They are not related, though they share a name and a chapter of family history.

The McLaughlins of New Jersey met the McLaughlins of Pennsylvania last night and, over the course of an hour, shared memories of the brief life and early death of Robert J. Reilly.

And finally, the moment for which they had come together: to exchange a 1940 class ring from Northeast Catholic High School, the only relic of the wartime relationship the two families shared.

"On behalf of the family of Mary Dignam McLaughlin, we'd like to give this back to you," said Ed McLaughlin, as he handed the gold ring with a dark red stone to Lyne McLaughlin. "We believe that after 64 years in our possession it should be returned home to who it belongs."

"Thank you so much, Ed," Lyne McLaughlin replied as she pressed the ring onto her index finger. "This means so much, for her to have kept it for all those years."

In fact, the class ring served as the engagement ring that Robert J. Reilly of Kensington gave to his sweetheart, Mary Dignam of Tacony, before he shipped oversees with the Marines in February 1943.

Reilly never returned. He was 22 and a sergeant when he was fatally wounded Aug. 11, 1944, in the last hours of the U.S. conquest of Guam. He was posthumously awarded the Silver Star, the third-highest military award for valor in combat, and rests today in the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific on Oahu, Hawaii.

Mary Dignam kept his ring, and it stayed with her after her 1946 marriage to sailor Edward J. McLaughlin, a suitor she once rebuffed. It stayed with Mary's husband after she died in 1994 at age 70. And after his death early last year, the ring remained in the house until it was found by sons Ed and Kevin.

Intrigued by the ring and memories of his mother's story of her engagement to the young Marine, Ed McLaughlin decided to try to find Reilly's relatives to return a ring he felt sure would be equally meaningful to them.

The search failed until an article in Sunday's Inquirer about the ring and the McLaughlins was spotted by an aunt of one of Reilly's relatives.

That led to last night's meeting at The Inquirer's Cherry Hill office, where Lyne and Jim McLaughlin, the son and daughter of Reilly's sister, Mary - who coincidentally married a man named Joseph McLaughlin - met with Ed and Kevin McLaughlin and their uncles, identical twins Jim and John Dignam, Mary Dignam's brothers.

It was not quite a reunion - the McLaughlins had never met - but the laughter and emotions fueled by old photos and scrapbooks and the neighborhood memories of the Dignam brothers quickly made it seem like one.

"This has been unbelievable," said Lyne McLaughlin, 55, a Bucks County secretary. "We've been digging through family photos for days."

Her brother Jim, 58, a stevedore from Delaware County, seemed stunned when he got his first glimpse of the ring: "This is in mint condition!"

They weren't the only ones surprised as the Dignam brothers, 72, began identifying people they remembered from the 1940s in what were then heavily Irish neighborhoods in the Lower Northeast.

At one point, John Dignam identified a photo of a young couple in a batch brought by Lyne McLaughlin, and Kevin McLaughlin recognized it as a duplicate of a photo he had at home.

"It is so strange to see a photo that I know come from someone we didn't know before," he said.

The Dignams provided an oral history of sorts for the photos as well as a string of one-liners as punctuation. At one point, the Dignams remembered playing with Lyne and Jim's older brother Joseph in the old neighborhood.

"How old are you?" Lyne asked.

"Seventy-two," replied John Dignam.

"I told 'em we were 73," shot back Jim, referring to an earlier interview. "Well, I'm five minutes older than him."

One memory triggered another. The Dignams remembered a woman from the neighborhood they knew as "Aunt Lena" who was Lyne and Jim McLaughlin's grandmother, Lena Reilly.

And the McLaughlins recalled an "Aunt Anna," who turned out to be the Dignams' late sister.

Ed McLaughlin, 58, a self-employed plumber from Delanco in Burlington County, at times seemed nervous - maybe even a little sad - to be parting with the ring that had represented so much to his mother.

"Do you have the ring?" asked brother Kevin, 51, a newsletter editor who also lives in Delanco.

"No, I left it at home," Ed joked, then added, "I must have checked my pocket 50 times today."

Lyne McLaughlin talked of the family legends of the uncle who died a hero in World War II.

"There are kids in our family who are already talking about this," she added, looking at the ring. "This is something that will be passed down through generations."

Contact staff writer Joseph A. Slobodzian at 215-854-2985 or jslobodzian@phillynews.com.