If you have any doubts about how important mail delivery was during World War II, read the words of the then-postmaster general of the United States, Frank C. Walker: “It is almost impossible to over-stress the importance of this mail. It is so essential to morale that army and navy officers of the highest rank list mail almost on a level with munitions and food.”
He wrote those words in an article in the Army and Navy Journal, an edition of the publication called “United States at War, December 7, 1942 | December 7, 1943” (I haven’t been able to figure out when that edition was published). Lynn Heidelbaugh, a curator for the National Postal Museum, sent me the article, along with a few other items during our correspondence recently.
In the article, Walker details the efforts the government took in marrying the expertise of the Post Office Department and the U.S. Army and Navy. At the time he wrote this article, Walker said the department had 1,300 U.S. post offices serving army posts and camps in the United States, and 400 Army Post Offices functioning in more than 50 foreign countries. Additionally, the U.S. Navy had postal facilities on ships and at shore stations in 2,000 locations.
An example may make clear just where it is that the Post Office Department withdraws from the picture and the military authorities assume control. Mrs. Richard Roe, in Chicago, knows that her son is overseas, but is not sure just where he is stationed.
She addresses her letter as follows: “Private William D. Roe, 32,000,000; Company F, 167th Infantry, APO 810, c/o Postmaster, New York, N.Y.,” and drops it in a mail box. At the Chicago post office, it is canceled, sorted, and tied in a package of letters labeled “New York, N.Y.–Military Mail.”
Still under the Post Office Department’s immediate control, it arrives at the New York Post Office’s Postal Concentration center, a great building whose entire facilities and hundreds of workers are engaged exclusively in the final processing of the mall before it is handed over to the military authorities.
The package goes through sorting processes for separations according to the branch of the service, such as Infantry or Field Artillery, and secondly according to the Company or similar designation. Finally, Mrs. Roe’s letter is placed in a package of mail for members of Company F, 167th Infantry. The package then goes in a mail bag to the New York Port of Embarkation Army Post Office. It is here that the Army assumes control.
The Army knows where Company F is located; we do not. Private Roe’s letter goes by ship or plane to the overseas A.P.O. through which Company F gets its mail. The package is handed to the mail orderly of Company F and he delivers the letter to Bill Roe. If Bill has been transferred, or if he is in a hospital, the Army Directory Service furnishes the new address and the letter is re-dispatched or re-sorted for delivery at the new location. When letters are misdirected, long delays occur. Ship sinkings have meant the loss of many thousands of letters.
Mrs. Roe’s letter to Bill is one of approximately five billion which go to and from the armed forces in a year. For the happiness of Mrs. Roe and the millions like her and for the fighting efficiency of Bill Roe and the millions like him, that mail must be handled with speed and efficiency.