Veterans can be honored through collecting postal history

Nov 29, 2010, 11 AM

By Janet Klug

Earlier this month on Nov. 11, we honored the sacrifices made by our military veterans on the federal holiday known as Veterans Day.

The selection of Nov. 11 for this holiday dates to the armistice that ended the fighting on the Western Front in WWI, which went into effect at 11 a.m. on Nov. 11, 1918.The observance originally began as Armistice Day, with Nov. 11 set aside in the United States, United Kingdom, Canada and elsewhere, as a day of remembrance for all those who gave their lives in service to their countries in World War I.

In the United States, Armistice Day was renamed Veterans Day in 1954. The nature of the holiday also was changed to honor all military veterans, living and dead.

By 1954, the United States had engaged in World War II and the Korean War, and there were millions of military personnel, past and present, to honor.

In Great Britain and other British Commonwealth countries, such as Canada, Armistice Day evolved into Remembrance Day, but this observance is closer in nature to the American holiday of Memorial Day, as it honors all those who have lost their lives in service to their country.

In the United Kingdom, it further evolved into Remembrance Sunday, observed on the second Sunday in November, although two minutes of silent reflection is still observed nationally on Nov. 11.

The U.S. Postal Service frequently has honored veterans as a group with stamps such as the 2001 34¢ American Flag stamp (Scott 3508) shown in Figure 1. The stamp is inscribed "Honoring Veterans" and "Continuing to Serve."

Families who have letters written by loved ones while in service have treasures. I am always surprised to find a letter within an old piece of military mail, and I can't help but wonder how families can let go of these treasures.

Collectors become historians and curators when we acquire these letters and covers.

Shown in Figure 2 is a small U.S. Civil War era letter sent from Neville, Ohio, to John Prichard, Company K, 7th Iowa Cavalry, Cherokee County, Iowa.

The letter within, written by Prichard's father William, is dated Feb. 6, 1865, and contains much family news of illnesses (primarily diphtheria) and a remembrance of John's brother, Joseph, who "...died 2 years ago a sacrifice for our beloved Country."

William continues, "It is the opinion of informed men that this War cannot last much longer."

I wondered what the 7th Iowa Cavalry was doing when this letter was mailed. I found a synopsis of service on the Civil War reference web site at

The 7th Iowa Cavalry was moved to Omaha, Neb., in June 1863 and was assigned to duty at various points in the Nebraska and Dakota Territory where it served as garrison, guarded lines of telegraph and travel, escorted trains and protected emigrants.

In the course of these duties, this regiment came into frequent conflict with local Indians in the departments of Missouri, Kansas and the Northwest, which is not the type of engagement that typically comes first to mind when you think of the Civil War.

During times of war, letters home from servicemen often are subjected to censorship, in case letters from those in service are intercepted by the enemy.

A comment about location, troop movement or armament made in a letter that fell into enemy hands could be harmful to the outcome of the action.

An example of military censorship is shown in Figure 3. This postcard was provided by the Roman Catholic fraternal organization the Knights of Columbus to troops serving with the American Expeditionary Force in WWI.

The postcard was sent by "Cook Charlie L. Jayce" in Truck Company 1. It bears a faint waving flag machine postmark dated Aug. 23, 1918.

It also bears a double-circle censorship marking that partially covers the signature of the censor, 2nd Lt. (lieutenant) Lake, who also gave it an "OK."

The message written to Jayce's cousin, Pearl, is an "I am fine and please write" kind of note.

Sometimes in war, military personnel are taken prisoner by the enemy. Treatment of prisoners of war is governed by the Third Geneva Convention (1929), at least for those belligerents who have signed it. A revision of those mandates was made in 1949.

Mail to and from POWs is controlled by the captors. Some nations limit the number of letters by rank of the prisoner. There usually is strict enforcement of what is permissible. Humanitarian organizations, such as the International Red Cross, oversee mail exchange.

Figure 4 illustrates an inward "Prisoner of War Post" formulaic airmail letter card sent from Detroit to an American POW in Hoten Camp, Manchukuo (Manchuria), in August 1944. Hoten Camp was located on a railway line at Mukden.

The card bears a 6¢ Twin-Motored Transport Plane airmail stamp (Scott C25) and was censored by a civilian censor in the United States.

The short message, only three sentences long, was from a mother to her son, conveying the sad news that his father had died.

For more information on collecting military postal history, contact the Military Postal History Society, 5452 N. Pennsylvania St., Indianapolis, IN 46220-3022; or visit the web site

And to all veterans reading this column: Thank you for your service.