When Denise M. Talarigo was 14 and a freshman at Oley Valley High School, she did something nice for a soldier serving his country in Operation Desert Shield and continuing into Operation Desert Storm: she wrote a half-dozen letters to him.
She did not know Scott Parker, Company A, 519th Military Intelligence Battalion, who was deployed in the Persian Gulf.
But from September 1990 to June 1991, she forged a friendship in words that bridged a 7,500-mile gap and brought a little bit of home to a soldier in a far-off place.
Then, after their pen-and-paper experience, they went on with their lives, never again to write, speak on the phone or meet in person.
Talarigo, 44, an Alsace Township administrative assistant, pretty much forgot about the letters she'd written 30 years ago as a high school student.
In a twist of fate, the well-preserved letters Talarigo had written to her GI pen pal were returned to her.
How, or more precisely why, the letters were returned remains somewhat of a mystery.
What's clear is the "blast from the past," as Talarigo put it, offered a rare opportunity to revisit a time when she was young and did something that made a stranger's world a little nicer.
"It brought everything back," she said after reading the old letters. "It's a wonderful gift, and one that I was not expecting."
Out of the blue
Traci Parker, who identified herself as the soldier's sister, placed Talarigo's letters in the hands of the Reading Eagle with a typewritten request: "I wanted to ask for your help in returning these letters to Denise and/or her family."
It's unclear how the letters, placed in a manila envelope addressed to a newspaper manager, reached the Eagle. There was no return address on the envelope or the typewritten letter.
The only clue was that Talarigo, at least at the time she wrote the letters, had a listed Temple RD#1 box number as her address.
An online search found that Talarigo, who'd lived in Canada and Iowa, was living with her parents, Russell and Violet Talarigo, in the Alsace Township home she'd grown up in.
Finding Traci Parker was unsuccessful. A note she added to the envelope simply said she "discovered a cache of letters" written to her brother. She said nothing about why she, and not her brother, had possession of the letters.
A reporter delivered the letters to Talarigo, who said the only thing she recalled about Scott Parker was that he lived in North Carolina.
How it started
Talarigo's not exactly sure what started her writing letters to a soldier. Somewhere, maybe in school, she saw a bulletin about writing to soldiers in the Persian Gulf.
In September 1990, she sent a letter to Operation Desert Storm at an APO address with hopes that a soldier would write back.
In perfect penmanship on lined notebook paper, she described herself as 5 feet 7, long dirty blond hair, hazel eyes and long fingernails. She loved heavy metal music, hated disco and dreamed of becoming a professional artist.
"I truly admire that fact that you all have the guts and respect to be over there to defend your country," the 14-year-old wrote. "May God bless and keep you in his heart."
The letter found its way to Scott Parker, and he replied. The letters were not of a romantic nature.
That didn't stop Talarigo's mom, however, from demanding "Who's Scott Parker?" before her daughter explained he was a soldier in a war-torn region a couple thousand miles away.
Talarigo sent a sketch of a fox she'd done, and promised to send a photo of herself. Parker sent her a candy bar wrapper with an Arabic inscription, which she stashed away in a scrapbook.
At Christmas 1990, she sent a card with Santa Claus and a snowman on it and a letter inside.
"All I can say is keep your head held high no matter what, and always remember we're with all of you while you're over there," was her Christmas wish.
That Christmas, she got art supplies, hairspray and a computer she had no idea how to work, she told him. Oh, and she wore faded jeans, read heavy metal magazines and loved all kinds of perfume.
In January 1991, Talarigo wrote that her family and many others wanted U.S. troops to kick some butt. She had gotten yellow ribbons and was distributing them to family and friends.
In her final letter, written on June 9, 1991, Talarigo reveals that she hadn't heard from him in months and wondered what happened to him.
"I didn't know if you were dead or alive," she confided to Parker, who had returned home safely and gotten married.
Her final words were: "Good Luck and God Bless you and your family. Your friend, Denise."
Talarigo graduated from Oley Valley in 1994, where she was an honor student, and earned an associate degree at Pace Business Institute in Reading. She was most recently employed as an administrative assistant at Penn State Health St. Joseph.
Talarigo chuckled at the unbridled optimism she expressed in describing herself those 30 years ago.
"When you're a teenager, you think you have it all together," she said. "You think you're so cool."
What she didn't realize until now, however, was how much her letters meant to her soldier pen pal.
"Denise's letters meant a great deal to my brother, and helped keep his spirits high during that challenging war period," Traci Parker said in a note. "It is telling that my brother kept the letters for more than 30 years."
In Traci Parker's note, dated Jan. 11, 2011, she went on to say:
"The letters provide a wonderful glimpse of a charming and caring Temple teenager who reached out in 1990 to offer words of support to a soldier in the Persian Gulf. Denise's letters are still testimony to the warmth and character of Denise, her family and the people of Temple, Pennsylvania. Please thank them for me."
Reading the letter brought Talarigo to tears.
Her voice cracking with emotion, she confided that she never imagined her letters had such an impact on Scott Parker.
Only now, reading his sister's touching words, did it sink in.
"It's made me realize that you can make a difference in someone else's life," Talarigo said. "It's very emotional, very touching and I'm humbled by it."
This article is written by Ron Devlin from Reading Eagle, Pa. and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the Industry Dive publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to email@example.com.