WWII-era letter delivered to Camp Roberts in February is finally headed to right person

tstrickland@thetribunenews.comMarch 8, 2011 

A letter postmarked in 1944 that mysteriously arrived in the mail at Camp Roberts last month is now on its way to the person intended to receive it decades ago.

The letter was addressed to “Miss R. T. Fletcher, American Red Cross, Station Hospital, Camp Roberts, California.”

Those looking for the recipient or author were left with few clues.

A historical museum now stands where the station hospital once stood. And the return address portion of the envelope had been torn. The abbreviation “Ala.” was all that remained.

The U.S. Post Office in San Miguel gave the World War II-era letter to Camp Roberts Historical Museum Director and Curator Gary McMaster.

McMaster reached out to the media, and the story made international headlines.

After weeks of searching, McMaster was contacted by Fletcher’s daughter, whose name was not disclosed, after reading the news reports. Her mother is now 90 years old.

McMaster said he mailed her the letter, still unread, Monday at the U.S. Post Office in San Miguel.

“I hope it makes it this time,” McMaster joked.

He has not yet disclosed what state or town Fletcher now lives in, only saying she and her family prefer to stay out of the spotlight.

It’s not clear if Fletcher is still her last name, because she later married.

The letter was written by Fletcher’s late brother, who was a soldier stationed near Montgomery, Ala., when she was a Red Cross volunteer at Camp Roberts. His name was not given.

“Although her brother is gone, she can finally read this letter that he wrote to her so long ago,” McMaster said.

A similar postal mystery also occurred last month when an 85-year-old retired farmer in Iowa received a letter his late brother had sent in 1943 when he was stationed at Camp Roberts.

Why the letters remained in the postal system for so many years is unknown. More than 96 percent of the mail is delivered on time, said James Widgel, a spokesman for the U.S. Postal Service.

Very rarely are vintage letters found on shelves or behind sorting cases that haven’t been moved in decades.

When McMaster first received the Fletcher letter from postal officials, the corner of a four-page handwritten note was visible through a tear. McMaster never opened the letter out of respect for privacy, he said.

Fletcher’s daughter provided to McMaster old letters her family saved as proof that the letter was intended for her mother, McMaster said.

The family’s saved letters show that Fletcher was well liked among the patients, McMaster said.

Connecting the mysterious letter to that family took weeks.

McMaster first told the Montgomery Advertiser newspaper in Montgomery, Ala., about it, hoping someone there would recognize Fletcher’s name. The Associated Press then picked up the story, and it appeared in newspapers throughout the United States, Canada and Europe.

“Radio and TV stations all over were calling me about it,” McMaster said. “We’re just glad that the letter is finally getting delivered.”

The Iowa letter also found a happy ending.

The letter written May 17, 1943, by the late Lt. Mervin Teig from Camp Roberts to his parents is now in the hands of his brother.

The lieutenant’s younger brother, Tilford Teig, recently received a phone call from someone the Los Angeles Times said could have been from the Postal Service’s “mail recovery center” in Atlanta. But Tilford Teig didn’t catch his name or position.

Recipient was a volunteer at camp hospital

Letter recipient “R.T. Fletcher,” now 90, arranged entertainment for the patients at Camp Robert’s large Army hospital, which has long been torn down. Most of the soldiers there were recuperating from the war.

Entertainment stars who entered the military, such as Robert Mitchum, Red Skelton, Jimmy Stewart and William Holden, were sent to Camp Roberts —the closest Army installation to Hollywood — for their initial training.

Fletcher had to leave Camp Roberts during the war when her father, a veteran of World War I, became ill. She returned to her home state, which hasn’t been disclosed, to be close to him. She eventually married a captain in the military who had been an Olympic athlete.

Fletcher always remembered her time at Camp Roberts, her family said.

Camp Roberts was one of the Army’s largest Infantry and Field Artillery Training Centers when Fletcher volunteered there.

In 1971, the Army National Guard took over the camp for its training. That use remains a function there today. It also facilitates security of the Army Reserve and active units.

Source: Camp Roberts Historical Museum Director and Curator Gary McMaster.

Visit the museum

The Camp Roberts Historical Museum is open from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Thursday and Saturday at the camp 12 miles north of Paso Robles. About 3,000 items are on display or stored for future exhibits. For details, e-mail crmiltmus@tcsn.net.

The Los Angeles Times contributed to this report.

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