Ralph G. Kelly's task is a tough one: Reunite the "Hi Hatters" of Fighting Squadron 1 from the aircraft carrier Curtiss, which served in the Pacific during World War II.
The effort to bring the "Hi Hatters," as the squadron's pilots and crew are known, is well under way, thanks in no small part to the help of anonymous postal workers across America.
The letter the Los Angeles construction company manager sent concerning the April, 1988, reunion in Florida was like a lot of others that go out every year, encouraging men who were thrown together during the war to reunite.
Little to Go On
Like a lot of other people in his situation, Kelly had to rely on address lists that were incomplete and outdated.
Letters sent by Kelly differ, though, because a plea appears on the outside of each envelope.
"Postal Department Carrier," the message begins, "this letter is an effort to get WW II Navy Carrier Fighting Squadron 1 (Hellcat Pilots and Crew) together. Please Help.
"Know any relative, son, cousin, church or club affiliation that may know the family--to whom this could be forwarded? Please re-route to help them and us."
Surprisingly few of them came back with "attempted, not known" stamped on the outside. More often Kelly received a letter like the one from R.E. (Brownie) Brownell of Rockport, Tex., which begins, "What a surprise to receive your letter regarding the reunion."
High Success Rate
"Most of them went through, and I have no idea how the Postal Service found these guys," Kelly said. "There was one lady who sent a copy of a page from her family genealogy book," detailing what happened to "Hi Hatter" Royce Carruth.
"I looked him up," said distant relative Susan Carruth of Comanche, Tex., "and discovered his plane had been shot down behind enemy lines during the Korean conflict."
On the outside of the envelope was an anonymous postal worker's admonition: "Susan Carruth will look around."
Then there's the letter sent to John S. Young. It was returned by Paula Oskrun of Tulsa, Okla.
Oskrun's return letter to Kelly said, "I have both called and talked to around 100 old-timers in the Berryhill area where RR9 (the address) is located. I can find no one who ever heard of him." She added her apologies.
"The real heroes of this," Kelly said, "are the postal workers who passed these things around" and helped locate more than a dozen of the graying warriors.
Of the original 84 members in Fighting Squadron 1, Kelly lists the following information: "Taps has sounded for 11, we have reached 18 and we need to find 36 more."
Among the missing is a man who helped put together a memory book for the Hi Hatters back at the end of the war. Lt. John M. Breen worked for the old United Press news wire service in Northern California before it merged with the International News Service and became United Press International. UPI officials were not able to provide an updated address.
The reunion of Fighting Squadron 1 is tentatively scheduled for April 7-9, 1988, in Jacksonville, Fla., to run simultaneously with the yearly Assn. of Naval Aviation Symposium.