When Navy ensign Sam Bongiorno opened his mailbox on Monday, he found an envelope he never expected to see: a letter from the late Sen. John McCain.
McCain had written to congratulate him on his recent graduation from the Merchant Marine Academy. The letter, written on August 20, was mailed on August 25 from McCain’s Phoenix office.
McCain died the same day.
“I graduated in June, but never expected to hear from him or his office due to his declining health,” he told CNN. McCain himself graduated from a service academy: the Naval Academy.
“I commend you for your decision to serve our nation,” McCain wrote in the letter. “It is young people like you who make the future of this nation brighter and stronger.”
McCain frequently sent letters to new graduates of the service academies and young service members around the country.
Receiving the letter was bittersweet for Bongiorno, who revered McCain’s own service as a Navy pilot. A letter of congratulations from one of the most famed aviators in Naval history was incredibly meaningful, but he could not help but feel sad knowing it was one of the last letters sent from his office.
“It’s been my dream to fly for the military for as long as I can remember,” Bongiorno told CNN. “I wanted to go to a service academy since I was ten years old.”
Bongiorno is currently preparing for flight school at Luke Air Force Base in Arizona.
CNN’s Ted Barrett contributed to this report.