Huntington, N.Y. – In 1971, Kathleen Ryan was a fourth grade student in Mrs. Luciano’s class at St. Patrick’s School in Huntington when she and her classmates were given a very special writing assignment. Essentially, each student was to write a letter to an active soldier serving in Vietnam. As Kathleen penned her letter, she had no idea who would actually receive it or the lasting impression that it would have.
Kathleen’s letter ultimately made its way to Vietnam and wound up in the hands of Dominick Cutalo, a native of the Town of Huntington. Seeing that the letter was from a fellow Huntingtonian, Dominick was more than happy to respond. In his letter, he described some of his daily life overseas and expressed how valuable it was to receive letters from home.
When Kathleen received her response letter from Dominick, she was truly surprised. Like Dominick, she was very happy to see that she made a connection with someone from her hometown. She was so touched by the letter that she safeguarded it ever since and has shared its contents with countless individuals. As far as Kathleen could tell, that was the end of the story, until she learned about a Vietnam veterans memorial ceremony that was to take place in Huntington. Based on some preliminary research, she had a hunch that Dominick would possibly be at that ceremony.
Kathleen arrived at the ceremony and asked the workers if someone by the name of Dominick Cutalo was on the list of attendees. To her great surprise, Dominick was not only listed as an attendee, but was already seated at a table with an available chair by his side. Kathleen approached Dominick and introduced herself, with his letter in hand. As they became more acquainted with each other, both of them were flooded with emotions and became instant friends.
Legislator Stephanie Bontempi (R-18th L.D.) was also in attendance at the ceremony when this unannounced reunion was occurring. When a member of a local civic association alerted Bontempi what was taking place, she decided immediately that she had to learn more. As she spoke with the two newly minted friends, she made it her mission to get this heartwarming story to the public.
After coordinating with Dominick and Kathleen, a press event took place on June 22nd at VFW Post 9263. On-site, Legislator Bontempi joined with Dominick, Kathleen, some local veterans and a host of media personnel from various news outlets. It was here that the story regarding the exchange of letters was finally revealed to the public at large.
“This was such a positive story that originated during a very challenging time for Vietnam veterans. It was so refreshing to hear that at least some of those serving at that time received positive feedback from the home front,” said Bontempi.
At the press event, Kathleen loaned the letter to the VFW in order to allow others to see this piece of history on display and possible draw some inspiration from it. Soon after the event and announcement of the loan, the daughter of Mrs. Luciano thanked Kathleen on social media for making the story possible. This further highlighted the great impact that Mrs. Luciano’s assignment has had after five decades.
“If this story teaches us anything, it should be that small good deeds can go a long way and last a lifetime, and maybe beyond. Mrs. Luciano taught her students an invaluable lesson and we need to ensure that her legacy continues. Also, it’s important to always remember that it’s never too late to thank a veteran for his or her service,” added Bontempi.