Local veteran's mail lost for 39 years returned to family - WRCBtv.com | Chattanooga News, Weather & Sports

Local veteran's mail lost for 39 years returned to family

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A piece of mail lost for nearly 40 years is in the hands of a local woman who's been determined to find it's rightful owner. A U.S. Army veteran's mail addressed to Hixson, Tennessee in 1974, never made it there. It's traveled from one end of the country and back, and now may finally make its destination.

Meigs County resident Jamie Helms moved to Tennessee several years ago with her husband from California. He was a janitor at a college out there and made a discovery behind a cabinet while cleaning the mail room. It was a package addressed to Hixson, TN from an army veteran.

For years, he tried to track down the vet, but couldn't. When he passed away, Jamie took it upon herself to finish his mission.

"I had to finish his journey for him. To me it's like honoring him," Jamie Helms of Decatur said.

In around 2003, Jamie Helm's husband found mail that never reached its destination. Veteran James "Ronnie" Tapp mailed it to his home in Hixson from Chicago in 1974 to be put in a scrapbook. It has pictures of him as a paratrooper in Germany, his diploma, and several other documents that show his accomplishments as an athlete, student and artist. But, because it was so old, and with only a vague address on Middle Valley Road, the US Postal Service told him they'd have to throw it in the "dead mail" file.

"My husband didn't want that to happen. He said this guy served our country and he deserves better than that," Jamie said.

Then, by coincidence, the Helms' moved to Tennessee a few years later, and have tried several methods of finding Mr. Tapp or his family, including posting fliers.

"It has traveled from Chicago to California to Tennessee," she said.

After interviewing Jamie Thursday morning, we posted her story on our Channel 3 Facebook page. Within a couple of hours... "I was like oh my God that's my father," Rhonda Tapp said.

Rhonda Tapp was at work in Chattanooga, when her friend emailed her the link. She immediately recognized the picture and hand writing, was of her dad, James "Ronnie" Tapp. She says he passed away suddenly in 1997 and is buried in Chattanooga National Cemetery.

"It's surreal when you see a young picture of your father and you buried him so long ago and somebody else has your memories," Rhonda said.

Then we called Jamie. She explained her dad is no longer alive, but how much it means to her and her brother that they never gave up and threw his memories away.  

"I just appreciate you taking it everywhere all these years and finally it coming to fruition and us being able to connect with you," Rhonda said.

Rhonda plans to drive up to Jamie's home in Decatur to meet her, and get her dad's belongings as soon as possible.

"I'm just so happy. My day has been made. My whole year's been made," Jamie said over the phone.

"Well mine has too, in more ways than you will every know," Rhonda said.

Rhonda Tapp says she has no idea why her dad was in Chicago when he mailed the documents back home. Her mother also passed away several years ago, but she's excited to get the rest of her family together to look through the package.

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