The following is a guest post by Andrew Huber, Liaison Specialist for the Veterans History Project (VHP).
October 26th marks the National Day of the Deployed, which honors all those veterans and active duty soldiers, sailors, Marines and airmen who have spent time abroad in service to their country. As anyone who has been deployed will tell you, receiving mail and communicating with their loved ones back home is something that everyone on a deployment looks forward to.
For hundreds of years, good old fashioned letters were the only way for those in the military to speak with people back home. World War I gave the Veterans History Project some of its finest letter collections, like the letters of William James Bean, whose son donated several letters and postcards that Bean wrote to his wife and mother while serving in France in the 59th Artillery. He describes nearly universal facets of deployment – boredom in camp, missing home and the differences in dress and custom of the people in his host country. Bean even had time to send Christmas cards to his family.
After WWI, letters remained popular but were no longer the only option for correspondence. WWII saw the advent of the “Voice-O-Graph,” a booth that allowed GIs to record their voice on a 45rpm record to send back home. The Veterans History Project has several of these discs in our collections, which we hope to digitize and make available on our website in the near future. Unfortunately the records only held about 6 minutes of audio, but enterprising veterans found their own ways to transmit lengthier messages. Veterans like Aldo Panzieri, a sergeant in an aerial reconnaissance squadron in Vietnam, who commandeered a reel-to-reel tape recorder to send 30 minute updates from Vietnam to his family.
As technology continues to progress, deployed men and women utilize every possible way to speak to friends and family. Letters are no longer the preferred form of correspondence; video chat programs such as Facetime and Skype provide the far superior option of face-to-face conversations – a luxury that would have seemed impossible to a soldier in the Ardennes or a Marine on Iwo Jima. However, by volume, no form of current communication can come close to matching emails. Believe it or not, the Veterans History Project does accept donations of emails.
Email has been a serious boon to historians and military researchers, as the casual form of communication promotes more frequent writing and details more of the minutia of deployed life than a formal letter usually would. Of course, more information making its way out of combat zones isn’t always a good thing in the eyes of the military. The email collection of Chadwick Storlie shows the military’s devotion to OPSEC, or Operational Security, as all mentions of locations, last names and other potentially sensitive information have been scrubbed clean. Despite most of his emails being about receiving care packages, doing laundry and other mundane things, Storlie’s emails take no chances with potentially revealing information that could be taken advantage of by the enemy. This is nothing new in the military. During WWI and WWII, military censors would physically open each piece of mail and remove sensitive information.
No matter how it gets to them, receiving mail is usually the highlight of a deployed serviceman or servicewoman’s day. So if there is a deployed person in your life, think about sending them a letter in honor of the National Day of the Deployed. They will certainly appreciate it!