RENO, Nev. (KRNV & MyNews4.com) -- A local couple bought a suitcase filled with a World War II soldier's letters and memorabilia at a storage auction.
They were parts of his family history, likely lost for decades.
The couple didn't know what to do with it, so they gave it to a detective at the local VA hospital.
It turns out he's a 20 year Army veteran who comes from a military family, so the now police chief set out to find the service member's living relatives to return this piece of his history.
"It was a very old suitcase and I wasn't prepared for what was inside it when I opened it," VA hospital Police Chief Robert Smith said.
The suitcase contains magazines, World War II military documents and almost 400 letters.
"They were personal letters between a service member and his wife back on the homefront while he was serving in Europe during World War II," Smith said.
In 2009 a couple turned in the suitcase to Smith at the VA, hoping he could find its rightful home. Smith felt compelled to make sure those letters were recieved again, decades after they were written.
"It's words that they can never recover if they're lost," Smith said. "It's feelings during a time of uncertainty, during a time of fear, during a time of courage."
Smith turned to World War II internet forums, looking for information about Major Lamont Haas, his wife Betty Lou or his daughter Linda Lou.
After a few months he made contact with Shelby Haas, the grandaughter of the major's brother, Fred.
Fred didn't know if Betty Lou and Linda Lou were still alive.
"The family kind of grew apart after Major Haas was killed," Smith said.
Smith shipped the suitcase to Fred Haas in 2010, but he didn't stop looking for Major Haas' wife and daughter.
"It wasn't complete without this piece," he said.
Years later, on the same online forum, he heard from Robin Beamish, Major Haas' granddaughter.
"It was worth the wait," Smith said. "It was very much worth the wait."
When Linda Lou was a little girl, her mother read her the letters.
"This had been a big hole in her heart for her entire lifetime, knowing that this suitcase existed and that they thought it was lost forever," Smith said.
Last week she got it all back, along with family she hadn't seen for 42 years.
"Not only did she get reunited with the letters, but she was reunited with her uncle," Smith said.
Linda Lou also got a piece of her parents. Her mother Betty Lou died in 1987 and Major Haas was killed in action in 1944.
"There really are no words to describe the emotion and the rejoicing that occurred with that family," Smith said.
It was a celebration nearly five years in the making, but Smith says he never once thought about giving up.
"It was a wonderful experience," Smith said. "It was a phenomenal journey for me."
The journey isn't over. Major Haas' family said there should have been a military footlocker in the same storage unit that housed the suitcase. It holds uniforms, photos and more letters.
Smith said he thinks someone in Reno may have it or know where it is, so he is encouraging the public to email him with any information at Robert.Smith36@va.gov