Forty-two years and two months late, the United States Postal Service is trying to return or deliver 253 V-Mail letters from World War II servicemen to their families and sweethearts.
The letters, all on the single-sheet fold-into-an-envelope stationery provided free to American servicemen in the war, were written in May 1944 aboard the U.S.S. Caleb Strong. The Liberty ship troop transport spent 21 days in a convoy from Newport News, Va., to Oran in North Africa.
The letters were never mailed, and officials say the reasons will probably remain a mystery because the homebound serviceman assigned in Oran to post them on his return to this country is dead. The letters spent the better part of two generations in the attic of a house in Raleigh, N.C.
Last month, officials of the Postal Service said today, a pest control workman went to Ross Garulski, the Raleigh postmaster, to report that while searching an elderly woman's attic for termites he had found a khaki sack containing the unposted mail. 'Never Entered the Mail Stream'
At a news conference at Postal Service headquarters, Albert V. Casey, the Postmaster General, stressed that the lost letters ''never entered the mail stream.'' He wanted to make it clear that the Postal Service, which succeeded the Post Office Department in 1971, could not be held accountable for the delay.
After trying to deliver the letters to the original addresses, the Postal Service found it so fruitless that it turned to trying to find the writers.
Stressing that neither snow nor rain nor war nor termites stays his couriers from their appointed rounds, Mr. Casey and his press aides produced four of the original letter writers. One, Walter Dropo of Boston, a 6-foot, 5-inch former first baseman with the Boston Red Sox and the Baltimore Orioles, was found through the Major League Baseball Players Alumni Association.
Ten others have also been identified, postal officials said, but 67 former G.I.'s who composed multiple letters on the long crossing have not been found.
Those who believe they were aboard the troop ship Caleb Strong bound for Oran in May 1944 and whose letters may be among those now held by the Postal Service should write: V-Mail, Communications Department, U.S. Postal Service, 475 L'Enfant Plaza, Washington, D.C. 20260.
Two of the former servicemen, Manford Peins, 65 years old, of North Plainfield, N.J., and Raul Alvarez, 62, of Livermore, Calif., said they had married the women to whom their lost love letters, or some of them, were addressed.
''My dearest sweet,'' Mr. Alvarez read today from one of his shipboard letters to Terry Espinosa in California, ''I can hardly wait until we reach port so I can mail my letters. I love you with all my heart and no one will ever come between us.''
Terry Alvarez, standing beside her husband before a battery of television cameras, said, ''I'm thrilled to death to get it, even though it's late.''
Mr. Alvarez, a former Army Air Corps radio operator who stayed in the service until 1971, is now a part-time letter carrier. 'Must Be Some Postage Due'
Mr. Peins, then a 23-year-old B-17 waist gunner, went on from the Caleb Strong's destination of Oran, Algeria, to fly bombing runs over Czechoslovakia from a base in Italy. He, too, returned to marry one of the addressees of the lost mail, the former Ruth Kidd. Retired recently after 37 years as a telephone man, he said they have five children and 14 grandchildren.
Remarking that ''there must be some postage due'' on the letters, Robert Kirsch, 66, of North Huntington, Pa., another B-17 crewman who was shot down over Czechoslovakia three months after a seven-letter writing binge on the ship, said, ''If I had known this was going to happen I'd have written more.''
Mr. Dropo, 63, a salesman for the family fireworks distributing business, said he would now deliver his 1944 letters to his 90-year-old mother. ''To me this is a very emotional thing,' he said. ''I was 21 then. I am 63 now. I feel - well, I made it, I am back.''
Monday, July 31, 2017
Better late than never
An article uncovered in my archival clearing. From July 31, 1987, The Postman Rings 42 Years Later by Ben A. Franklin. A touching story.