Sunday, February 7, 2016

Love Letters from the Greatest Generation

My parents were of the Greatest Generation, born in 1918 and 1920. When Dad enlisted in the Army during WWII, my Mother and their a one-year old (my oldest sister) moved to MO to stay with her parents. Mom was pregnant with baby #2. After training camp in 1944, Dad was sent to combat in [mostly] Italy, until his return home in 1946, after months of recovering in an Army hospital from loss of limb. Lucky for my siblings and me, we have some of the letters my Dad sent to Mom during his time of service.
In this season of love, I think it's appropriate to share snippets of my Dad's love letters to my Mom while he served in the Army, prior to his injury. (Note: I wrote a personal tribute to my Dad for his service to our country and to our family, on Memorial Day, 2014. If you're interested, you can read it here.) The letters my family has kept were written from Dad to Mom during the months prior to and just after my sister was born in 1944. Dad's letters were full of hope, longing and love.
"With all my love, Tom" - Dad in US Army Training Camp - June, 1944
A little bit of history:  letters sent during WWII were sent by either airmail or V-mail. I wasn't sure what the difference was, so I researched it. V-mail, or Victory mail, was implemented during the war, to conserve space on airplanes when sending letters back to the states. Servicemen would compose their letters on government-issued stationery (about 7" x 9"), and the letters would then be inspected, censoring any potentially sensitive information (blacked out). The letters would then be photographed and put on microfilm in thumb-size negatives. The film canisters would be shipped by airplane, conserving precious cargo space that piles of letters would otherwise consume, both in weight and volume. Once received by the postmaster at the destination in the states, the letters would be printed on a reduced size paper, just a little more than 4" x 5" (not much bigger than postcard size).

Another very interesting fact of V-mail communication was, besides the fact of postal censorship, it employed invisible ink, microdots, and microprinting, all of which were impossible to photocopy. These were just some of our military's techniques designed to avert any potential espionage communications.

Dad's penmanship was beautiful, his salutations and closings anything but ordinary, and the body of his letters always informative, providing a glimpse into that era where most American history class instruction nowadays gets short-changed with the end of school year time running out (at least that was my experience). Here's one example, as Dad wrote of his initial trip overseas.
V-mail, detailing first trip overseas during WWII
Dad wrote, " This is quite a breath-taking experience but can't you imagine how these kids of younger years are thinking. Much lighter thoughts than my own believe me. If I were to travel all over the world you and the family are my only real thoughts." He went on, "Enroute to aboard the ship for the first time I saw the nation's capital and also the Washington Monument. About the most pleasing thing was a scrap metal yard of Nazi captured planes at Richmond." He closed, "With increasing love, Tom~"

Another letter showed his salutation, "My Darling Wife:", with a portion of the Army Examiner Censor's Stamp in the top left corner.
V-mail salutation, Censor's Stamp
Another letter illustrated an example of  information censored. In this case, it was dates which Dad was informing Mom of possible furloughs. Again, his closing - "I'm forever yours. With all my love, Tom ~"
V-mail example of censorship (dates)
Another letter shows names of cities blacked out, indicating where Dad's platoon saw action. He said, "The war can't last much longer. The Allies are closing in on the enemy from all sides. A few good bombing of the German cities _________________ and I believe they will crack." (Note: the war lasted another year beyond the date of this letter from my Dad).
V-mail example of censorship (cities)
It was evident that Dad eventually learned how to communicate without divulging enemy-sensitive information, as shown by a subsequent letter (below), which was not censored. It states, "Somewhere in Italy"
V-mail vaguery, "Somewhere in Italy"
Dad's sentiments for Mom's situation of having two babies without him present were sensitive throughout, and his closings always seemingly heartfelt.
V-mail closing, "Forever yours in love"
{Sigh}. In a time when cursive writing is becoming obsolete, wherein emails and text messages are the new norm for many to say, "I ♥ U", do you ever wonder if a genuine sense of emotion is lost in the translation? Call me old-fashioned, but I cherish the cards and letters I receive from loved ones, especially on birthdays - our one, individual and special day. I keep many of mine received.

How do you feel about today's standards for communicating, and what's your standard? What are your feelings about cursive writing in the classroom? Do you have children or grandchildren who are not learning cursive writing? Are we dummying down basic skills which generations before us valued greatly, both in terms of education and lifelong relationships?  I hope not.

I hope you will consider sending your loved ones real letters or cards this year, whether it's Valentine's Day, birthday, or whatever you consider a special enough occasion to really communicate. Even better, call them and chat real-time, or visit them in person. It really makes a difference to the recipient, trust me.

As always, I appreciate your readership, and your comments always invite welcome exchanges.
Rita C. at Panoply
A special thanks to Debra at Common Ground's All About Home Link Party #26 and to Rebecca at Zucchini Sisters' Celebrate Your Story #218 for featuring this post!


  1. What a beautiful memory your family has. I wonder what we will retain of digital communications in years to come that will recall what people wanted to keep and treasure. I know I still have cards and letters from my long past grandparents but I've lost digital communications from people which it would take an expert to find and retrieve. While some I would likely have recycled if on paper others I should have printed and kept.

    1. Thank you so much, Sheltie Times. You make such a valid point regarding digital communication, especially since it evolves so quickly and prior versioning becomes obsolete! I just really hope cursive remains mandatory with education.

  2. Love this post Rita and the history lesson on V-Mail. My husband is quite the history buff when it comes to WWII so I'm going to quiz him on it. Thank you so much for sharing your family's history.

  3. Great post. I think that our lives are being transformed by technology in ways we can't fully understand yet, and your parents love story shows how the written word can outlast decades. Will out texts? probably not.

    The post below gives you an idea about how I am attempting to communicate and also leave something lasting for my 20-something children.

    and also here:

  4. Rita, such a wonderful post! You look and take after your wonderful Dad!!

  5. This is so sweet Rita. You look just like your dad. They brought back the kids learning cursive for my granddaughter. So glad they did that. I hate that the communication is now almost all through text and emails. I like to get a nice card or letter in the mail. Before all of this electronic communication I remember when my girls were little the highlight of my day was getting the mail and maybe a letter or two in the mail. Ahhhh the good ole days. Happy New Week.

  6. This is a wonderful post, Rita. I loved learning about V-Mail. I really fear that cursive is a lost art. I've been out of the classroom for a few years, but when I was still teaching, the kids could not write cursive at all. Most of them hated that they didn't know how and wished that they could.

  7. I love this blog Rita. What precious memories. I remember "Airmail" when I first started working as an office clerk. Your Dad had beautiful penmanship. Happy Valentines Day.

    1. Thelma, thank you for sharing your comments. I so appreciate them!

  8. Thank you for sharing such personal remembrances. Your Dad looks so happy and impossibly young to be a soldier. Great info on the letters I didn't know any of that. Didn't that generation have the best handwriting? You asked what we think of the current means of communications.
    Your friend Carole recently posted about sending a handmade gift and not getting a thank you. I too sent a king sized quilt to a new bride and groom and got a note from my daughter, who got it from her cousin, who got it from facebook that they "Loved the F- quilt" Yes I censored the word - they did not. But I never heard a word. Facebook however has kept all of the nieces and nephews in daily/hourly touch with each other even though they live from D. C. to Korea to Florida and beyond. Is it a good thing? Times change. It's a hard to find paper, envelope, stamp, etc? Maybe I don't feel like my news is important enough for a letter - but a facebook post? Maybe yes. (I'm not on facebook though) Good topic.

    1. I agree that social media is good for large families (mine is too!) to stay connected, but nothing compares to the written thank you, especially for a gift that's handmade! Thank you for sharing your thoughts.