World War II began in 1939 and lasted until 1945, during this time the military casualties numbered twenty-two to twenty-five million individuals from all the countries involved with the war. This war is known as the most widespread war in history, and a vast majority of correspondence from soldiers arrived from other countries. The letter below, written by Bill Insley while he was in Japan, is an example of just how widespread the war was. Bill’s account of Japan, written to his parents, has not been altered in any way and it is important to remember that they did not have way to check spelling and grammar like we do today. The errors are all part of the charm and so none of them have been corrected in this transcription.
Honshu Island, Japan
Well have been getting more mail lately and very glad to get it. There is nothing better than to come in from a hard day and find a letter waiting. Of course, I never get enough because letters from home are so welcome. WE are still at the same place, expecting to move every day but we never do. I hope we put out for the mountains soon as the living conditions here are not so hot. We are not more than three hours train ride from Yokahoma so if I had Harry Lee’s address I might be able to go look him up. There are so many things to do and no time. Have been working pretty darn steady since I landed here. By the way am a corporal now so will be able to save a little money now and be able to pay you folks for some that I owe you when I get back.
Had a letter from Ernie, Don and you in the last week and a couple of cards. Expect this outfit will be back in June so will not be too long before I see you all. A matter of a few months. There isn’t much more to tell about. I’m shopping around to find Mom the brightest Japanese Kimono there is in Tokyo, and a Gun of some kind for Dad, a Geimack for Don, which is a Japanese boy who does all your work for you. They actually sell these boys in the open market over here. You can buy one with a rickshaw for about 100 dollars. One fellow from the 43rd division who sleeps near has a little monkey who is about 8 inches high and keeps me awake nights chattering and climbing on the covers. More later when I have something new to tell.
Letters like this one came from far and wide during the six years of World War II. Many of them describe living conditions, were meant to update their family on their location, and even to update their family when the soldier would arrive home. However some soldiers shared too many details and the United States government opened up the Office of Censorship whose staff count rose to 14,462 by February 1943 in locations all over the U.S. There were three main methods that censors used to edit incoming and outgoing mail. They would scuff up the paper and then use slick black ink to mark through the words or sentences that contained forbidden text. The second technique consisted of cutting out letters or sentences with a sharp blade. These letters often resembled crude lace. Finally if a letter contained too many forbidden words or phrases the censor was authorized to return the letter to the sender. Despite how strict these rules seem more than 98% of the letters sent or received contained very minor censors involving a single word or phrase. If you are interested in seeing more war-time letters similar to the one Bill Insley sent to his family the “Letters Home” exhibit is on display now in the museum. The Museum is open Tuesday through Sunday from 1pm to 4pm.