“Hi, was your husband in the service?” Gonsalves, 89, recalled the letter carrier saying. “Yes, he was,” she answered. “But I didn’t know him then.”
The letter carrier handed her an envelope.
“Well, I’m pretty sure I have something that’s personal for you,” he said.
Inside the envelope was an unopened airmail letter that her husband, John Gonsalves, had sent to his mother in Woburn, Massachusetts, when he was a 22-year-old Army sergeant serving in Germany just after the end of World War II.
“Dear Mom, Received another letter from you today and was happy to hear that everything is okay,” he wrote Dec 6, 1945. “As for myself, I’m fine and getting along okay. But as for the food, it’s pretty lousy most all the time.”
In an interview Friday, nearly a month after she opened the letter, Angelina Gonsalves recalled the flood of emotions she had felt as she read her husband’s words, his neat cursive on faded paper in an envelope with a 6-cent stamp.
“It was amazing,” Gonsalves said. “I really felt like he was there with me.”
They met in 1949, when he gave her and her girlfriend a ride home from the shoe factory where they all worked in Woburn, outside Boston. The couple married in 1953, raised five boys together and were married for 61 years, until he died in 2015, at age 92.
His letter had been discovered in a Pittsburgh postal facility, Angelina Gonsalves said, and had been delivered to her house Dec 9, along with a letter from the Postal Service.
“We are uncertain where this letter has been for the past seven-plus decades, but it arrived at our facility approximately six weeks ago,” the letter read, according to WFXT-TV, which reported on it.
Citing the letter’s “age and significance to your family history,” the Postal Service said that “delivering this letter was of utmost importance to us.”
Kim Frum, a Postal Service spokesperson, said she could not comment on the letter without additional details.
“In many cases like this, it does not involve mail that had been lost in our network and later found,” she said. “What we typically find in cases of old letters and postcards is that they are sometimes purchased at flea markets, antique shops and even online and reentered into our system.”
Gonsalves' oldest son, also named John Gonsalves, said that postal workers had been trying for weeks to track down the family so they could deliver the letter. The original recipient, Gonsalves' mother, died decades ago, and her old address in Woburn is no longer a family home.
In November, the son said, he received a phone message from a postal employee in Pittsburgh who said he wanted to speak to him about his father. Since his father had died years ago, he said, he had assumed the call was a scam.
A secretary at the church where John Gonsalves' funeral had been held also received a call from the postal employee, the son said, and had relayed the message to Angelina Gonsalves. She, too, assumed it was a scam.
“We kind of let it go, our entire family, and, then, nine days later, my mother gets the registered letter from Pittsburgh,” the son said. “It was crazy.”
John Gonsalves had sent his letter from Bad Orb, Germany, a town near a Nazi prisoner-of-war camp, Stalag IX B, that had been liberated by US forces months earlier.
In the letter, Gonsalves asks his mother not to send him any more packages, telling her he doesn’t think he will be there much longer. He laments the “lousy weather” and asks about his friends Jim and Bill. He says he hopes to be home in January or February of 1946.
He signed the letter, “Love + XXXXX, Your Son, Johnny. P.S. I’ll be seeing you soon, I hope.”
After the war, Gonsalves earned an engineering degree and worked for years for GTE Corp.
He used his engineering skills to run copper pipes from the family’s sprawling Victorian to a hot-water tank on the roof of the garage so there would be enough water for everyone to shower, his son said. He also devised an LED panel that would show which lights in the house had been left on.
“His mind was always going,” the son said. “He was always thinking of things.”
Angelina Gonsalves said that she missed her husband and that the letter reflected how much he had loved his family and worried about them, even when he was serving overseas.
“It was just so nice that he cared so much about all of them, because that’s the way he was,” she said. “I could’ve sworn I felt his presence here while I was reading the letter, honestly and truly, which is strange, but that’s how I felt.”
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