'I've been waiting to meet you my whole life.' Vietnam vet meets pen pal 50 years after receiving meaningful card
A reunion over 50 years in the making brought a Vietnam veteran and his pen pal together on Veterans Day.
A Christmas card written by a 10-year-old Huntington girl helped one soldier get through the Vietnam War.
In 1971, Kathleen Ryan's fourth grade teacher at St. Patrick's School gave her class an assignment to write to an American who was serving in Vietnam.
"I hoped that it would brighten their day because I know there were a lot of people protesting, not happy they were there," Ryan says "But they were there, they were Americans, they were serving, you know, they certainly deserved to get a Christmas card."
The card was delivered to Army helicopter medic Dominic Cutalo in Saigon, who was just 20 at the time.
Cutalo said the card mattered a lot to him during the war.
"I liked it - I liked getting the Christmas card - I thought it was neat," Cutalo says. "And she said, 'Thank you very much for serving our country.'"
The Vietnam veteran wrote back to Ryan, who framed the letter and cherished it for 51 years, wondering if Cutalo survived the war.
"I've had family members who've served in wars, and I thought it was something special," Ryan says. "I reread his letter several times a year."
In 2022, she searched the internet and was amazed to find out that Cutalo was a Long Islander living near her childhood home.
Ryan went to a Veterans Day event in the Town of Huntington with the lettering in hand to surprise the soldier.
"She said, 'I've been waiting to meet you my whole life,' and I just kind of stood there, grabbed her and hugged her," Cutalo says. "I couldn't believe it."
Now the pen pals talk every day and say they have a special bond.
"All I know is you make a once-in-a-lifetime friend once in a lifetime," Cutalo says.
He says Ryan's Christmas card was the only one he received from a stranger while serving in Vietnam.