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Bill Thayer

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This webpage is a straightforward transcription of a 4‑page pamphlet — a single folded sheet of paper — issued in 1943 to every American soldier overseas. A publication of the United States government, it is thus in the public domain.

The exemplar transcribed here was lent to me by my friend Agnes Nutter: it was among the military papers of her late husband Harvey P. Nutter, an American Soldier who was stationed in Hawaii at the time of Pearl Harbor, and who served for the duration of the war. Thank you Agnes.

To my surprise, although this item, a source document for World War II, was printed in millions of copies, and is something fairly often quoted, I was unable to find a complete, unaltered, unabridged transcription of it anywhere online. I've therefore also put scans of the document onsite, opening in another window:

p1 pp2‑3 p4


War Department Pamphlet No. 21‑1

29 July 1943

When You Are Overseas
These Facts are Vital

Writing home

Think! Where does the enemy get his information — information that can put you, and has put your comrades, adrift on an open sea; information that has lost battles and can lose more, unless you personally, vigilantly, perform your duty in safeguarding military information?

Censorship rules are simple, sensible. — They are merely concise statements drawn from actual experience briefly outlining the types of material which have proven to be disastrous when available to the enemy. A soldier should not hesitate to impose his own additional rules when he considering writing of a subject not covered by present regulations. He also should guard against repeating rumors or misstatements. It is sometimes stated that censor­ship delays mail for long periods of time. Actually, mail is required to be completely through censor­ship within 48 hours.

There are ten prohibited subjects

1. Don't write military information of Army units — their location, strength, matériel, or equipment.

2. Don't write of military installations.

3. Don't write of transportation facilities.

4. Don't write of convoys, their routes, ports (including ports of embarkation and disembarkation), time en route, naval protection, or war incidents occurring en route.

5. Don't disclose movements of ships, naval or merchant, troops, or aircraft.

6. Don't mention plans and forecasts or orders for future operations, whether known or just your guess.

7. Don't write about the effect of enemy operations.

8. Don't tell of any casualty until released by proper authority (The Adjutant General) and then only by using the full name of the casualty.

9. Don't attempt to formulate or use a code system, cipher, or shorthand, or any other means to conceal the true meaning of your letter. Violations of this regulation will result in severe punishment.

10. Don't give your location in any way except as authorized by proper authority. Be sure nothing you write about discloses a more specific location than the one authorized.

Inclosures in letters. — Do not inclose anything in a letter that would violate any of the foregoing rules.

Photographs, Films. — Special rules apply to the transmission of photographs and films. Do not send them until you have ascertained what regulations are in effect in your area.

 p2  Post Cards. — The use of post cards may or may not be authorized. Find out first, and then be sure that the picture of printed part of the card does not violate censor­ship regulations.

Letter addresses

Address. — Always leave room for a forwarding address to be written in.

On mail to civilians. — Use normal address and form.

On mail to military personnel. Give name, grade (rank), Army serial number (if known), unit and organization, and location if in United States. If addressee is also overseas use his APO number c/o Postmaster –––––. If in the same general locality as the sender see Army Postal Service for authorized address.

On mail to prisoners of war held by enemy. — Obtain full information from local Army Postal Service.

Return Address. — Every letter or post card must have a return address. Place it in the upper left-hand corner, leaving a margin of ½ inch for resealing in case of censor­ship beyond the unit censor. The ½‑inch margin rule applies equally to mail from officers and from enlisted men. Both are subject to examination by base censor­ship detachments.

[image ALT: A schematic envelope, showing the placement of addressee information, sender information, and franking mark in upper right corner, 'FREE'.]

The return address must include (1) full name, including grade (rank), (2) Army serial number, (3) unit (company, battery, etc.), (4) organization (regiment, etc.), (5) APO number, (6) c/o Postmaster (city assigned).

Return addresses on mail written to prisoners of war are subject to specific regulations. Obtain information locally.

No geographical location of sender may be shown on an envelope or other outside cover.

Official military mail

Special regulations are provided for official military mail. They are not covered herein.

Mailing your letter

Reread your letter to be sure you have complied with all regulations. This will protect you and assure the most expeditious delivery of your letter. Five minutes now will save later delay and prevent possible suppression of the letter. It will protect you from punishment for unintentional violations.

Enlisted Men. — Place your letter unsealed in your organization mail box, never in any civil post office box. You are required to use the Army Postal Service, and the Army Postal Service only.

 p3  Officers. — Seal the envelope, sign your name without comment in the lower left-hand corner to indicate your compliance with censor­ship regulations (your letter is subject to further censor­ship examination by base censor­ship detachments), and deposit in the organization mail box. Use only the Army Postal Service.


This is an expeditious mail program which provides for quick mail service to and from soldiers overseas. A special form is used which permits the letter to be photographed on microfilm, the small film transported, and then reproduced and delivered. Use of V‑mail is urged because it greatly furthers the war effort by saving shipping and airplane space.

Censorship rules apply to V‑mail with such adjustments as are necessary due to the form used and special processing features.

Blue envelopes

Enlisted men who wish to write of private or family matters and who feel that censor­ship of a specific letter by their unit censor would cause embarrassment may be authorized to use a blue envelope which will allow censor­ship action to be taken by the base censor rather than the unit censor.

Blue envelopes should be obtained from your organization and must be addressed to the final intended recipient. Only one letter may be placed in each envelope and the envelope should be sealed prior to mailing.

Censorship regulations apply to blue envelopes as well as to all other communications.


Written communications may be sent only through the facilities of the Army Postal Service. Any attempt to avoid this restriction by mailing letters in civil postal systems or by having travelers transport communications will result in severe disciplinary action against both the sender and the intermediary.

Cables; radiograms

Every cable message goes through the hands of at least 12 people. Radiogram messages are available to all who wish to "tune in," including the enemy!

Constant effort is being made to provide you with approved, rapid, cheap electrical communication.

Under no circumstances can cables be sent over commercial or foreign outlets until their use is authorized by proper military authority. "Safe Arrival" messages, identifiable as such, are prohibited at any time. There are two types of electrical messages generally available: Senders' Composition Messages (SCM's), which are like the cablegrams and radiograms you know at home, and Expeditionary Force Messages (EFM's) which are fixed text messages sent at a very low rate, much like Christmas and birthday telegraph messages in use in the United States, but with set messages composed to meet your normal requirement.

As soon as safety allows you will be assigned an APO cable address. Until it is assigned only serious, emergency messages may be sent, and then only if first approved in writing by the theater or area commander or his authorized representative. The Red Cross can handle certain extremely urgent personal matters by cable.

Ask your unit censor how to send messages, either SCM's or EFM's. Under no circumstances may you mention your unit or organization, or any military establishment; nor may you mention in the text any APO number other than your own.

 p4  Cable addresses

Outbound. — First give your cable address; next, the full name, street address, city, and State of the person for whom the message is intended; then the message, and finally sign your full name. Example:

AMTRAG (typical APO cable address)

Mrs. John Smith, 1616 Main St.,

Zenith, Ohio.



John T. Smith.

Note that addresses and signatures do not include Army serial numbers, unit or organization designation, or APO numbers, nor do they show your location in any manner whatsoever.

Inbound. — Cables and radiograms should be addressed to you, giving your full name, Army serial number, and cable address, but not your unit nor organization.


Silence means security. — If violation of protective measures is serious within written communications it is disastrous in conversations. Protect your conversation as you do your letters, and be even more careful. A harmful letter can be nullified by censor­ship; loose talk is direct delivery to the enemy.

If you come home during war your lips must remain sealed and your written hand must be guided by self-imposed censor­ship. This takes guts. Have you got them or do you want your buddies and your country to pay the price for your showing off? You've faced the battle front; its little enough to ask you to face this "home front."


Most enemy intelligence comes from prisoners. If captured, you are required to give only three facts: your name, your grade, your Army serial number. Don't talk, don't try to fake stories, and use every effort to destroy all papers. When you are going into an area where capture is possible carry only essential papers and plan to destroy them prior to capture if possible. Do not carry personal letters on your person; they tell much about you, and the envelope has on it your unit and organization.

Be sensible; use your head

Published for the information and guidance of all concerned.

By order of the Secretary of War:

G. C. Marshall,

Chief of Staff.


J. A. Ulio,

Major General,

The Adjutant General.

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Page updated: 26 Nov 12