Ned Felder and Kris Feeney met for the first time in November, 56 years after first corresponding during the Vietnam War
An Army captain in the Vietnam War and a young girl from Michigan struck up an unlikely relationship 56 years ago as pen pals — and now they’ve finally met!
Ned Felder received 13-year-old Kristina Olson’s care package almost by accident in 1967, when the teen reached out to “any soldier” fighting in the war as part of a Camp Fire Girls project, according to a news release from South Carolina State University.
The thoughtful note attached to the items resonated with the 1959 SC State graduate, who reminisced about the “divine guidance” of their connection.
“It was rich, emotional — someone, a little girl in seventh grade — being able to correspond with her,” Felder said, per the release. “I think that sort of interface with GIs and civilians occurred in other wars. It made me feel good to be able to keep in touch with someone back home, in addition to my family.”
Time went by and Olson and Felder continued to correspond, with the serviceman sending his pen pal birthday cards, a book about Vietnam and even a doll that was inscribed with their names.
“Just to see something that came from Vietnam at that time — my life used to be very sheltered, and my high school was in an apple orchard — so anything that worldly was incredible,” Olson — who now goes by her married name, Feeney — said, per the release.
She added, “He made me want to be a better person, which is the best thing I can say about anyone. I like to be around people who make me want to be the best person I can be.”
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After losing touch in the 1970s, the two reconnected after Feeney contacted the university to find Felder, who had gone on to rise to the rank of colonel and serve as a senior judge for the U.S. Army Court of Criminal Appeals.
Feeney said the recent deaths of her husband and son motivated her to reach out to Felder, who is now in his mid-80s.
“A lot of things have happened in my life that made me want to recall things that were important to me,” Feeney said about her personal losses, according to the university.
Earlier this month — on Veterans Day — the long-lost pen pals united for the first time at the university. During their in-person meeting, Feeney was able to tell Felder how much he had influenced her life.
In a video from their special meeting shared by the university, the two hugged one another multiple times. And in one moment, the octogenarian planted a sweet kiss on Feeney’s forehead.
"Can you imagine something from your childhood or teenage years — something that was just an enigma — to become a reality?” Feeney said. “It’s unbelievable.”
She continued, “I have everything he’s ever sent me, I showed that to anyone in my life who meant anything to me at all, so a lot of people knew about you. He’s just one of the most significant people in the world I’ve ever known.”
Felder added about their unexpected connection: “There was no requirement to do what we did at all, and it’s real. There was a feeling of wonder, and even today, it just exceeds that feeling.”
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