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Mission Accomplished: Vietnam veteran answers long-ago letter, makes a new friend

A story nearly 60 years in the making about a connection between a Marine in Southeast Asia, and a long-ago schoolboy who continues to lift his spirits to this day.

BUFFALO, N.Y. — Have you ever meant to do something ... but kept putting it off because other things popped up?

It happens to all of us.

But have you ever put something off for ... 56 years?

One local veteran did, but finally got around to what he'd been meaning to do all that time, and a new found friendship has formed as a result.

I'm blessed to be alive

During the Vietnam War, Jim Chadwick, 76, served in the U.S. Marine Corps as part of a small unit called the Scout Dogs.

The job of those who served in the unit, according to Chadwick, was to walk with specially trained canines 40 to 90 yards in front of patrols, to try to keep them from walking into ambushes.

“I’m blessed to be alive to say the least,” Chadwick recently recalled from his home in North Tonawanda.

During one mission Chadwick was wounded by grenade shrapnel and spent time in a field hospital.

Days after his release in December of 1966, he was back with his unit when his lieutenant brought him his mail.

Among the pieces was an envelope containing a hand-written Christmas card from a 9-year-old boy named Todd Paul, who was a fourth-grader at what was, at the time, the Mill Road Elementary School in the West Seneca Hamlet of Ebenezer.   

“It touched my heart that this little kid would take the time to do this … and I seriously wanted to write him back and thank him,” Chadwick said.

Life had a habit of getting in the way of that plan, however.

Uncompleted mission

After serving out the remainder of his tour, Chadwick returned to Buffalo, got married, began a career, and with his wife raised a family.

Although from time to time he would think about the card sent to him and contemplate finding the youngster who sent it to him to thank him, he never did.

“I never ended up writing him, so I felt bad about that," Chadwick said.

Though he had never responded to the sender, Chadwick kept the card.

Recently, when it fell out of the family Bible, which he’d been keeping it, it reminded him again of the unfinished task he'd been meaning to complete for nearly 56 years.

“I was reading the card, and I thought to myself that I had really ought to try and get a hold of this guy, and see if he's still around, and finally thank him for the card," Chadwick said.

Noting that he’s not getting any younger and has had some health problems, Chadwick added, “personally, I think was the good Lord tapping me on the shoulder saying you need to talk to this kid.”

Along with what he believes may have been some divine intervention, modern technology also would assist Chadwick in his task.

"I looked him up on the internet, and he was the first name that popped up," he said.

Mission Accomplished

About a half-mile from the old school where he attended fourth grade, 64-year-old Todd Paul lives with his wife in a modest home in West Seneca.

He barely recalled sending the card in 1966, which he believes was part of a class project where children wrote to servicemen.

That was until his wife heard a message on their answering machine.

"I was outside, and Kathy called me in and said, ‘You gotta listen to this,' " Paul said.

The message Chadwick left was brief, identifying himself, and saying he was looking for the Todd Paul, who sent him a Christmas card when he was in Vietnam."

“I was absolutely floored," Paul recalled, about his feelings when he listened to the message.

Truth be told, however, if you put the card in front of him now, he'd be unable to read it without assistance.

"We don't know why, but we do know how"

Todd Paul was a typical 9-year-old when he wrote that Christmas card and carefully colored it with crayons

However, three years later when he was 12, he lost most of his sight as the result of an ear infection.

Legally blind since then, Paul went on to become a mechanic, and later a special education teacher in what turned out to be a career and life path toward helping others with disabilities.

“Things happen for a reason,” Paul said. “I don’t know why… but I do know how.”

Paul used that phrase more than once during an interview at his home and explained more about it when asked.

“We are deeply rooted in our faith,” he said. “We put our trust in God, and so while we know how he’s doing things, we don’t know why.”

He also believes this may explain what finally brought he and Chadwick together now.

A timely reunion

In his retirement, Paul continues to use his is skills to refurbish equipment that others with disabilities can use, while also working with his educational contacts to help ensure those with disabilities have access to the resources they need.

As it turns out, Chadwick, who had a stroke a couple of years ago, and his son Jimmy, who became disabled in a car wreck in 1994, could both use some of the expertise Todd has developed over his lifetime of helping others, which he looks forward to extending soon.

So far Chadwick and Paul have talked on the phone but have yet to meet up in person.

"It's gonna be quite a reunion," predicted Paul. 

“We don’t know why … but we know how.”


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