RENO, NV - In June of 2009. a man took a battered suitcase to Robert Smith, then a detective with the police at the V-A Medical Center.
It had been bought at a storage unit auction years before, its origins unknown.
Smith had little idea what he would find when he opened it.
"It was literally a time capsule," he says."
And the story it told was of the life and death of a young American officer in World War 2, including literally hundreds of letters between he and his wife.
Looking for clues, Smith opened a few.
"It was what you'd expect a serviceman to be writing home in a time of war," says Smith. "He was telling her that he was missing her and their baby very much."
He determined to find the young officer's family. It was a search that would consume much of his off-duty hours over the next four years.
The letters were written by Major Lamont Haas, and his wife Betty Lou.
Smith would learn that Major Haas had left medical school and enlisted in 1941, most of a year before Pearl Harbor. September of 1944, when the letters abruptly stopped., he'd been lost in a mid-air collision over France. He'd been a last minute addition to the mission, taking another officer's place when he became ill.
"I think he's a genuine American hero," says Smith. "He gave up a promising medical career to volunteer because he didn't like the way the world was going. My respect for him is tremendous. He's the hero in all of this."
The long search would lead eventually to Major Haas' brother,living in Florida. The suitcase with its letters was shipped to him.
But the story was still incomplete, Haas had long since lost contact with brother's family. The search continued.
Finally, in January Haas' granddaughter came across one of his on line posts.
Betty Lou had died in 1987, but their daughter still lived.
"It was indescribable," says Smith. "They were excited."
Sunday, this Valentines Day weekend, the families, the suitcase, the letters will be reunited in Charlotte, North Carolina. Haas' daughter, just 4 months old when he was killed, will finally know her father through his love letters.
Smith, by now considered a member of the family, will be there. He wouldn't miss it for the world. It's been, he says, the most satisfying adventure of his life, the outcome possible only because, having been handed the responsibility for the story, he couldn't turn away.
"I would hope if the same were true of my belongings or my family's belongings and someone came into possession of them, they would do the same and reach out to my family."