Monday, November 28, 2011


One of the ways of communicating during the second World War was by the use of something I had never heard of before yesterday: V-mail. Just think: instead of transporting 2,575 pounds of letters via the military mail system, that weight could be reduced to only forty-five pounds by transformation into a form of microfilm before delivery.

The way it works is this: the serviceman takes a specially-configured sheet of paper and clearly writes his message on it. The pre-printed instructions on the top of the form warn “Print the complete address in plain letters in the panel below, and your return address in the space provided on the right. Use typewriter, dark ink, or dark pencil. Faint or small writing is not suitable for photographing.”

Once the letter is completed, it is forwarded to the ever-present military censors, who scrub it of any incriminating remarks. The letter is then photographed and transported as a thumbnail-sized image. At its destination, it is converted to sixty percent of its original size and delivered.

The reconstituted letter takes the shape of a slip of paper measuring 4¼ by 5⅛ inches—basically a size sufficient to hide within the pages of the Navy’s Pharmacist’s Mate pamphlet I filed with the December, 1945, papers in the collection of Frank Stevens’ letters. And that is exactly what happened.

Unfortunately, for all the pre-printed instructions provided for use of these nifty parcels, the one thing not included was any mention of the date. For the sake of my organization-starved mind, I’ve assigned this note a date at the end of December, 1944, as that is what the change form on Frank’s ship's muster roll indicated as the effective date of the promotion.

So, taking a slight detour backwards in time thanks to the find of this just-uncovered extra letter, let’s look at what Frank had to say to his parents, Will and Agnes Tully Stevens, upon the occasion of his coveted promotion.

 To:       Mr & Mrs W.A. Stevens
            507 West Garfield Blvd
            Chicago, Ill

From:  F.X. Stevens PhM1c USN
            U.S.S. LCI(L) 707 C/o. FPO
            San Francisco, California

Dear Mom Dad & All:

            As you can see by my return address I have made first class I shall now pause for applause, thank you my dear people. I received the box from Max Bill And Dave it was really the nuts. Everything was nice and fresh (my spelling gets worse day by day) and the date bars were mighty smooth. It’s too bad I won’t be home for Christmas, prehaps next year it will be different at least I hope so, that’s the whole trouble with this war you can never tell what’s going to happen. From the looks of things at this base the Nips don’t stand a chance. We have so much stuff here you wouldn’t believe it unless you could see it. I imagine the next big step will be when we go into manila, that should be quite a shuffle. The way I look at it I’m glad that I’m over here at last, for the sooner I get my year and a half in the sooner I’ll be back home.

1 comment:

  1. ...and he is back to wishing he was home!

    Thanks for the v-mail explanation. I have a couple of them and couldn't figure out the "weird" form the letter took. I'll have to scan one or two of them in soon.


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