BATESVILLE, AR (KAIT) - A Navy white hat that has been around the world over the past 75 years is finally headed home.
Its journey back to the sailor who originally wore the hat began with a simple text to Leslie Gallegos.
"I got a text message from a friend who forwarded me another mutual friend's quest to find the owner of this hat," Gallegos said.
An Independence County family found a Navy hat they believed was from World War II.
"She found it in her mother's belongings after she passed away," Gallegos said. "She believes it was something that was bought at a yard sale and the hat was in amongst the stuff."
So, Gallegos brought that text message to the Batesville American Legion Auxiliary Board who made it their mission to find the family who the hat belonged to.
They could barely make out the name on the hat: JW Pickering.
"I first searched Arkansas, googled, but nothing," Gallegos said. "Since I assumed that's where the hat was found."
She then began searching registries in our border states but they all turned up nothing. So, she expanded the search.
"Decided to search the West Coast states for, maybe he retired," Gallegos said. "California and up he popped in. Spring Valley, California."
"I was dumbfounded," Pickering said. "Is that a good word?"
They found him. The hat belongs to John Walter Pickering.
He served in the Navy for 22 years. He fought in World War II, The Korean War, and Vietnam.
Pickering thinks somewhere along the way another sailor must have grabbed his hat by mistake.
"In Japan, they used to have places that you hang your hat when you come in because those white hats are hard to fold up and put in your pocket," Pickering said. "I just figure somehow we just swapped hats somehow. I don't know."
Pickering was told the sailor who ended up with his hat later survived a battleship sinking and floated on a raft at sea for more than 70 days.
He's amazed the hat made it in one piece.
"I asked her if it was a white hat and she said no, it's kind of khaki colored," Pickering said. "That's probably from age, though."
Gallegos and another American Legion member will travel to California on August 5 to return the hat, which is something Pickering never thought would happen.
"Oh it's… you just don't know," he said. "It just brings tears to my eyes."
When they go to return the hat, the Patriot Guard Riders from the Spring Valley area will be there to thank Pickering for all of his service.
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