During World War II, Fred Lehmann was a union representative for the United Mine Worker’s District 50 local union representing workers at Southeast Chicago’s State Line Generating Station. The union sent a copy of its monthly newsletter “The Powerhouse” and a carton of cigarettes to every plant employee in the military. The soldiers often wrote back thanking Fred for the cigarettes and many became regular correspondents. The letters were sent from all over the world and all branches of the military. Many have words crossed out by censors. The letters discuss everyday life in the military and their experiences. Many ask about or share news of family, friends, and co-workers. A number express concern about their job security and seniority at the plant. The letters offer a fascinating window onto everyday life in the military during a critical historical moment. The Lehmann collection has hundreds of notes and letters with 61 different individuals. It was donated to the Museum by Fred Lehmann’s son Don.
This particular piece of correspondence is V-Mail (V…-Mail). In Morse code, “v” is three dots and a dash. V-mail, short for Victory Mail, was used by the United States during the Second World War as the primary secure method to correspond with soldiers stationed abroad. To reduce the cost of transferring an original letter through the military postal system, a V-mail letter would be censored, copied to film, and printed back to paper upon arrival at its destination. The V-mail system used standardized stationery which combined the letter and envelope into one piece of paper that also greatly saved on space. Censors would read each letter before they were filmed and blacked out sections that contained sensitive material. There is no denying that the V-mail practice saved vital shipping space: 37 mail bags could fit within 1 mail bag of V-mail and around 1600 letters could fit on a single 100-foot roll of 16mm film.