

Front of free mail form sent by a Seabee serving in the South Pacific

Free mail sent by a Seabee serving in the South Pacific, front.

Back of free mail sent by a Seabee serving in the South Pacific

Free mail sent by a Seabee serving in the South Pacific, back.

A wife responds with a 3-cent V-Mail message, front.

A wife responds with a 3-cent V-Mail message, front.

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A wife responds with a 3-cent V-Mail message, back.

Even though V-Mail was a system designed to make sending mail overseas faster and easier it did have its limitations. V-Mail advertisements made it clear that it was guaranteed airmail overseas but postage was particularly confusing to civilians because V-Mail had separate rates for different levels of service. Transportation was by airplane for the exchange between the V-Mail stations, but starting on May 15, 1944 one could pay more to have additional airmail service within the U.S. If a civilian wanted to send V-Mail using regular surface transportation in the U.S. they would pay three cents. But if a person in the U.S. wanted to expedite a letter to a V-Mail processing center, then she would pay extra for the airmail service (at first a 6-cent fee, later 8 cents). Any military service member wishing to have the extra airmail service for transport of V-Mail within the U.S. also had to pay the extra expense as well. See the below images for airmail V-Mail examples.

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V-Mail letter with airmail postage sent to former Postmaster General Farley to commemorate the first day of airmail V-Mail service.

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V-Mail airmail envelope.

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V-Mail facsimile shows an underlined “Air MailAir Mail” notation in the address section.

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To Pay or Not to Pay? | National Postal Museum

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