Friday, December 19, 2014

V Mail on V-E Day

V-E Day, May 8, 1945.  The end of the war in Europe and a great relief to the world.  One can only imagine what it was like for our GIs in that theater of war.

V Mail was a brilliant form of transporting letters to and from the front.  Instead of sending the physical letters, the mail was transferred via microfilm and printed at a processing center near the addressee.  Thirty-seven sacks of mail could be condensed to one sack of microfilm.  An excellent article on V Mail is available at the Smithsonian's National Postal Museum website.

I recently acquired an amazing V Mail written by John Bywaters, an Army sergeant stationed at a POW camp somewhere in Europe.  As I mentioned before, the atmosphere at time of surrender must have been joyous.  Well, it wasn't for many.  Below is the text of Sergeant Bywaters' V Mail as it is hard to read.

Dear Mother and Dad
V day - It seems almost impossible that it can be here.Five and a half yrs ago I sat by the radio and heard that Germany had marched into Poland and it is hard to believe all the things that it as a civilized nation has done but the war has returned to her with a vengeance. It is almost impossible to believe that huge, modern, industrial cities could be wiped off the face of the earth but for a few blackened walls, but such is the case.All the death and destruction was necessary to bring her to her knees but when you know that the whole senseless holocaust was caused by the greed of a few evil men you can hardly realize that what is supposed to be civilized men could be so cruel to one another - in the days of the Spanish Inquisition, yes, but today, no.There is a little joy and relief in that it is all over on this side of the world but when you think of friends that have given lives and limbs there is little to really rejoice about. While we were in Eng. [England] we made all sorts of plans for celebrating V day but here on our lovely mountain scene we worked as usual with a few routine details.My biggest cause for celebration was that we got our shower unit to working and I was able to take a shower for the first in 3 weeks. More in Betty's letter.Bye now. Sincerely, John. (emphasis added)
V Mail is quite small.  I picked up a packet of blank V Mail stationery and took a picture to show the relative size of the V Mail to the original form.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Occupation of Vera Cruz

By 1914 Mexico was in its fourth year of revolution. General Victoriano Huerta led the autocratic regime which was unsuccessfully fighting off a number of revolutionary groups at the time. President Wilson strongly opposed to Huerta’s dictatorial government and refused to recognize it. Wilson sincerely wanted Mexico to have a freely elected government.

The increasing friction between Mexico and the US reached a boiling point in early April 1914 when Mexican forces arrested a small group of sailors from the USS Dolphin in Tampico. The sailors were released shortly thereafter and Mexican officials gave an apology. However, Rear Admiral Henry Mayo, the ranking US commander in the area, insisted on a twenty-one gun salute to the American flag. This may seem archaic by modern standards but back then naval salutes were routinely done. Earlier in the month American ships gave three twenty-one gun salutes on the same day to commemorate a past Mexican military victory.

Several other small incidents occurred with American forces. Furthermore a German ship was headed to Vera Cruz with a huge shipment of arms for General Huerta’s troops. US forces landed at Vera Cruz on April 21st with orders to seize the customs house where the ship would unload the arms. Wilson naively thought the Mexican people would appreciate foreign help in toppling a repressive dictator. They did not. Surprisingly Gen. Huerta privately welcomed the US intervention as he thought it would provide a means for uniting the people under his failing regime.

US forces stayed in Vera Cruz through November 1914. Nineteen servicemen were killed, seventy were wound and Mexican casualties were about 200 killed and 300 wounded. Huerta was deposed in this time in favor of Carranza. Two years later Pancho Villa and his forces would attack Columbus, New Mexico and further strain US-Mexican relations.

Postcard mailed on April, 21st, the day of the invasion, on the hospital ship USS Solace.

Monday, February 17, 2014

The Pershing Punitive Expedition

The Pershing Punitive Expedition is a little known yet important event in American history.  Pancho Villa and his followers crossed the border and raided the small town of Columbus, New Mexico on March 9, 1916.  In short, President Wilson sent General Pershing and a small force to find and eliminate Pancho Villa.  The mission was a failure in that sense.  However no further raids occurred on US territory by radical Mexican forces.

The Pancho Villa raid and resulting chase are more than just a footnote in history.  Less than one year later it was discovered that Germany asked Mexico to go to war against the US in exchange for former territory.  The discovery of this offer was found in the infamous Zimmermann Telegram sent by the German foreign minister (Arthur not George).

Saturday, February 1, 2014

The Birthday Blues

Birthday gifts from a great friend.  Turns out the blues aren't so bad after all!

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Woodrow Wilson: A Man of the People

Wilson as a man of the people? Hardly. He was a brilliant academic who never seemed to have left the ivory tower. Nevertheless, he is one of my favorite presidents and I'm currently doing some reading about him. Wilson provided strong leadership at a critical time.  Were mistakes made?  Definitely.  But the overall course was kept.

He is pictured on a few US stamps of which the Scott 623 at left is by far my favorite.  It is simple and bold, the creation of of Claire Aubrey Huston who also designed the Panama Pacific series.  As a pince-nez wearer myself, I am impressed with Huston's accurate depiction of Wilson's hoop spring pince-nez.

I recently acquired a nice registered cover showing the 623 stamp in single usage.

Why do I call Wilson a man of the people? Because underneath the aloof academic persona was a man with very human emotion. I've been reading Woodrow Wilson by H.W. Brands and I found a truly touching section.  Wilson's wife died and in 1914 and he was completely distraught and depressed.  It was very sad.  Then  "What finally snapped him out of it [depression] was not any insight into the meaning of life and death but an attractive face and a pretty figure." (Brands, p. 65)  The face and figure belonged to Edith Bolling Galt, the second Mrs. Wilson.  Yes, President Wilson was quite human.

I highly recommend a website of unique interest: the Medical History of American Presidents. The one on Wilson is very interesting and sheds insight into his actions.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Stamp Collecting (The Old Fashioned Way)

One of my favorite recent purchases has been a cover and letter from the Italian Royal Embassy (1931) to a stamp collector in Washington, D.C. The letter is from a counselor in the embassy and he acknowledges the request by the collector for some of Italy's stamps.  These items are from a very interesting and troubled time in history.  In 1931 Mussolini had dictatorial control of the Italian government and was about to embark on a conquest of Ethiopia a few years later.

I've been creating personal display pages for many items in my collection.  One of my best sources for images is the online Library of Congress website. They have an incredible collection of high resolution images that can be downloaded for free.  In my page above, I found a photo of the Italian Embassy in Washington circa 1930.  Also there was a great interior photo showing high level Italian officials with their pet dogs circa 1935.

The embassy was the site of many protests by American groups against the Italian government in the late 1930s.  In the photo at left, members of the American League for Peace and Democracy present a protest letter to an official at the embassy (4/7/39).  Several blocks away the group had picket lines protesting fascist conquests.

In earlier times there were some light hearted moments at the embassy.  Back in 1926 film star Rudolf Valentino posed with embassy officials for photos (1/29/26). Sadly, Valentino died within the year at age thirty-one.

One can appreciate historical items much better when knowing the context of the times.

Note: The stamps shown above are not original to the cover and letter but added for display purposes.