V-mail letter sheet
Movies about World War II frequently include a scene wherein the postman, a Western Union messenger, or a uniformed officer knocks at the door. Everyone inside immediately feels deep anguish because they know that the death of a soldier, their loved one, is now reality. This V-mail letter provides images of that moment. The military had instituted multiple checks to avoid a letter informing the family of a casualty before an armed forces representative could do so personally, but errors occurred. The handstamp "Returned to Sender" plus the manuscript "Missing in Action, Return to sender" prompted someone to rip the letter sheet in half and then rip the halves again. Later, someone lovingly put the pieces back together and mended the page shut so that today we can not read more than a few words of the contents.
Kay Millar wrote this letter the day after Christmas, 1942, to Staff Sergeant J.D. Burton, a member of the 324th Bombing Squadron of the 91st Bomb Group in the 8th Air Force during World War II. APO 634 identified their point of contact for mail delivery at Wellingborough, England. Millar wrote the letter on a piece of V-mail stationery. Instructions on the reverse explained how to complete the form, fold it, and pay the postage — three cents for first-class or six cents for airmail to the US gateway for overseas departure. Soldiers writing home could send V-mail free of postage. V-mail letters could then be microfilmed to reduce the weight of mail to and from personnel stationed overseas. This particular letter was sent without microfilming.
After this letter reached England, an air corps captain wrote in manuscript, "Missing in Action, Return to sender." Before it was returned to the writer, a further check for non-delivery was made and a "verified" two-line rubber stamp made by the BPO (Base Post Office- probably BPO1 in London) HQ (Headquarters) SOS (Services of Supply) ETO (European Theater of Operations) USA (United States Army). Upon return to the United States, it was checked one more time and someone in the AG (Adjutant General Office) in Washington, DC, added the rubber stamp, "Verified in War Dept. May 21 1943," with signature. After multiple verification checks that the soldier was missing in action and that the family had been notified, the letter was returned to the writer.
This V-mail letter illustrates ways in which the mails provided lifelines between those at war with those on the home front, and, at the same time, conveys the hardships and emotional anguish in times of military conflict.
George Cosentini and Al Kugel assisted in the interpretation of markings on this letter