NILES -- A storm had knocked out power at Fort Campbell, Ky., where Private Bob Rodgers had just arrived for basic training, prompting him to write to his wife of seven months, Jean, in the dark.
"All you do is march, KP, shine boots, shine boots and shine more boots and brass and more brass," he wrote in part.
It was June 13, 1953. Rodgers, then a 20-year-old New Carlisle resident anticipating duty in the Korean War, put the letter in the mail and thought nothing more about it.
At least he didn't until earlier this month, when the letter was delivered to his home in Niles, 60 years after he wrote it. To say he was surprised would be putting it mildly.
"I asked if they had found the remains of the horse and rider and got the letter out of the saddle bag," he said with a smile. "She just shook her head."
"She" is Connie Tomaszewski, the New Carlisle postmaster who tracked down Rodgers and hand-delivered the letter to him March 7. That was the same day, she said, that the letter showed up at her post office.
Why the delay?
"There are a million possibilities. ... It could have sat at Fort Campbell," she said. "The important part of it is it did get delivered."
Mary Dando, spokeswoman for the Greater Indiana District of the U.S. Postal Service, disputed that the letter was lost. A more likely scenario, she said, is that Rodger's wife did receive it shortly after her husband sent it and that it somehow ended up at a flea market or antique store where a collector latched onto it.
In such cases, people sometimes put them back in the mail for reasons unknown, she said, or perhaps so addressees can retain them as keepsakes. But Rodgers, 79, said his wife, who died of cancer eight years ago, never received the letter, at least as far as he knows.
"But she didn't miss it, and I didn't miss it, because I wrote her about every day," he said.
At any rate, he said, the
letter was the first he wrote to Jean after he arrived at Fort Campbell. Besides the passage about shining boots, he wrote about pulling KP in the officers' mess hall, a duty that allowed him to chow down on "a great big piece of steak" and "all the ice cream and cake ... I wanted."
It's clear, too, that he missed his wife, who would remain at his side until her death 53 years later.
"I think about you all the time," he wrote.
The letter bears a Fort Campbell postmark and the date June 15, 1953. It also features two 3-cent stamps, indicating Rodgers wanted to make certain Jean received it.
As it turned out, Rodgers never made it to Korea, a trip he said he looked forward to since he'd never been out of the country. The war ended as he was waiting to be shipped out, said Rodgers, who returned to New Carlisle after his discharge and moved to Niles with Jean in 1956.
He made a living as an industrial hydraulic fitter, he said, piling up 48 years with various companies before retiring 14 years ago. He and Jean had four children, he said, all daughters.
His health is still good, with his only problem a hearing loss possibly tied to his military service. But there's a void: He misses Jean.
Asked what her reaction would have been to the letter, 60 years late or not, she'd have been thrilled, he said, as he was.
"She'd have got a kick out of that," he said.
Staff writer Lou Mumford: email@example.com 269-687-3551