CHULA VISTA, Calif. -- The Breese family was never much for writing letters -- or, as it turns out, for receiving them, either.
But the Breeses got lucky a few days ago when a letter dropped out of the postal twilight zone into Chula Vista, south of San Diego -- 32 years after it was mailed from the USS Nautilus, the world's first nuclear-powered submarine during the first transpolar voyage under the North Pole.
". . . I didn't even know it was missing. I'd forgotten all about it," said Denny Breese, the sailor who wrote the missing letter to his younger brother, Nick. They learned of its discovery last week.
"I was amazed, very surprised, to say the least, that it was found," Denny Breese said.
The letter now is in the hands of the Breese brothers' father, R.V. "Bus" Breese, the family patriarch, who lives in Chula Vista.
"Oh, my yes, it was a big surprise," Bus Breese said. "Denny didn't write that much. Maybe once a month at the most. The whole family is like that though. That's what makes this all the more interesting."
Denny Breese, now 56 and hunting sunken treasure off North Carolina, was a 25-year-old electronics specialist when he wrote his brother in Chula Vista a one-page letter dated Aug. 6, 1958, three days after the historic voyage.
Denny Breese, who sensed a bit of history in the making, hurriedly penned 15 to 20 letters to relatives and friends.
The letters were stamped with special markings -- a large map of the North Pole and postmarked USS NAUTILUS. NORTH POLE. 11:15 p.m. AUG. 3, 1958 -- and sent off.
"Nick, this will be short," the letter said, "but I just found out that [the] mail is leaving the boat in about 15 minutes. Please forgive me, I promise I'll write soon as we get in. . . I just want you to get this envelope that was stamped at the North Pole. Some people think they'll be worth money to collectors someday. Drop me a line. I'll write from England. Love, your brother, Denny."
The Nautilus' voyage was a success, but the letter disappeared.
Although postal officials occasionally can explain the whereabouts of missing letters being delivered years later, no one seems to know where Denny Breese's letter has been all these years.
The Breeses moved from Chula Vista more than 20 years ago, but current residents of their old home asked around the neighborhood and learned that Bus Breese still lived a few blocks away. They hand-delivered the letter.