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'V-Mail' Letter Arrives Special Delivery, Four Decades Late

November 11, 1986|GABE FUENTES | Times Staff Writer

A forgetful soldier's laundry bag, a dusty attic in North Carolina and the floor of an exterminator's office were stops on the 42-year journey of U.S. Army Pvt. Lyman M. Fisk's letter to his mother.

The journey ended Monday in a conference room at the Van Nuys main post office, where U.S. Postal Service officials handed Fisk's letter to his daughter, Dianne Blumberg of Studio City, at a pre-Veterans Day press conference.

"It made me feel very special. I have this very warm glow," Blumberg, 42, said after reading the letter, which was written during World War II, when she was 4 months old. "It brought the memories of what a nice father I had."

Her father died in 1976, and his mother died about 1970, she said.

On May 14, 1944, Fisk was aboard the troop ship Caleb Strong, which was headed for Oran, Algeria. He picked up a pen and a "victory mail" sheet, which served as stationery and envelope, and wrote:

"Dear Mom: Well, today is Mother's Day. Though I know it will be quite some time before you receive this, I want you to know that I haven't forgotten you. I hope this is the last time that I am so far away from you. . . . Love, Lyman."

Fisk handed the letter to an unidentified soldier who was returning to the United States. Other men did the same. The soldier told them that he would mail their letters as soon as he got ashore.

He put the letters in a laundry bag with some socks.

Among his first stops stateside was the Raleigh, N.C., home of his aunt, postal officials said. It was in her attic that the soldier left the bag, with 235 pieces of mail from 92 airmen and soldiers, to 117 addresses in 34 states.

And in the attic the bag remained--for 42 years--collecting dust next to old Saturday Evening Post and Collier's magazines.

But in April, exterminator Mike Minguez, who was looking for wasps in the attic, was stung with delight by what he found.

He ran downstairs to tell the housekeeper, he said, but was told that the owner of the house--the forgetful soldier's aunt--did not want to get involved with the discovery.

Minguez said he later learned that the woman was already aware of the lost mail. "She was afraid to keep it and afraid to get rid of it. . . . They had, as recently as a year ago, planned to burn it."

During the next few weeks, Minguez agonized over his discovery. "This could have been the last will and testament of some of those guys," he said. In May he persuaded the woman to give him the bag.

He brought it to his office, where it sat for three more weeks as he waited in vain, he said, for postal officials to pick it up. In June, he called the Postal Service headquarters in Washington, and by July, a national search was on for the veterans who had sent the letters.

To date, the Postal Service has delivered 189 of the 235 letters to the authors, their families or to the people to whom they were written, officials said. They still are looking for 27 veterans or their families.

Another of the letters was delivered Monday at a post office in Marysville, Calif., to Bernard Michel, 66, who was one of the men aboard the Caleb Strong.

Michel wrote the letter to his wife at the time, Enid. Michel, who has since remarried, refused to open the letter, saying he was not interested in its contents.

"You can't write much from aboard a ship," he said.

Michel said he will send the letter to his daughter from his first marriage, who wants to keep it as a memento.

In Blumberg's case, a friend saw Fisk's name in a Chicago newspaper story about the mail discovery and called her.

Postal officials in Van Nuys had Fisk's letter sent by registered mail last week, so it would arrive in time for Veterans Day, Van Nuys Division Postmaster William G. Jackson said.

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