SAN MARCOS, Texas -- A mystery in San Marcos began earlier this year, when a teacher cleaning out her desk at Goodnight Middle School found a photo of a World War II soldier.
Eager to return the print to its rightful owner, the teacher sought out the help of local veterans groups.
After months of passing the photo from group to group, the portrait of a young man in uniform landed in the lap of Bernadette 'Bernie' Adams.
“I didn’t know [who he was], but I just felt that I had to find out,” said Adams.
The pictures offered few clues. Adams turned to her husband, a veteran himself, for an educated guess on the man’s branch of service. He suggested the Army. Other than that, she only had the date ‘1947’ scrawled along the side of the picture to guide her search.
After several unsuccessful tries, Adams says she shelved the project.
“Nobody seemed to know who he was,” said Adams. “I just left it at home for a while.”
She left the picture perched on her computer desk before coming up with a new idea to get the soldier identified.
“I just felt somebody, some family member, should have the picture,” said Adams.
She forwarded the picture along to David Short, editor with the San Marcos Daily Record.
“He printed it on the front page,” said Adams. “I was kind of surprised!”
That’s when Short says the calls came pouring in.
“Literally within three hours of the paper coming out I was already getting phone calls,” said Short, “It was consistent, everyone was identifying him.”
Callers identified the man as Oscar Smith, a deceased longtime San Marcos resident.
Adams, hoping to return the photo, wanted to know if Smith had any surviving family.
“All of [the callers] were saying the same thing, that to their knowledge he had never married, never had any kids.”
Short says they did discover Smith had a niece, Duane Dupree.
Adams reached out to Dupree, another San Marcos resident, and asked her to attend the monthly Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) breakfast to present her with the photo.
“I’m ecstatic,” said Adams. “It feels good.”
It is the only picture Dupree family has of her uncle in uniform.
“So I’m pleased to have it,” said Dupree, who intends to give a copy to her brother and hang another in her family’s home.
What first intrigued Adams to solve the mystery was the fact the man was in uniform. But for Dupree, she says the picture pointed to another legacy.
Oscar Smith was an Army Major and a veteran teacher.
“I knew immediately why [the picture] was in the junior high school because he taught there so long,” said Dupree. “So many of the people that called I think that they recognized him, were his former students.”
She says she was amazed to hear how many people remembered the man who never raised his voice but could quiet a classroom with a single look.
“I was just proud that his life demonstrated I think, how important a good teacher is,” said Dupree.