A burglar broke into retiree Greg Almeida’s storage locker in Isleton last month, swiping a small safe.

Gone were passports, birth certificates, savings bonds and a personal letter written by Almeida’s father, a military policeman, eight days after the attack on Pearl Harbor.

“I never thought I’d see any of those things again,” Almeida said Tuesday.

Behold the power of Coastal Cleanup Day volunteers.

On Saturday, Bear Creek High School students who were participating in the annual statewide cleanup discovered the missing letter in good condition along the north bank of Mosher Slough, beneath the Don Avenue bridge.

The handwritten letter was signed, simply, “George,” providing no real clue about its author. But amid other papers and trash in the same area, the students found a passport belonging to Greg Almeida’s wife, Rosemary. The Record connected the dots on Tuesday by calling the Almeida family.

Bear Creek student Duc Nguyen gets the credit. He’s the one who spotted the letter in the dirt on Saturday. Instead of simply tossing it into his garbage bag and moving on, he took the time to review it and was amazed by the date: Dec. 15, 1941.

He notified his teacher, longtime Coastal Cleanup Day volunteer Steve Meredith, who preserved the letter and the passport along with an array of other unusual items.

The Almeidas are glad he did. “We’re just so grateful for this,” Rosemary Almeida said Tuesday.

Bearing the coat of arms of Fort Eustis, Virginia, the letter from George Almeida to his mother makes no direct mention of Pearl Harbor. He does inform her that he won’t be home for Christmas.

“We are going to ship out before this week is over,” he wrote. “… Just as soon as we ship out I’ll write and tell you where we are going.”

Eventually, at least, he went to Europe, his son said Tuesday. No one recalls how long he served the Army there before returning home to Rhode Island, where he worked as an electrician. George Almeida died in 1975, on his 55th birthday.

Greg Almeida later came into possession of the letter, along with photographs of his father and other keepsakes that he placed in a manila envelope inside the safe.

It’s unclear how many of those belongings might have been dumped at Mosher Slough. The letter seemed to be mixed in with possessions apparently stolen from other people, as well, including a 13-year-old check — only partially filled out — that a neighbor on Mosher Slough had intended to shred last month.

It’s possible the letter and the rest of the stash was simply dumped off the side of the Don Avenue bridge.

“I’m sure whoever looked at it just threw it away,” Greg Almeida said. “It meant nothing to him. But there were a lot of things there that meant something to me.”

The discovery of the letter means Meredith’s chemistry class has taken a slight turn toward history this week. He’s been talking with his students about what it was like around the time of Pearl Harbor, and what this young soldier must have been feeling when he wrote home.

Of course, the find also reinforces the importance of the cleanup day. This year, in San Joaquin County alone, 950 people scooped up 31,691 pounds of trash, from cigarette butts to a coconut wrapped in a T-shirt.

“Whatever we get into that Dumpster, it’s a good sense of satisfaction,” Meredith said.

Whatever they can return to its rightful owner, perhaps even more.

Record Librarian Delailah Little contributed to this report.

— Contact reporter Alex Breitler at (209) 546-8295 or abreitler@recordnet.com. Follow him at recordnet.com/breitlerblog and on Twitter @alexbreitler.