What is V-mail?

As mentioned previously, I’ve been reading over my grandparents’ WW 2 letter correspondence.  My grandfather, Marvin Maris, was a chaplain in the US Army and was stationed in New Guinea.  My grandmother, Connie Maris, was living in Holland, Michigan where Marvin’s parents lived.  She was renting the 1st floor of a bungalow with her two children (my mom and uncle).

Note:  For the full story and pictures, see my April 17th post, “A wartime era revealed”.

Mixed in with the letters is what is referred to as V-mail.  I had heard of V-mail but had no idea what it was until I found these miniature folded, photo-copied letters thrown in with the large-sized versions.

Ah-ha!  Must be V-mail

What is V-mail?

Two V-mail letters, written by my grandfather’s father to him while he was in New Guinea. You need to use a magnifying glass to read them! They are really tiny.

Aside from the usual written letters, included were V-mail letters, which I had never seen before until I came across them among the correspondence piles.  This was short for Victory Mail, a hybrid mail process used by the United States during the Second World War as the primary and secure method to correspond with soldiers stationed abroad.  It was created by the war department for the following reasons:

“The savings of this system were enormous; 2500 pounds of paper letters in 37 mail sacks could be condensed into only 45 pounds of film in one mail sack.  In turn, this freed up room for more materiel to supply the war effort.  The US further reduced waste by only printing the letters at 60% scale.  The use of V-mail also inadvertently deterred espionage; as only photocopies of letters were being sent, invisible ink and microdots were rendered useless.  In addition, letters could not be “lost” in transit; every letter carried a serial number and new copies could be printed if necessary.  After being introduced in mid 1942, V-Mail became the primary method of communication for US soldiers stationed abroad until the end of the war in 1945 with over a billion letters going through the system.  As such, it was a staple not just of a soldier’s life, but of Americans back home as well.”

That sentiment of letters being a lifeline between family and soldier was certainly true for the Maris family. The testament to this being the writings I’ve been pouring over, mostly written on thin, fragile airmail paper.  That’s a good thing, too, because for the few V-mails included in the bin, I’ve needed to use a magnifying glass to make out whatever was being written.  Help!

I’m fortunate that not too many V-mail letters are included in the piles.  It would be quite a chore to go through them line by line.  My eyesight is not what it used to be, nor is my patience in having to magnify each one so I can make out what anyone is talking about.

I also have found that V-mail, limited to one page, doesn’t give much room for my grandparents to expand upon their  thoughts, feelings or their daily routines.  Those are in the regular-sized notebook or airmail paper which both use to share their lives, one in the States (my grandmother) and one overseas (my grandfather).

At present, I have almost finished with 1945.  The war’s end is at hand and my grandfather is waiting to return to the States, a process which seems to be taking months.

Next, I’ll be going backwards to the 1943 letters and finally to 1944.  Can’t wait to see what the two are up to!

From Illinois, here’s wishing you 平安 (ping ahn), Peace, for your weekend



About connieinchina

I have been in the Asia region for 30 years as an English language teacher. 28 of those have been spent with the Amity Foundation, a Chinese NGO that works in all areas of development for the Chinese people. Amity teachers are placed at small colleges throughout China as instructors of English language majors in the education field. In other words, my students will one day be English teachers themselves in their small villages or towns once they graduate. Currently, this is my 13th year in Luzhou Vocational and Technical College. The college is located in Luzhou city (loo-joe), Sichuan Province, a metropolis of 5 million people located next to the Yangtze River .
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