In early 1965, when Horton was in the sixth grade at Robinson Elementary School, Staff Sgt. Paul Guglietta was recuperating from shrapnel wounds he received in combat. Horton was one of several Grand Haven-area students whose assignment was to write a letter to an American soldier fighting in Vietnam.
“I was 12 years old and I was writing to someone on the other side of the world,” said Horton, who turns 58 this week. “I knew there was a war going on because it was on the news all the time, (but) I didn’t know much about it. But, back then, boys my age went out and played Army — and he was in the Army.”
So Horton finished his letter and turned it in.
“The school sent them out and Paul happened to get my letter, and he mailed back to me,” Horton recalled. “But, after two or three letters, we just lost correspondence.”
After that, Horton said he didn’t think any further about Guglietta.
Horton graduated from Grand Haven High School in 1972 and joined the U.S. Coast Guard when he turned 18. He was assigned to the icebreaker Mackinaw.
“Then my life went on and I didn’t think of Paul again,” Horton said.
Until late last month.
After remembering Guglietta and his letters, Horton decided he would find his old pen pal. Using the website whitepages.com, he entered the name “Paul S. Guglietta” and got three results. Horton wrote three letters, explaining who he was and what he was trying to do.
Horton’s phone rang on Nov. 24. It turned out that Horton not only had reconnected with his Vietnam War pen pal, but also had succeeded in contacting Guglietta’s son and grandson.
Since that phone conversation, the two men have begun another exchange — via e-mail. When Guglietta — now 74 and living in Melbourne, Fla. — discovered that Horton lives in Michigan, he told Horton that he had been stationed in Grand Rapids just before shipping out to Vietnam.
“We were only 30 miles from each other before I started writing to him, and I never even knew it,” Horton said.
The story of the virtual reunion was published in Florida Today on the day before Thanksgiving.
“I was happy that he contacted me,” Guglietta told the newspaper. “Now I’ve made a new friend.”
In a recent e-mail to Horton, Guglietta said he gets “nice comments” about the newspaper article when he shops around Melbourne, but he’s quick to reply that it was Horton’s initiative that made it a story.
“Because it’s all about you,” Guglietta wrote. “... By your simple act after all these years, it’s wonderful in itself. Many people are touched by what you did.”
Guglietta said that he remembered when he received his very first letter from Horton 45 years ago. Serving with the 1st Battalion Airborne, 8th Cavalry, 1st Air Cavalry Division, Guglietta was recuperating from wounds he received on Nov. 17, 1965.
The sentiment is shared, Horton said.
“We’re back in touch with each other and, in fact, we’d like to meet each other some time,” Horton said. “I was lucky to remember his name.”
Horton had worked at Grand Haven Brass Foundry until it closed several years ago, and he then moved to Middleville and later Cheboygan. He married his wife, Sue, four years ago, and they soon moved to a house on Grand Haven’s east side. Horton now works for Magna Glass and Ceiling Systems in Holland, and he hopes to visit Guglietta in Florida sometime next year.
Tribune Multimedia Editor Mark Brooky contributed to this story.