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Soldier's letter to his Alhambra bride is delivered--43 years late.

March 10, 1988|ERIC WILHELMUS | Times Staff Writer

On May 19, 1944, Army Sgt. Robert Chase, a 20-year-old tail gunner, sat on the rolling deck of a troop ship bound for Algeria and wrote a letter to his 16-year-old bride in Alhambra.

She got it . . . 43 years later.

Chase's letter was finally located in 1986, tucked in a duffel bag with a pair of socks and 234 other letters from 92 airmen. The bag was found by an exterminator in an attic in Raleigh, N.C.

The letter was finally delivered to Lois Graber on Feb. 26 at a special meeting of area postmasters in Alhambra.

"I was kind of in shock at first. It was kind of a surprise," said Graber, now 61 and living in Covina. She and Chase were married just a few months before he was sent overseas. They divorced in 1957.

"The letter was about his trip to Algeria," she said. "It expressed his concern about going overseas on such short notice. The letter stated he hoped I got home safely." She had just visited him in South Dakota, where he had been stationed.

"It also expressed how much he hoped he would get home quickly and how much he loved me. It brought back a lot of memories," said Graber, an accountant at Suburban Water Systems in La Puente. She married Thomas Graber 26 years ago.

Robert Chase, her son from her first marriage, watched as Graber opened the two-page letter.

"I feel that when she was reading it, she was thinking back to the time when things were different between her and him," he said of his father. "They were young and very much in love, and she wanted to keep it private."

Although delighted by the glimpse of her past, Graber said it was just one of many letters she received from Chase.

"There might have even been more (lost)," she said. "Like many others during the war, we would write almost every day."

Graber said she has not spoken with her ex-husband for more than 20 years, doesn't know where he lives and is not sure he is aware of the letter's history.

"These sort of things happen very rarely," said U. S. Postal Service spokesman Joseph Breckenridge. "Usually, letters are trapped in machines and are delayed. I've never heard of a whole bag of mail being found. It's almost like a time capsule."

All but seven of the 235 letters have been delivered to their rightful recipients.

Chase's 43-year-old letter traveled a complicated route before Graber finally got it.

The exterminator who found the duffel bag gave the mail to the Postal Service, which found several of the addressees and published a list of the undelivered letters.

Graber said she read a newspaper article a year ago about the Postal Service's discovery of the bag of undelivered mail, including a letter written by a man named Robert Chase.

Dismissing the name as coincidence, Graber did not pursue the matter because she did not think her husband's ship had gone to Algeria. But the ship stopped in Algeria en route to Italy.

The bag of undelivered mail popped up again in January in an article in the Reader's Digest.

Chase's brother contacted Graber's son and told him about the article. The younger Chase then tried to obtain the letter. He gave the Postal Service his mother's former address in Alhambra, which corresponded to the address on the letter, and the agency decided that Graber was the intended recipient.

When asked why he pursued the letter, Chase said: "It's part of my life. It's part of history."

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