Before Technology, there was Mail
by Keith Nitka, Battleship Operations Manager
The Military Postal Service is an extension of the United States Postal Service beyond the boundaries of the US and is obligated to provide prompt, reliable and efficient postal service for all members of the military where the USPS is not available.
(Photo Source: 1991, ALL HANDS magazine)
Mail the “old fashioned” way was still used when the USS WISCONSIN (BB-64) was in service and the only way to keep in touch with loved ones was with what people call today “snail mail”, a letter sent through the US Postal Service. Lots and lots of paper mail and packages were sent through the US Postal service to keep family and sailors up to date with the happenings at home and out to sea. Mail clerks or PC’s, Postal Clerk was the Navy Rate that was responsible for the mail. In today’s Navy the PC rate was combined with the SK or Store Keeper rate to make the Logistics Specialist (LS), today’s Navy postal carrier.
Mail in the Navy was addressed to the Sailor or Marine through their ship or service command via a FPO or Fleet Post Office. The FPO’s were located on the east coast or west coast of the United States and the Battleship WISCONSIN FPO was New York, New York. From the FPO it was then routed to the proper area where the ship was at the present time. When the ship was in the Persian Gulf, the mail would be sent to the naval base in Bahrain and from there to where the ship maybe via a delivery truck on the pier or the helicopter known as the “Desert Duck” if it was out in the ocean. Sometimes, Battleship WISCONSIN would be delivered mail for other ships along with her mail and then when that particular ship came along side for fuel, we could use the RAS system, or Replenishment At Sea system to send them their mail.
Mail being sent to the ship, no matter where in the world it was only cost the same amount of postage as it did to send a letter across town. While serving in a combat zone, mail from the service member was “Free”. The sender only need to write “FREE” in place of the stamp and with his or her return address in the upper left hand corner, the letter would simply need to be dropped in the mail box and it would be on its way.
The PCs on the ship would receive mail, which consisted of letters and packages, magazines etc. The mail would then be sorted by the PCs for distribution, first by Department and then by Division. Once this is done, the Officer of the Deck would be notified and he would have the word passed over the 1MC “Mail Call, all division Mail Petty Officers lay to the post office to pick up mail, now Mail Call”. Each division has a person assigned to pick up the mail. He then will go to the post office to pick it up and return to the division to pass it out to the proper sailor. The PC would also take in outgoing mail, cancel the postage and sort it for outbound distribution going to the Sailor’s friends and family or to pay the bills or taxes. Next to “Moored, Shift Colors!” and “Liberty, Liberty…” “Mail Call” was the most beloved word passed. Nothing can replace the moral boosting sounds of mail call while serving so far from home. Sometimes, a mail call would pass and the Sailor may have not received anything or maybe there really wasn’t anyone to write to a particular Sailor or Marine. This slack in mail and moral was picked up by “Any Service Member” mail.
During the Gulf War, “Any Service Member” mail was a big part of our incoming mail deliveries. Started in newspapers by columnist like “Dear Abbey” and “Ann Landers” in the states, any service member mail was a way for all people, especially those with out ties to the military, to show their support for the military. No matter what your thoughts on the war, everyone was in support of our troops, the individual men and women on the front lines over seas. On average the USS WISCOSIN received along with regular mail addressed to crewmen, 1000 individual letters and 20 to 30 large envelopes from school classrooms filled with letters from a class somewhere in America. Addressed to “Any Service Member”, they were a means to give mail and support to all members of the military. Some were notes of encouragement, others were letters full of questions like, “Do you ride camels?” “How hot is it there?” “Did you do anything dangerous yet?” Some of the mail was actual packages. I remember we once opened a package addressed to any service member and in it was a used pack of playing cards from the Sands Casino in Las Vegas and I opened a package with a note of encouragement and a demo tape of the Goo Goo Dolls album “Hold Me Up”, I still have that cassette tape!
I attribute this outpouring of support as a direct result of men and women like my father and his brothers in arms. My father, a Vietnam Veteran, was treated very poorly when he returned home, like so many of his fellow servicemen and women. When it was now my generation’s time in war, they were not going to let the nations populous treat us the same way they had been treated. Even though its not called any service member any longer you can still get involved. There are websites and charitable organizations like anysoldier.com or operationgratitude.com that can get a letter or package to a service member over seas or here in the states.