Sophomore Duc Nguyen could have slept in on Saturday morning. Instead, he decided to participate in Bear Creek High School’s annual Coastal Cleanup held at Mosher Slough on September 19.
Little did he know that his decision would offer him a brush with history that left a family eternally grateful.
While picking up an old trash bag, Nguyen spotted a piece of paper.
“I thought it was just another piece of paper but it was abnormal and like a brownish color,” Nguyen said. “I picked it up and was amazed by the date, so I read it.”
With the Fort Eustis, Va., coat of arms at the top of the page, the paper turned out to be a letter written by a soldier on Dec. 15, 1941, to his mother telling her that he was not going to make it home for Christmas because he was going to ship out within the week. The letter was simply signed “George,” giving no insight to the owner.
It turns out that the letter — along with passports, birth certificates, and savings bonds — had been stolen a month earlier from Greg Almeida’s storage locker in Isleton 28.5 miles away.
“[When the items were discovered missing] I felt violated,” Almeida said. “I was angry and I was concerned if I’d ever see any of our stuff again.”
Nguyen put the letter in his pocket until giving it to his chemistry teacher and veteran Coastal Cleanup advisor Steve Meredith who contacted “The Record.” From there, “The Record” staff was able to contact Almeida thanks to his wife Rosemary’s passport, which was found with the letter.
“It’s a nice feeling knowing that it [the letter] and some other things were returned,” Almeida said. “I wish a lot more was found, but it wasn’t a total loss.”
The letter was written by George Almeida, Greg’s father, who was a military policeman eventually stationed in Europe. The letter came eight days after Pearl Harbor was attacked.
“It was great to get this back,” Almeida said. “My father really didn’t talk much about his days in the military, so having this letter gives us a little bit of detail.”
The finding of such a treasure demonstrates the importance of Coastal Cleanup. This year in San Joaquin County, 950 participants scooped up 31,691 pounds of trash. All over California, volunteers gather yearly to clean up the waterways to help preserve the environment.
“Whatever we get into that dumpster, it’s a good sense of satisfaction,” Meredith said.
Since the discovery of the letter, Almeida and Nguyen have appeared on two TV stations and have been featured in several news articles for sites such as “The Record” and War History.
“I’m happy that I could help Mr. Almeida reclaim something that meant so much to him,” Nguyen said. “It’s a good feeling.”