Activities

You’ve Got V-Mail! The Role of Letters and Communication in World War II

Guiding Question:

How was World War II experienced by soldiers and by soldiers’ families?

Overview:

Using an interactive timeline from the American Battle Monuments Commission, letters, videos and primary and secondary source analysis, students will explore the experiences of both servicemembers and families during and after the war.

Activity

Historical Context

Letter writing served as the main source of communication between soldiers on the front lines and their loved ones back home. World War II gave rise to Victory-Mail, or V-Mail, which allowed those across the world to express their feelings and share in their experiences. V-Mail employed a new technique. The postal service photographed and the letters and placed them on microfilm, or a reel of film. This technique saved the military much needed space to ship military supplies overseas. Thousands of letters were reproduced on thumb-nail sized microfilm rolls, which made it easier to send the letters overseas. Once the microfilmed letters reached their intended destination, the military “blew up” the letter to a legible size and printed them.

Objectives

At the conclusion of this lesson, students will be able to

  • Understand the role that letters played in connecting service members with their families; and
  • Write a letter from the perspective of either a service member who fought in World War II or the next-of-kin of a service member who died during the war.

Standards Connections

Connections to Common Core

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RH.6-8.2 Determine the central ideas or information of a primary or secondary source; provide an accurate summary of the source distinct from prior knowledge or opinions;

Connections to C3 Framework

D2.His.1.6-8. Analyze connections among events and developments in broader historical contexts;

D2.His.14.6-8. Explain multiple causes and effects of events and developments in the past;

Lesson Preparation

Procedure

Activity One (60 minutes)

  • Project the World War II Interactive Timeline in the front of the room.
    • Ask students to identify the U.S. and France on the map.
    • Click through the years at the bottom of the timeline (1939-1945) to review the evolution of the Allied control zones through time and the evolution of number of campaigns.
  • Divide the class into four groups (A through D).
  • Ask students how service members and families stayed in touch during World War II.
  • Remind students that the communication went both ways: to the service members and from the service members.
  • Distribute the materials and writing assessment to each group of students. Monitor and assist as needed.
    • Teacher Tip: Preview each group. Some groups include more or less reading and can be adapted to students with various needs.
  • Show the film, Letters [18:13], to the students to help them understand the value of these letters and the chain of communication between the homefront and the battlefield.

Assessment Materials

  • Distribute copies of the V-Mail Writing Assignment and Rubric for students in groups A and B.
  • Distribute copies of the Letter Writing Assignment and Rubric for students in groups C and D.
  • Review the directions with the students.
    • Teacher Tip: Students can complete this assessment independently or in small groups at teacher discretion.
  • The V-Mail Writing Assignment Rubric and the Letter Writing Assignment Rubric can be used to evaluate student work.

Methods for Extension

Adaptations

  • Teachers can build student groups based on the accessibility of the documents within each group.

Sources

Return to Activity

Primary Sources

Secondary Sources

Other Sources