Loose lips sink ships: “Patricia I hate you.”

They would sometimes censor words at random when you wrote letters home. Aside from keeping an accurate account of activities in the Mediterranean Theater in his journal, George Buttenschoen kept in touch with his family through mail. 

But what he told his family and what actually made it through the army of  wounded mail processors was a different story. Back then, when you were wounded and laying in the hospital, they’d find a use for you. Wounded combat veterans took the place of mail censors, George tells me. And sometimes those guys would get bored. 

Sometimes, they’d bleep out words at random, like “love,” even. “I don’t know,” he shrugs and rolls his eyes, “.just bored I guess.”

George wasn’t allowed to write about much. As the saying goes, “loose lips sinks ships.” As a gunner’s mate on a landing craft, the phrase was quite literal. So he didn’t write much. Mail correspondence to his family was limited to what he ate that day, what the weather was like and how he felt (just no war stuff, okay?).

His letters would go to the boat’s skipper before getting handed off to the mail boat. After the skipper made his runs with a pen, the letter was sent to the censors, probably in an Army hospital midway between the war and Watertown, South Dakota, George’s hometown. 

The result could be devastating, confusing, and maybe a little humorous. 

“Dear Mom and Dad, I really _____ you, I ________ you every day.” “Dear Patricia, you’ll never know how much I always ____ you. If I don’t ____ you again, I just wanted you to know that _______ my favorite girlfriend.”

And now – especially now – in the digital age, it seems like this method of communication is probably the safest from prying eyes.


8 thoughts on “Loose lips sink ships: “Patricia I hate you.”

  1. It’s kind of strange to think about, but you’re totally right: that method of communication probably *is* one of the safest nowadays. I wonder what it must have been like to be a mail censor… I’m totally going to have to look that up now, because I’ve got this mental image of a dude who’s just been horribly maimed, maybe with some limbs missing, all hopped up on morphine, sifting through these letters to pass the time and work through the emotional aftermath of his injuries. “I ____ you, Patricia” indeed…

    1. You know someone got some morbid satisfaction by omitting heartfelt phrases to loved ones. It’s a pretty nasty thing to do, but I can’t help but find it a little amusing.

      1. I think it’s funny, too. I actually would have gotten a hoot out of a letter like that. I probably would have written back with a self-censored letter:

        Dear _____,

        Thank you so much for your letter dated ______. Remember that time we ____? I hope you know how much I ____ you. I can’t wait to _____ you again. I miss your _____.


  2. It’s one of those things you should be horrified at but still see the humor in. It reminds me of hearing how line workers in the car factories sometimes will put a ball bearing or some other piece of metal into a car body so the new owner gets a persistent rattle. Horrible for the person stuck with the consequences but the person who did it was just bored, not malicious.

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