Throughout American history, our military and postal service have worked together to deliver mail under challenging—and often extreme—circumstances. Whether they’re receiving letters at headquarters or in hostile territory, on a submarine or in the desert, to U.S. troops mail call represents a vital connection to home.

Back in 2011, the Smithsonian National Postal Museum celebrated the importance of military correspondence with the exhibit “Mail Call: A History of America’s Military Mail.”  The exhibition uses mail to tell the stories of individual soldiers and traces the history of military mail delivery from the Revolutionary War until the present day.

Dave Rocker veterans

A clerk sorts mail during World War I. [Photo courtesy of Smithsonian Institution Libraries, Washington, DC]

“Mail sustains the spirits, both on the home front and for the people who are on the front line,” explained Lynn Heidelbaugh, a curator at the museum. To that end, the exhibition features a number of letters that offer a glimpse into the personal lives of American soldiers stationed abroad.

Over the years, the Postal Inspection Service has devised various strategies and tactics to keep postage flowing to and from U.S. military personnel during times of conflict. From the Civil War through World War II, the Post Office Department strongly relied on the experience and skills of inspectors to coordinate operations between postal officials and the military. Then, in 1861, special agents (the precursor form of the title “Post Office Inspector,” which was initiated by statute in 1880) established and maintained military post offices and routes during the Civil War.

Dave Rocker military mail

APO stands for Army or Air Force Post Offices, while FPO represents Fleet Post Offices, serving the Navy, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard. Using a number assigned to an APO/FPO as an address provides flexibility and security if and when a military unit changes location. The APO number 96490 example on this poster represented the 1st Calvary Division, Airmobile, stationed in Vietnam in 1967.

Inspectors were called upon again during the Spanish American War and the First World War to set up and staff U.S. military postal operations at overseas stations. They, along with other postal employee counterparts, were well versed in regulations of the mail and financial intricacies of money order business and postage stocks. While the format of military mail and the method by which it’s delivered has evolved over time, the importance of our military postal service has not.

What Are Some of the Key Points in America’s Military Mail History?
  • 1775: Continental Congress implements the Constitutional Post.
  • 1861: U.S. suspends mail to Confederate States of America.
  • 1918: Military Postal Express Service operates mail for American Expeditionary Forces.
  • 1942: V-Mail microfilm service is available for overseas military mail.
  • 1966: Space Available Mail (SAM) is enacted for air transport of designated types of mail.
  • 1968: Parcel Airlift (PAL) class of mail is created for overseas military mail.
  • 1980: Military Postal Service Agency is established.
  • 2004: Marines Corps launches the hybrid mail service MotoMail.

For American servicemen and women stationed abroad during the holidays, nothing is better than receiving a package, card, or letter from home. For more information about sending holiday care packages and letters to U.S. troops, check out the resources outlined below.

To ensure timely delivery of holiday items by Dec. 25, the U.S. Postal Service recommends that cards and packages be sent to military APO/FPO/DPO addresses overseas no later than the mailing dates listed below.

Holiday Shipping Dates USPS®

Here are some other ways to show U.S. troops some love during the holiday season:

USO Holiday Care Packages

The Adopt-A-Military Family program provides commissary cards, gifts, toys and much more to military families in need.

Trees for Troops, a program sponsored by the Christmas Spirit Foundation, provides free Christmas trees to military families.

Operation Gratitude offers a variety of ways to support the military and get involved during the holidays.