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ALABAMA

WWII-era letter delivered in California

MONTGOMERY | A World War II-era letter addressed to a woman at a Red Cross hospital in California has been delivered nearly 70 years after its postmark in Alabama, but the mystery of the message remains.

The letter is addressed to Miss R.T. Fletcher, American Red Cross Station Hospital, Camp Roberts, Calif. That building was torn down years ago. Women who worked at the hospital typically were nurses or administrative clerks.

Camp Roberts was closed in 1970, so the letter was delivered to the Camp Roberts Historical Museum. Curator Gary McMaster says he hasn't opened the letter for privacy reasons.

The envelope is torn where the return address would be located, so it's not clear who sent it. The tear reveals a handwritten letter inside.

ALASKA

$100 million more sought for Exxon cleanup

ANCHORAGE | A federal judge will hear arguments Friday on whether Exxon Mobil Corp. owes another $100 million to remove oil remaining on the Prince William Sound shoreline from the 1989 Exxon Valdez tanker spill.

U.S. District Judge Russel Holland scheduled the arguments in Anchorage in response to a motion filed by retired University of Alaska professor Rick Steiner, who is trying to force action on a claim filed in 2006 by the state and federal governments, the Anchorage Daily News reported Wednesday.

The claim says the oil is degrading too slowly and continues to harm wildlife. Irving, Texas-based Exxon argues it doesn't owe any more money. It paid $900 million in restitution in a 1991 settlement.

But the settlement also had a clause allowing the state and federal governments to later claim up to $100 million more from Exxon if there were unforeseen damages from the spill.

FLORIDA

Astronauts take final walk at space station

CAPE CANAVERAL | Discovery's astronauts took one final spacewalk at the International Space Station on Wednesday to get the outpost squared away before the shuttle program ends.

Discovery is headed into retirement after this flight, and just two more shuttle trips remain, by Endeavor and then Atlantis.

Spacewalker Alvin Drew quickly headed to a broken pump and vented the last bit of ammonia left to make it safe for handling in case it's returned to Earth on the last shuttle mission this summer.

The toxic ammonia coolant — about 10 pounds' worth — was vented through a hose, away from the two spacewalkers. It took two minutes to empty the pump.

A few pieces of frozen ammonia appeared to float away. Mission Control asked if spacewalker Stephen Bowen encountered any of the bits of ice, and he replied that he had not. Flight controllers wanted to keep any ammonia residue from getting into the space station.

NEW JERSEY

First woman reaches Coast Guard CPO gunner's mate

CAPE MAY | For the first time in the history of the U.S. Coast Guard, a woman has achieved the rank of gunner's mate chief petty officer.

Chief Petty Officer Kristin Werner received her new insignia of rank during a ceremony in Cape May on Tuesday.

The 34-year-old Seattle native told the Press of Atlantic City she never touched a weapon before joining the Coast Guard in 1995.

Chief Petty Officer Werner has spent 15 years becoming an expert on Coast Guard weapons systems, including weapons training, safety, ammunition and maintenance.

Capt. William Kelly, who commands the Coast Guard Training Center, says about 37 of the 695 gunner's mates in the Coast Guard are women.

He said a second woman will be promoted later this year.

NEW YORK

Plea deal reached for ex-governor's aide

NEW YORK | An aide to former Gov. David Paterson has reached a plea deal in a domestic-violence case that touched off an evidence-tampering investigation and helped lead to the governor's political undoing.

David Johnson pleaded guilty Wednesday to one count of harassment, admitting he shoved his former girlfriend at her apartment in 2009. He told the judge he knew his behavior was inappropriate and said he deeply regretted his actions. He was sentenced to a conditional discharge, meaning the case will be closed if he stays out of trouble for a year, but he could face jail time if he doesn't.

During the time the case was working through the criminal justice system, Johnson also underwent therapy. Prosecutors considered it sufficient, and he was not ordered to undergo further therapy.

OHIO

Woman, grandson killed in house explosion

SUFFIELD | An Ohio woman and her grandson were killed and their bodies thrown from their home in an explosion that was heard miles away, fire officials said.

Portage County Sheriff David W. Doak said Regina Proudfoot, 63, and Robert Croft, 21, were killed when the blast leveled the home at about 4 a.m. Wednesday, leaving nothing but a large crater filled with debris.

Sheriff Doak said the bodies were found next to the home and that debris covered more than 1,000 yards. Several other homes were damaged, including a neighboring house left uninhabitable.

Investigators said the explosion was related to a propane tank in the home, but the cause remains under investigation.

PENNSYLVANIA

Eastern cougar declared extinct

ALLENTOWN | The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on Wednesday declared the Eastern cougar to be extinct, confirming a widely held belief among wildlife biologists that native populations of the big cat were wiped out by man a century ago.

After a lengthy review, federal officials concluded there are no breeding populations of cougars — also known as pumas, panthers, mountain lions and catamounts — in the Eastern United States. Researchers think the Eastern cougar subspecies probably has been extinct since the 1930s.

Wednesday's declaration paves the way for the Eastern cougar to be removed from the endangered species list, where it was placed in 1973. The agency's decision to declare the Eastern cougar extinct does not affect the status of the Florida panther, another endangered wildcat.

VIRGINIA

10 crewmen pulled from destroyer

NORFOLK | The Navy has fired a destroyer commander and a top aide and removed eight sailors from their ship in the Mediterranean after misbehavior by the crew in overseas ports.

The U.S. 6th Fleet said Cmdr. Nathan Borchers was relieved from the USS Stout on Tuesday.

The Navy said it lost confidence in Cmdr. Borchers' ability to address what it called a pattern of unprofessional behavior by his crew that included fraternization, orders violations and disregard for naval standards.

A Navy spokesman in Norfolk said the misbehavior included drunk and disorderly conduct.

The Navy also removed Master Chief Susan Bruce-Ross, the highest-ranking enlisted sailor aboard the ship.

From wire dispatches and staff reports

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