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Letters from the Front, Part 3

On April 20, 1944, Corporal Dillon Summers again wrote to his family back in Heiskell, Tennessee. This time, however, he used V-Mail, the letter going through the post office at nearby Powell, Tennessee.

With so many servicemen and women writing to parents, wives, sweethearts, children, and friends back home, the military transportation system would have been overwhelmed by the sheer weight and volume of the paper. V-Mail solved not only that problem but also the issue of security. Speedy, secure delivery of letters, the Post Office, War, and Navy departments knew, also "strengthens fortitude, enlivens patriotism, makes loneliness endurable and inspires to even greater devotion the men and women who are carrying on our fight far from home and from friends." (1942 Annual Report of the Postmaster General)

As the war continued and more personnel were involved in the war effort, the volume of mail increased. To deal with the issues, the War Department instituted the Army Micro Photographic Mail Service, or Victory Mail, more popularly known as V-Mail.

The letter-writing soldier, sailor, airman, or Marine wrote a brief letter on a special standardized 7 x 9 1/8-inch form. Each form was capable of holding up to 700 typed words, although most front-line personnel had no access to a typewriter and generally wrote by hand. Censors then blacked out any information considered sensitive, such as locations, destinations, or numbers of troops, weapons types and specifications, or any other information that might be even remotely of potential use to the enemy. The letter was then photographed on microfilm, reducing it to 4 1/4 x 5 inches.

The Kodak Recordak equipment used in the process could film 40 letters every minute. The process reduced the standard V-Mail forms to 1/4 the size of the original. Any letter that was damaged could not be microfilmed but had to be sent through in its original form. Each roll of microfilm could hold 1,600 of the one-page letters. Folded, it was then inserted into a 4 3/4 x 3 3/4-inch envelope. What otherwise would have required 36 large mail bags to transport could fit as V-Mail into a single mail bag.

All V-Mail was then sent via airmail through central offices in New York, Chicago, or San Francisco in the form of reels of microfilm, where the miniature letters were enlarged, printed, and distributed to the addressees.

Here is what Dillon wrote in his V-Mail on April 20, 1944.

Hello Mom & all,
Will drop you a few more lines to let You know I am still O.K. hoping everone there is well an in good health. Heard from Lexie & Dorothy today. Lexie said something about Reo. Have you got any news from him or the war dept?
How's every thing on the farm? Guess it's still to wet to do much. I never hear any more from Kecks. tell them to drop me a line sometimes. Eugena isent married yet is she. Do they still hear from Edd Burkett? wasent He & Reo together? when have they heard from Glen Moore & Randle?
Well just a line tonight So keep smiling. Will write Annie soon. Just a little at a time You know. Write more air mail & more often. Heard from Buck Ezell. Surprised me.
Love to all.
Your Son

Dorothy was Dillon's wife. Lexie and Annie were his sisters. Unfortunately, I do not know who Reo, the Kecks, Eugena, Edd Burkett, Glenn Moore, Randle, or Buck Ezell were, although I do recall hearing their names in conversations when I was a child.

His final request in the last paragraph of the letter reveals the hunger of the average serviceman for mail from home, and he wanted it quickly and often. Mail call was more popular than the chow line!

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