When Chuck Kunellis opened his mailbox last week, he found a handwritten letter postmarked from Australia.
Kunellis, 71, of Fair Oaks, was puzzled. He had visited Australia, but didn’t remember meeting the letter writer, John Armstrong.
But when Kunellis opened the letter, his puzzlement changed to astonishment. Armstrong, a stamp collector, had sent Kunellis a scanned image of an envelope that was addressed in his own father’s distinctive handwriting.
“Whoa!” Kunellis said, recalling his reaction in an interview with ABCNews.com.
Armstrong explained in his letter that that he was in possession of two letters from Chris Kunellis, who had been serving in the Army in Italy during World War II.
“He said that he had purchased a bundle of letters from a dealer and he came across this and thought it might be something that its recipient would like to have …,” Kunellis said. The letters had been addressed to his mother, Phyllis.
Armstrong provided Kunellis an email address.
“I immediately emailed him back said ‘Yes, I’m the right one. I would like very much to have those letters,’ and within, like, three or four days I had them,” Kunellis said.
From his post in Italy, Chris Kunellis had written the letters to his wife in June and July 1944. The letters were postmarked, but never made it to her. Instead, they somehow found their way to an American stamp dealer, who sold them to Armstrong.
Kunellis said he experienced “an element of shock” when he saw the letters.
“I felt almost like a child again,” he said.
Kunellis’ father, whom he never thought of as being a romantic, started the July letter with the tender opening, “My most beloved darling.”
Chris Kunellis went on to tell his wife that he’d received her airmail, and mentioned his sister and brother. The second letter was more of the same catching up with his family, Chuck Kunellis said.
Chuck Kunellis was born on Dec. 10, 1941, three days after Japan attacked the U.S. Navy base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. His father was placed on alert just days later, and went off to war. Chris Kunellis wouldn’t see his wife and son again until 1946.
Chuck Kunellis’ parents, who have both died, never mentioned the two letters. Since his father wrote frequently, a few undelivered letters may not have been missed, Kunellis explained.
In an interview with ABC News affiliate KXTV in Sacramento, Armstrong explained that he sent the letters to Chuck Kunellis “because that’s where they belong.”
Armstrong collects World War II postal memorabilia from Italy. He says lots of letters were not delivered during the war.
“It was quite chaotic. The fact that any man got any mail was quite astonishing,” he told KXTV.
Armstrong is also building a postal exhibit focusing on the stories behind the stamps, and he’s trying to find soldier’s war records to tell whether they survived the war.
“I’ve been a historian all my life. It’s the stories that get to me,” he said. “An envelope on my desk doesn’t have a story until I start looking at it. If I can finish the story by sending it to the person who it relates to, that’s great.”