V-Mail letters from a World War II P-38 pilot


Copied below are five V-Mail letters written by my uncle Donald Byars while he was stationed in the southwest Pacific during World War II. They were sent early in 1943 to his sister, my aunt Janett Byars, when she was in the Women's Auxiliary Army Corps (WAAC), and later that year when she had returned to civilian life. My uncle Donald Byars was an Army Air Corps officer and a P-38 pilot.

V-Mail letters were written on forms that could be purchased at five and ten cent stores or the post office. These special forms were photographed, put on film, flown across the world and then reproduced at the mail center closest to the recipient's position. The main advantage of V-Mail was its compact nature. Reduction in the size and weight of the letters translated into more space for crucial military supplies on cargo planes; one advertisement explained that 1,700 V-Mail letters could fit in a cigarette packet, while reducing the weight of the letters in paper form by 98%. Transport by plane minimized the chances that the enemy would intercept the letters. Military censors blacked out any information that might prove useful to the enemy in case some V-Mail was captured.

President Roosevelt signed legislation on July 1, 1943 by which all service women became members of the Army and the first "A" in WAAC was dropped. The women were now eligible for benefits provided to soldiers, such as the use of free mailing, insurance, dependency allotments and other privileges. In the change from auxiliary to Army status, they were given the choice of re-enlistment or discharge. My aunt Janett Byars chose and received an honorable discharge.