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Snail mail: Veteran John Nordgaard's box from Vietnam arrives 52 years later

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Posted at 8:06 AM, Nov 21, 2023

WAUWATOSA — On a quiet street in Wauwatosa lives a quiet slice of American pride and history.

"I saw a lot of things that I didn't want to see," John Nordgaard says. "I would say that after a couple of years, my box is never going to show up."

Nordgaard's path to Vietnam starts with sports.

"Atlanta Falcons and the Green Bay Packers, and the Racine Raiders by the way," Nordgaard says.

For a pro tryout? He picked Atlanta over the Pack.

"Being from North Dakota, Vince Lombardi wasn't a big deal!" Nordgaard says with a laugh.

Getting cut from the Falcons meant another call.

"When Norm Van Brocklin called me in and said Swede, looks like we're going to have to cut you," Nordgaard says. "And then he asked me, well, what do you think you're going to do now? And I said, I think I'm probably going to Vietnam."

He became a medic in Vietnam for 13 months.

"You go out and do your job," Nordgaard says.

After seeing the horrors of war, in the spring of '71, he packed up some memories, mailed them home, and headed out.

"With some other things I thought were necessary memories," Nordgaard says.

For 52 years, he waited and wondered what happened to his box. Until one day...

"And she texted us, and said, 'Dad, I think I know who's got your box,'" Nordgaard says.

His daughter received an email from Peter Lundberg who lived across Lake Michigan.

"I started getting goosebumps," Nordgaard says.

For about a half-century it sat in Peter's basement.

"Lance, as low-tech as we are? No, I wouldn't criticize, I wouldn't criticize anybody for that!" Nordgaard says with a laugh.

"We're glad for that too," his wife Eleanor Nordgaard says. "That was wonderful."

Lundberg was the postal clerk for Nordgaard's company. So neither 52 years, or driving from Michigan, or whatever could stop Nordgaard's mail from being delivered.

"It was worth the 52-year wait," Nordgaard says.

So we asked him to re-open the box...

"Ok," Nordgaard says.

And a flood of memories came back...

"This camera," Nordgaard says. "All of a sudden, my brain decides to tell me, ah ha! There are some things that, these are the awards that I knew I got. This is the Bronze Star, with the V. And that's for valor. And then the Purple Heart. That was my second Bronze Star. I, I can't find words for feelings very easy. You know, being a Norwegian? I just started hugging people about 10 years ago."

John and Eleanor Nordgaard will be around the Milwaukee area this winter., watching all of their grandkids play basketball. That's one of their treasured treats.