Texas man finds message in a bottle on Alaska hunting trip, tracks down the person who wrote it

A message in a bottle from 1977. Jack Suh found it during a hunting trip in Alaska and managed...
A message in a bottle from 1977. Jack Suh found it during a hunting trip in Alaska and managed to track down the writer all these years later.(Jack Suh)
Published: Oct. 22, 2021 at 10:21 PM EDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - Jack Suh is a Texan who likes to hunt. He’s been to Alaska three times for hunting trips now, and on his recent third excursion he got the brown bear he set out for, but left with a little bit more than that.

After he and his guide harvested the bear, they finished up and walked around the area to enjoy a moment after dressing the bear. On the beach, Suh found a bottle he thought was trash.

“At first we just (thought) it looked like it was a bottle, but we looked a little bit further and noticed that there was a message inside,” Suh said.

It was a letter typed with a typewriter dated in 1977. The writer addresses himself as 11-year-old Butch Zimmerman.

Suh said there was barely any damage at all aside from a little dampness. He and his guide took the bottle back unopened and let it dry before trying to get the message out to read.

The message Butch wrote was a simple memoir of the young boy’s life. It talks about how his dad was in the Coast Guard and worked on a cutter named Citrus, and how his mom didn’t have a job at the time. He had a German Shepard-collie mix named Rex. He names his sisters, Marci and Lisa.

Suh then started to try and track them down.

“You know, just through Facebook and the internet, found some phone numbers and just randomly just texting numbers, like, ‘hey does this happen to be you by chance?’ And they just definitely freaked out that I reached out,” Suh said.

Eventually, through their mother’s obituary, Suh found Butch Zimmerman — who’s actually a namesake for his dad, Frank Zimmerman — and Marci and Lisa Zimmerman, who are now Lisa Bontempo and Marci Holder.

Admittedly, Zimmerman thought it was a scam at first.

“And I was reading the letter and was like, ‘no one else would know my family’s name, that I had a dog named Rex, and that I was sitting on the back of the ship,” he said.

He said he remembers the day he wrote it well, even though it was 44 years ago. Bontempo and Holder didn’t even know he wrote the message until Suh called.

All the siblings were mostly impressed that the bottle survived. With it being such a long time, and how rocky the Kodiak coast line is they all thought it would’ve sunk or broken open.

Much has happened since then. All the siblings have left Alaska, then they came back individually, and now they all live in North Carolina.

They have fond memories of their time in Kodiak. They said they never remembered being bored on the island and always had a bunch of other military kids around to play with. Although, they did miss certain amenities like fast food. They all remembered that once a month, a C-130 would fly to Anchorage and come back with McDonald’s for everyone.

Although, Zimmerman was the middle child and only boy. His sister’s said he hung around his dad every chance he got.

“Yeah he loved to go on the boat,” Bontempo said.

“Whenever Dad was on the boat, he was there,” Holder said.

It’s been a long life since then for Zimmerman. He went down a similar path as his father and joined the Air Force. He said he saw the world during that time and his military career got him back in Alaska, stationed in Anchorage. Once he was finished, he became a firefighter.

“I was a bomb specialist in the Air Force,” Zimmerman said. “I figured I spent half my life blowing things up and starting fires I might as well spend the rest putting them out.”

They all live close enough to see each other on special occasions. Since they got the call from Suh, it’s like a message received and memory restored for the siblings.

“It’s a piece of mom and dad, you know? And it’s a piece of our memory of good times,” Holder said. “Being in Alaska, being a family, being together.”

“When I got the letter I went back in my mind and I could picture that day just walking out to the back of the ship and throwing it overboard,” Zimmerman said.

For his help on the return to sender, Suh only asked for a picture of all of them holding the message together. Because now it’s a memory for him, too.

Suh said he mailed the bottle out to them on Friday. So its journey has just a little bit longer to go.

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