With a tiny leap of faith and a promise kept, the military attire of a Massachusetts Marine is now resting with his proud family.

With a tiny leap of faith and a promise kept, the military attire of a Massachusetts Marine is now resting with his proud family.

The daughter of a Korean War veteran, Cheryl Ozella Wallace regarded her father, David A. Ozella, as a hero.

``Everything he set out to do, he did it,'' she said.

As a persistent 17-year-old, Ozella gave an incorrect date of birth to Marine Corps recruiters to enlist during the Korean War.

It wasn't until he was treated in a Japan hospital for a leg wound that his true age was revealed. Ozella remained in the hospital until his 18th birthday, when he was old enough to serve.

After being honorably discharged in 1952, Ozella returned to Bellingham and left his Marine dress hat with a family friend, Mae Vater.

``As a young man, he wasn't settled. He left it with her for safe keeping,'' Ozella Wallace explained. ``She promised she'd hold onto it.''

As a young girl, Ozella Wallace recalled her father's war stories and him frequently mentioning Vater.

``He'd say, `Mae Vater has my hat, and I'm gonna get it back one day,''' she remembers.
As years passed, Ozella lost touch with the Vater family and mounded guilt prevented him from returning for his belongings.

Before Ozella died in May 2000, he mentioned Vater's name. ``He lost nearly all of his ability to speak,'' said Ozella Wallace, explaining her father's last days after a long battle with brain cancer. ``But he'd say her name.''

Seven years later, Ozella Wallace recalled her father's last words. ``I know it was Dad saying, `get my hat,''' she said.

With little knowledge of the Vater family and their whereabouts, Ozella Wallace took a chance and embarked on a 50-mile trip from her Wareham home to the Bellingham Municipal Center.

She inquired about the Vater family with Town Clerk Kathleen Harvey.

To her surprise, Harvey directed Ozella Wallace to an office directly behind her, where Assistant Building Inspector Earl Vater works.

``I was shaking,'' Ozella Wallace recalls. ``I didn't believe it.''

Inspectional Service workers caught Vater on his Nextel. Within minutes, Ozella Wallace located her father's hat.

In what she calls a stroke of luck, Ozella Wallace was delighted to learn the Vater family kept their promise.

``I knew (Ozella) left it with my mother,'' said Vater, who found the hat cleaning out his late mother's home. ``I saved it all these years.''

But, one more surprise was in store for an emotional and overwhelmed Ozella Wallace.
Tucked inside the water-stained colored cap were two white gloves with the name D A Ozella printed inside.

When she discovered the gloves, Ozella Wallace began to cry.

``I held the gloves to my face ... wishing his hands were still in the gloves to wipe my tears,'' she said. ``To know my father marched wearing these gloves... it's amazing.''
``I know if it was my father, I'd like to get that hat back,'' Vater said. ``That's one of the reasons why I kept it.''

``Now it will be cherished forever,'' Ozella Wallace said, delicately touching her gloves and bringing them close to her face.

Now, the white Marine cap Ozella spoke of is more than just an image his family recognized in pictures.

The 8-by-10-inch black and white photo of a boy in dress blues, smirking with cheery cheeks, accompanies the dress hat at Ozella's son Bruce's home.

``My father was a persistent man, he always got what he wanted,'' said Ozella Wallace. ``He'd be so proud to know his son is in possession of his hat.''

Michelle Laczkoski can be reached at mlaczkos@cnc.com or 508-634-7556.

Milford Daily News