Even after 50 years of marriage, Sallie and James Bracy's special song has that same old magic. The Chesapeake, Va., couple were at home several weeks ago with the radio on, when the strains of "Once in a While" filled their cozy living room. Sallie, 68, had to smile; early in their marriage, with James serving a two-year stint in the Army, she seemed to receive an unanticipated letter, call or even visit from him each time after she heard the song. "So now I knew to expect something," says Sallie, though she couldn't imagine what. A week later the surprise materialized: a passionate love letter James, 71, had written to her 46 years before, when he was an Army corporal stationed at California's Fort Ord.

James had dropped the four-page missive into the Fort Ord mailbox slot on Jan. 28, 1955. But somehow it had gotten trapped inside the wall of the base post office and sat there until this past December, when it was discovered by a construction crew doing renovations. Eventually the post office tracked down the Bracys, now the parents of Jami, 35, and Jack, 30, and grandparents of year-old Jacob.

Even before opening the envelope, "I knew it was sweet because it came from him," says Sallie. That she's still smitten with James, a retired riveter, is as clear as the blush on her cheeks when she quotes from the letter, which she's described as "X-rated." "I wish I could get my cotton-picking hands on you," she reads. "Okay, that's enough," she adds, smiling at James. "We were young then."