Woman is reunited with love letters found in flooded-out Lakeview

Published: July 10, 2006 | 4428th good news item since 2003

Her house was ripped from its foundation and destroyed when the 17th Street Canal floodwall collapsed in August. But last month, Marlene Boudreaux discovered that all was not lost when she opened an ammunition box filled with sweet words, written a half-century ago by a young soldier to his bride back home in the Irish Channel.

“I’ll be damned; of all things,” Boudreaux, 68, said as she opened the metal box she had stored in the attic of her Lakeview home. It was found by volunteers cleaning the yard of a house a half-mile away.

No longer a container for 250 30-caliber cartridges, the box cradles dozens of letters written to Marlene Gildig Boudreaux by Army veteran Hector “Nunnie” Boudreaux, 69. The two married in 1955 and divorced 20 years later.

“My ex-husband said anything he said in here he takes back,” Boudreaux said with a laugh as she read parts of the letters to St. Paul’s Episcopal Church volunteer Maggie Immler, 20, a student at Grinnell College, in Grinnell, Iowa. Another volunteer found the box and Immler joined Katie Mears, 25, in returning it to Boudreaux, whom they found after a computer search.

Boudreaux, who is living in a trailer on a relative’s property in Kenner, drove to the church to meet Mears and Immler, who have been gutting and cleaning houses since December.

Boudreaux hugged and thanked the young volunteers, then set the rusted box on the hood of her Volkswagen Jetta and struggled to open it.

“Here’s one from September 1957,” Boudreaux said, pulling a faded letter from an envelope bearing a three-cent stamp. “I was still living in the Irish Channel on Seventh Street,” she said. “That was when I wondered how can I ever move to Lakeview,” which the couple did 44 years ago.

A bride of 18 married at St. Alphonsus Church — she in a suit and hat, he in his Army uniform — Boudreaux said she stored her love letters in the ammunition box because “it was a nice little letter holder.” She had no idea that the box was water tight, she said.

Several dozen letters were sandwiched in the box. “Maybe these were the sweeter ones I kept,” Boudreaux said. The letters were postmarked in Arkansas, Oklahoma and Arizona. “It was after the Korean War and he was supposed to be shipped to Germany, but it never came through,” she said.

“All my love, Hec,” one letter ended. “Write soon, I need the mail if I can’t have you.”

It’s been more than 30 years since they divorced, but she and her former husband never remarried, Boudreaux said. “I guess no one would have us,” she said, lighting another cigarette.

“We get along,” Boudreaux said. “We even evacuated together (after Hurricane Katrina).”

The former couple and their daughters Renee, 38, Nicole, 35, and granddaughter Brooke, 17, joined a six-car caravan of relatives who headed to the home of Boudreaux’s nephew in Lafayette before the storm hit.

“We’re still friends,” Hector Boudreaux said, back home in Metairie. “We still have the two girls together.”

Hector Boudreaux recalled attending Redemptorist High School with his wife-to-be and walking at night to her house on Seventh Street from his home in the St. Thomas housing development. He said he had “no idea” that his letters had been saved for all these years and he is grateful to the volunteers who found them.

“We had 20 years together,” he said. “I guess nowadays, that would be a lifetime for a marriage.”

Marlene Boudreaux said she will store the ammunition box filled with letters in the makeshift attic she created by stacking plastic bins on the top bunk in her FEMA trailer.

“I will definitely save them,” Boudreaux said. “I’m a saver. And I don’t have much to save anymore.”

Published in Life, Love
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