World War II-era photo arrives in mail

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Pacific Historian
Jun 4, 2005
Orange County, CA
This is from the dead letter files at the post office.

The Atlanta Jounral-Constitution
Published on: 07/03/07

The mystery parcel contained a black-and-white photo rolled tightly in a cigar-sized mailer. It bore an orange six-cent stamp and a postmark of May 5, 1946.

The photo inside shows the USS Wichita in Nagasaki Harbor.

Now postal detectives in metro Atlanta are chasing leads to figure out how the picture — undelivered for 61 years — wound up at a mail-processing center in Gwinnett County.

The postal service suspects a sailor mailed the snapshot from the ship, a heavy cruiser that saw combat in World War II in Europe and the Pacific.

Someone found the parcel about a week ago at a mail processing-and-distribution center in Duluth. It's unclear how the photo got there, said Michael Miles, a postal spokesman in Atlanta.

The parcel had no return address but was addressed to someone in St. Paul, Minn., he said. He declined to identify the intended recipient, citing privacy concerns.

Miles said the postal service will ask colleagues in St. Paul to do whatever they can to try to deliver the parcel.

"I'm still in the huh? stage," said Pete Nowacki, customer relations coordinator for the Minneapolis Post Office. "Once in a while, you encounter a situation that there's no standard operating procedure to fall back on."

The older a piece of mail is, he said, "the more difficult it is to affect delivery." But mail that is a few years old does get delivered all the time, he said.

So how will the Northland District of the U.S. Postal Service in Minneapolis go about trying to deliver the wayward missive from the World War II era? Nowacki said it's too soon to say because the parcel is still in Georgia.

In the event the mail sleuths come up empty, he said, the item will be sent to the Mail Recovery Center in St. Paul, one of two centers nationwide known commonly as the dead-letter office. The other is in Atlanta.

Sleuths at the recovery center could launch a more thorough investigation.

Or they could conclude that the package is undeliverable and not worth saving, a finding that could trigger that photo's destruction.

One veteran of the USS Wichita — John Sheeran of Council Bluffs, Iowa — wasn't surprised to hear that a photo sent from his ship 61 years ago has just now turned up in Georgia. The 20-year Navy veteran headed the USS Wichita / USS Tuscaloosa Veteran's Association until he dissolved it three years ago.

He said he hears about "people getting postcards that were mailed in the 1940s" all the time. And during the war, he said, it routinely took eight weeks for sailors to get a letter from ship to shore or shore to ship.

"It would still be new mail to you," he said, "so you were glad to get it."

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