Thanks to the kindness of a teenager who came upon the letter in a thrift shop, Fred Havellana recently received a typed letter and three photographs of him with his old Army buddy, Peter Mushing of Monroe. Mushing sent the letter in 1975, but it was returned to sender. It never reached its destination until late last month.
"It's pretty shocking," Havellana told the Monroe News from his home in Hansville, Wash., overlooking Puget Sound. "I almost fell off my seat."
This is a story of two men who were close while serving in the Army and tried to reunite in the days before the Internet. They never heard from each other again until after one died. A 19-year-old worker, who knew neither of the men, spent about half an hour on Google to track down the address of the man with whom his now-deceased buddy longed to reconnect.
Peter Joseph Mushing Jr. died Nov. 12. His widow, Beverly, recently donated her late husband's clothes to the St. Vincent de Paul Society thrift shop. She didn't know it, but inside one of the pockets was the letter and pictures Mushing tried to send in 1975.
Back then, Mushing sent the letter to Havellana at a Hawaii address where he used to live, but he had moved to Washington and the letter was returned to Monroe. Apparently not sure how to track him down, Mushing must have placed the letter in the pocket and forgot about it.
Almost 40 years later, Amanda Miller, 19, was working at the thrift shop. While she was searching the pockets of the donations, she came across the letter. Instead of just discarding it or putting it aside, Miller decided to find out where the recipient lives.
"I thought it was the right thing to do," Miller said. "I felt that it should be with the rightful owner. I guessed it had sentimental value."
She guessed correctly. Using Google, Miller was able to locate Havellana and his address in less than an hour. She wrote a quick note and sent it off.
"I do hope these reach you," she wrote. "Thank you very much for your service and all you have done for this country."
Across the United States, Vicki Havellana went to the mail one day and immediately was drawn to the letter. She couldn't believe its contents.
"Oh, my gosh," she said to herself.
Mushing and his buddy served in the Army together between 1962 and 1965 in the 3rd Armored Division during the peak of the Cold War. They were stationed in Freiburg, Germany, and became close friends. Mushing called his buddy "Pineapple" because of his Hawaiian heritage, and in return Havellana called Mushing Hoppa-Holly.
"We were really good buddies," Havellana told The Monroe News. "We had some good times. Drank a few beers together."
Upon their discharge, the two buddies went their separate ways. Mushing came back to Michigan, married Beverly and had two daughters.
He worked 36 years at Ford Motor Co.'s Woodhaven Stamping Plant before retiring in 2001. He was 71 when he died last year, the same age Havellana is today.
Mrs. Mushing said her husband spoke of his friend often, but she was unaware the letter existed.
"Peter thought the world of him," she said. "It's like something coming back from the past. I can faintly, faintly remember him trying to send it."
But she had no idea it remained 39 years in the pocket of the coat she donated. She was thrilled that Miller took the time and effort to find Havellana and send him the letter.
"It's such an amazing thing," Mrs. Mushing said. "I was in shock. I was in such awe."
It's a simple, typed, single-page letter, and the photographs include the two men in uniform leaning against a car and holding a boxing trophy.
"Howdy Havellana," the letter began. "I was looking through some of the pictures of the army and ran across these, so I decided to send you a line or two. I sure miss some of the good times we had in the army."
For Havellana, the letter and photos are special. He is grateful that Miller would send it to him.
"It sure brought back some memories," Havellana said. "I look at these pictures all the time."
Miller said she was thrilled to reunite the letter with him even though it took almost 40 years for him to receive it.
"It warms my heart," she said. "I'm glad I can make him happy."
Mrs. Mushing said she, too, is thrilled that her late husband's buddy received the letter even though it took almost four decades to reach him. Her only regret is he couldn't be here to share the memories.
"That would have been a thrill for my husband," Mrs. Mushing said.