Introducing V-Mail

Tank soldier stoops looking at a letter in a field strewn with the contents of a mail sack.
Mailing to the frontlines: American soldier finds lost letters near Auw, Germany; February 1945. National Archives (111-SC-200677).

Following the December 7, 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor, the United States declared war on Japan and entered the largest full-scale war in history. As war raged around the world, countries divided into Axis and Allied powers and battlefields spanned across Europe, Asia, and Africa. Members of the armed forces were deployed to the far reaches of the globe and were separated from their families.

In a days before email, cell phones, and text messaging, letters served as a vital link between loved ones and friends. Army Post Offices (APOs), Fleet Post Offices (FPOs), and U.S. post offices alike were flooded with mail sent by service members and sweethearts. According to the 1945 Annual Report to the Postmaster General, mail dispatched to the Army in that fiscal year reached 2,533,938,330 pieces compared to the prior year total of 1,482,000,000 and fiscal 1943 sum of only 570,633,000 items. The Navy received 838,644,537 in fiscal year 1945 whereas the prior period saw 463,266,667 mail items sent. The bulk and weight of parcels and letters was competing with military supplies in transport vehicles. Officials from the Post Office, War, and Navy Departments faced a large problem: Was there a way to save room for equipment and still deliver the mail?