Neither time, nor missing records, nor an addressee named Smith could stop the final two letters in a sack of World War II mail from reaching their destination.
The two letters from Sgt. Clarence F. Smith were delivered Wednesday to his brother, Norman T. Smith of Henderson, Md., in a ceremony marking completion of the deliveries. Clarence Smith, a tailgunner killed in action over Italy, had written the letters to his mother and a friend.The letters were the last of 235 pieces of wartime mail to be delivered after their discovery in an attic in Raleigh, N.C., in 1986.
The Postal Service spent 30 months tracking down the servicemen or their relatives.
Smith's letters and those from 91 other servicemen were discovered in an old Army duffel bag in the attic in North Carolina by an exterminator.
The bag contained letters written in May 1944 by GIs bound for Algeria aboard the troop ship Caleb Strong. A homebound serviceman had promised to mail the letters for his shipmates but never did.
Smith's letters were the hardest to deliver because Smith is such a common name.
Another veteran, Pierre J.J. Kennedy of the 781st Bomb Squadron Association, who was asked to assist, found information about Smith through the National Archives' listings of missing air crew reports from the war.
He found that Smith was a tailgunner on a B-17 Flying Fortress bomber who was shot down and killed in action on a mission over Verona, Italy, in 1944. He located Smith's mother's old address in Philadelphia and through neighbors learned of Smith's brother.