It's been over 50 years since V-Mail, nicknamed "funny mail" by our troops
overseas, because of its compact size, has surfaced in our mail boxes.
Between 1942 and 1945, at the height of WWII, V-Mail became a valuable link
between our GI's and their families on the homefront.
With the war escalating in Europe and in Asia, our War Department and the
chief inspector of the postal services developed a solution to get mail from
our soldiers, sailors, and Marines to the homeland in an easier and speedier
way. Because of the huge volume of mail, V-Mail was introduced.
V-Mail was 8" x 10" size newspaper stock and designed to hold a letter on one
side, and the backside had folding instructions for the side flap to create a
self-contained envelope. Overseas military personnel would gather up the mail
from the troops by jeep, truck, plane or even helicopter, then deliver to a
designated Eastman Kodak processing plant. The mail was then censored by
intelligence officers, photographed using a 16mm motion picture camera;
reduced to 1/2" square framed microfilm. About 1500 letters were compacted
onto a 100 foot reel. One reel could hold the equivalent of three large mail
sacks. This procedure saved the government thousands of dollars in cargo
space, gasoline and the weight of ordinary mail. The original V-Mail letters
were destroyed after reproduction. Transport ships and aircraft delivered the
reels to the USA for developing and distribution.
V-Mail was less affordable for our Navy fleet at sea. Most vessels did not
have the space nor facilities to process the V-Mail. Therefore, bundles of
mail were airlifted to a carrier in the vicinity, censored, then flown to the
mainland. V-Mail letters were sent free of postage by members of the Armed
Forces. For others, postage was prepaid at domestic rates during the war- 3
cents for ordinary mail and 6 cents for airmail.
Once the film reels or prepaid V-Mail reached the APO post offices
established in San Francisco or New York or specific Naval services, the
reels were then developed while the prepaid letters were sorted and sent to
letter carriers abroad for home delivery. The V-Mail microfilm was then
enlarged to 3" x 5" photo copies; folded and inserted into 3" x 4" plain
brown window envelopes and sealed.
V-Mail accounted for over half of the total volume of troop mail during the
war. No matter how small, or how brief, a V-Mail letter was an inspiration to
webmaster note: This article originally appeared in Military, June 1996 and
has been reprinted with the permission of Martin Jacobs.