As It Happens

Ontario Korean War vet's long-lost letter discovered in a 1939 Buick in B.C.

Trace de Boer was refurbishing a bright blue 1939 Buick with his friends in Ashcroft, B.C., when he made an unexpected discovery.
Trace de Boer found a 1954 letter under the passenger seat of a used 1939 Buick. It was written by a Canadian naval officer stationed in Japan in the aftermath of the Korean War. (Submitted by Trace de Boer)
Listen7:12

Story transcript

Trace de Boer  was refurbishing a bright blue 1939 Buick with his friends in Ashcroft, B.C., when he made an unexpected discovery — an old letter from a Korean War naval officer to his buddy back home in Ontario.

"When I took the seats out, the letter was laying under the front seat on the passenger side, right on the floorboard," de Boer told As It Happens host Carol Off.

"The letter was in very good shape even though mice had a field day with the upholstery."

It was postmarked May 25, 1954, with a Royal Canadian Navy Mail stamp and the words "in active service" scrawled on the envelope in pen. 

"We looked at the date and I said, 'Oh boy, I hope it's not a Dear John letter,'" de Boer said. "And then we saw it was from somebody in the navy, then we really kind of had a chuckle about that."

It was not a breakup letter, but it was addressed to John — specifically, John Nuttall in Port Arthur, Ont.

Inside was an old black and white photograph of six young men bundled in winter gear and enjoying tobacco and tea. 

The letter was signed: "As ever, your partner in crime, Paul Morrison."

This old photograph was included in the letter found in the old Buick in Kamloops, B.C. Korean War veteran Paul Morrison is pictured on the far left, having a cup of tea. (Submitted by Trace de Boer)

De Boer's wife Stacey made it her mission to track down Nuttall or his next of kin and return the letter and photo.

She posted the letter and its contents to Facebook and reached out to the local Canadian Legion for help spreading the word.

For months, there was radio silence — but three weeks ago, Nuttall's daughter came across the post and reached out to the de Boers.

Lifelong friends

Her father is now 84 years old and living Thunder Bay, Ont. He received the old letter in the mail from de Boer this week and spoke with him for the first time in a joint telephone interview with As It Happens on Friday.

All these years later, Nuttall said, he is still friends with his old partner in crime.

"We grew up since we were on our hands and knees crawling around the neighbourhood," Nuttall said. "We've been friends for a lifetime."

In fact, Morrison came over on Thursday to look at the letter and photo with Nuttall and his wife Nancy.

Paul Morrison, left, Nancy Nuttall and John Nuttall got together in Thunder Bay, Ont., on Thursday to look at the old letter and photograph they received in the mail from de Boer. (Submitted by Nicole Morrison)

Morrison served in the Korean War and would have been stationed in Japan when he sent the letter.

Nuttall said he doesn't remember getting the letter and he barely recognizes his lifelong friend in the photograph.

But he definitely remembers the Buick.

"Oh, I loved that car," Nuttall  said. "It was a beauty."

Towed across the country 

Nuttall said he was working as an apprentice mechanic when he bought it from the dealership where he worked.

"The owner of the dealership told me I shouldn't buy the car because it was too expensive and too hard on gas," he said. "But I ended up buying it anyways."

De Boer says the man he bought it from purchased it in Port Arthur in 1969.

"He said — and I love this part — he moved to Kamloops and his brother towed the car from Port Arthur to Kamloops," de Boer said with a chuckle.

"He towed it right across the country behind a pickup truck."

As for the letter, Nuttall couldn't recall its contents, so de Boer refreshed his memory.

"It's a very interesting letter — kind of comical in some ways," de Boer said.

"Paul is writing to his good friend John ... and he said he was going to kind of turn his life around and take better care of himself, and he wanted John's, I guess at that time girlfriend Nancy, to set him up with a blind date."

Nuttall said he and Nancy granted Morrison's request, setting him up with a young woman named Evelyn. 

Alas, it didn't work out.

"Oh no, he didn't end up marrying Evelyn at all," Nuttall said. 

Now Nuttall has his letter and photograph back— but de Boer is keeping the car.

"I'm just tickled with it," he said. "It's just a neat old car."

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