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Navy Secretary Forrestal's letter arrives at home -- 67 years later

RICHMOND -- A letter from former Navy Secretary James Forrestal apparently arrived at a home in Point Richmond in October - 67 years after it was mailed.

Dated Feb. 5, 1946, the letter thanked Point Richmond resident Agnes R. Smith for her service in "the greatest Navy in the world."

"I have addressed this letter to reach you after all the formalities of your separation from active service are completed," Forrestal wrote. "I have done so because, without formality but as clearly as I know how to say it, I want the Navy's pride in you, which it is my privilege to express, to reach into your civil life and to remain with you always."

Smith no longer lives at the address, and her whereabouts, or whether she is still alive, are unknown. The current residents of the address wish to remain anonymous, and handed the letter over to neighbors, who gave it to staff at the Point Richmond History Association, according to PRHA President Mildred Dornan. Despite the tight-knit community and many long-term residents in the area, Smith remains a mystery.

"(The current residents) hoped that we could find Agnes Smith," Dornan said. "We've been asking around, but we can't find out anything about (Smith)."

U.S. Postal Service spokesman Augustine Ruiz reviewed the letter and the envelope in which it arrived. Ruiz said it does not appear that the letter was re-sent recently, citing the postage imprint that indicates it entered circulation in 1946. Ruiz could not explain how the letter could arrive 67 years late.

"It's a real mystery," Ruiz said. "It's very unusual for something like this to happen but not unprecedented."

Ruiz said letter carriers typically look only at the addresses on the envelopes and would probably not have seen any indication the letter was decades late. The Oakland distribution center from which mail to Point Richmond is disbursed was built in 1969.

There is a possibility, Ruiz added, that the letter was not recently delivered at all but was found somewhere else and mistakenly reported as recently delivered. The letter is a one-page, typed expression of thanks for Smith's service to the Navy, the details of which are not specified, but presumably occurred during World War II. Forrestal's signature is at the bottom, and his "Secretary of the Navy" letterhead is at the top. The letter was sent from Washington, D.C.

"No other Navy at any time has done so much," the letter says. "For your part in these achievements, you deserve to be proud as long as you live. The Nation which you served at a time of crisis will remember you with gratitude."

Three years after he wrote the letter, in 1949, Forrestal was dead. After being appointed the first Secretary of Defense, he was beset by deteriorating mental and physical health, which spiraled further when President Harry Truman asked for his resignation. He died from an apparent suicide, falling from a window at the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Md. His death spawned a series of conspiracy theories.

Dornan said the letter will be archived at the PRHA in hopes that Smith, or one of her relatives, may be found.

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