On February 16, 2001, Gary McMaster, curator of the Camp Roberts Historical Museum on what is now a training base for the California Army National Guard, received a letter postmarked August 9, 1944. The hand-written envelope was addressed to Miss R.T. Fletcher, at the base’s Red Cross hospital. Since the hospital had been torn down decades earlier, the mail carrier figured the historical museum would be a reasonable substitute.
Naturally McMaster was intrigued by this piece of World War II history dropped in his mailbox as if it had been sent days ago. He decided to try to find the addressee, but out of concern for their privacy, without reading the letter. USPS had no information. It could have come from the dead letter depot in Atlanta, but according to Joseph Breckenridge, a postal service spokesman in Atlanta, it’s more likely someone just found the letter in an attic somewhere and decided to pop it in the mail. The return address was obscured by a tear in the envelope, but the postmark marked its departure point as Montgomery, Alabama.
He decided to tell the Montgomery Advertiser about the letter, hoping against hope that the sender, the recipient or relatives who could perhaps recognize the letter might still live in the area and would see the article. The newspaper ran the story and it caused a little sensation. The AP picked it up, and soon McMaster was getting inquiries about the letter from press around the world.
One of the stories was seen by R. T. Fletcher’s daughter. She recognized her mother’s maiden name and the handwriting on the envelope as that of her uncle, her mother’s brother, who was a soldier stationed at Maxwell Field in Montgomery in August of 1944. She faxed McMaster copies of other letters he had written her mother during the war, and the handwriting did indeed match. Although sadly her uncle had passed away years ago, Miss Fletcher is 90 years old and still going strong.
There was also another, even more awesome, clue that this was the right person. Miss Fletcher had told her daughter stories about the time she performed on stage with comedian Red Skelton at Camp Roberts.
McMaster said Camp Roberts was one of the largest artillery training centers in World War II.
“We had people from all over the country at Camp Roberts,” he said, including Robert Mitchum, William Holden and Red Skelton.
Fletcher had told her family that while she served at Camp Roberts, she was in a play that featured Skelton, a popular comedian. McMaster was able to find a program from that show at the museum.
Lo and behold, her name was on the program as a bit player in this Red Skelton scrapbook.”
Turns out that Fletcher was a Red Cross volunteer, and she was coordinating entertainment for the soldiers and patients at the hospital at Camp Roberts. Many of them were recuperating from combat injuries, McMaster said.
McMaster had just recently mounted an exhibit at the museum about Red Skelton’s time on the base, which is why he had the scrapbook handy.
With the Skelton evidence and the handwriting match, Gary McMaster was satisfied that he had found the addressee. The letter is currently winding its way to Miss Fletcher’s daughter via registered mail. She will then deliver it to her mother in person, 66 years after it was first sent.