It was a reunion 50 years in the making.
A single letter written by a 10-year-old girl on Long Island in 1971 was delivered to a U.S. soldier serving in Vietnam — a man she had never met.
But the soldier responded to the girl, writing a letter of his own. Fifty-one years later, the long-lost pen pals finally met face to face.
Kathy Ryan was the girl whose fourth grade class sent Christmas cards to Vietnam. An Army helicopter medic named Dominic Cutalo received her card, and decided to write back.
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"It was a special letter. Something I always wanted to hold on to," Ryan said.
"I was thinking to myself, 'You know, this might be the last letter you ever write," said Cutalo. "It means a lot to a soldier to know that people are thinking of them."
Ryan kept that letter framed for a half century, always wondering about the fate of the 20-year-old man who wrote it.
Earlier in June, she searched online and found Cutalo’s name listed as part of a Huntington town veterans event. She went to the event, letter in hand, and found the veteran for whom she had been searching.
"I never had a face to the name, and it was so wonderful" she said.
"To actually have it come full circle, that's unbelievable," Cutalo said.
On Wednesday, a Suffolk legislator brought them together again, so Ryan could return Cutalo’s letter to hang in his VFW hall.
"I tell her thank you for the rest of my life," Cutalo said. "God bless her, really."
A life-long bond, forged by simple words of kindness.