Listening to the radio was no casual pastime for Norma M. Edge during World War II. It was a self-appointed labor that helped put minds at ease as she conveyed to others what she heard.
Sister Edge, who lived in Winslow, Ariz., couldn't receive on her radio broadcasts from commercial stations, but she could pick up shortwave radio broadcasts. Pulling a chair up close to the radio and giving it her full attention, she could hear what was being broadcast from Japan.In the first few months that she monitored the program, beginning in early 1943, Americans who were prisoners of war were recorded on tape, stating their names, the addresses of loved ones, and then brief messages. After a while, however, the prisoners no longer were permitted to speak for themselves; an announcer read in English their names, addresses and the messages.
She began writing down the messages and sending them to the people whose names and addresses were given in the broadcasts. "I knew it must be awful to have a son, husband, father or brother missing and not know whether he was alive or dead," Sister Edge said.
She didn't know it but she was just one of many who listened and passed along messages. As time went on, she heard of reports given by others, but correspondence from many families of the prisoners of war confirmed she was their sole bearer of news.
Listening to the radio became a priority in her routine. "Most of the time there was a lot of static, so I would listen to the broadcast twice to get all the messages. The program was recorded and broadcast several times," Sister Edge said. Sometimes, she was able to notify families of the prisoners of war in time for them to go where there was a short-wave radio to listen to the re-broadcast.
One woman wrote an emotional letter of gratitude, telling Sister Edge how thrilling and comforting it was to hear her husband's own voice on the radio more than a year after he was reported missing in action.
Sister Edge began to understand the importance of her service when she read letters from the POWs' loved ones. Now a member of Golden Living Center Ward, Taylorsville Utah Central Stake, she has a collection of letters from throughout the United States. For years, the letters lay mostly forgotten, stuffed in a large paper bag. Recently, Sister Edge's daughter-in-law, Nancy Edge, collected and placed them in an album.
Reading the letters is like reviewing history recorded in one-to-one communications that reflect personal, sometimes painful, insights seldom found in text books. Following are samples of mail Sister Edge received:
From Stamford, Conn., Feb. 9, 1943: "It has been a great stimulant to our morale since my husband has been missing in action up to last week. . . . To know that he is actually able to transmit this message, which we feel is authentic, means more to me and our boys than you can ever realize. The suspense has been very great. . . . "
From Spokane, Wash., Feb. 17, 1943: "So deeply appreciate your very nice letter, the first direct news I have had of my Darling Husband in almost a year. Of course the War Department wired me he was missing in action, then later that he was a prisoner of war in Taiwan (Formosa). . . . "
From Denver, Colo., Feb. 26, 1943: "It is wonderful to know that we in the United States have such good neighbors to pass on messages from our loved ones who have been missing such a long time."
From Chicago, Ill., Feb. 27, 1943: "The message was a Godsend, indeed, as we had not heard from our son Jack for 13 months. And since the day he sailed from America, in November 1941, he has received no mail from us, as it has all been returned. It is good to know that he is alive and well, even though a prisoner."
From Atlanta, Ga., March 3, 1943: "I think that my husband really sent that message, as the wording is his. . . . Please listen again; I am hoping to get a message from him telling me that he has heard from me."
(Postmark illegible), March 5, 1943: "It would be futile for me to attempt to express in mere words the appreciation that is in our hearts for your thoughtfulness and consideration in so promptly forwarding our son's message to us. It isn't pleasant for us to contemplate the fact that Joe is a prisoner of war, but it is, of course, a blessed relief to me, as a mother, to know that my son is alive and that I may hope to have him with me again in the not too far distant future. . . . We have never permitted ourselves to give up hope for our son's well-being, nor for his ultimate safe return to us. Therefore, you can really understand what your message has done for our hearts and for our morale."
From San Antonio, Texas, March 17, 1943: "The children and I were evacuated from Manila in 1941 and had had no word from my husband since April 6, 1942, until your message came. . . . We are grateful to you for your kindness. How relieved we are!"
From Eugene, Ore., March 21, 1943: "This is the first we have heard from our father in over a year and it is a great relief to know that he is well. In relaying these messages to the families of the prisoners you are performing a service which will earn you the unending gratitude of many."
From Seattle, Wash., dated March 31, 1943: "Thank you very much for sending me the message my husband broadcast from Tokyo. I had had no word from him since the fall of Corregidor, and this message gave me great relief and happiness. . . . "
From Lindsay, Okla., April 4, 1943: "We'd had no word from my husband since before Bataan fell. . . . Your message is so complete and it sounds so very like my husband that we are quite sure it was drafted by him - and what a load that lifts from our hearts."
From Selbring, Fla., April 20, 1943: "Words fail us when we try to express to you our gratitude for relaying our precious son's message to us. . . the first message we have had from him. . . . You could never know the agony we have suffered, now the blessed relief we now have since this broadcast. May heaven bless you for writing us."
From Loundonville, Ohio, April 20, 1943: "Of course life will never be the same again, but I do believe if my son could endure everything a whole year he can, with our prayers, keep on. When the wonderful news of my boy was received the whole town rejoiced with me."
From San Antonio, Texas, April 21, 1943: "I had written my son through the International Red Cross, also the Japanese Red Cross several times. But this message from you is the first I have ever known that he was alive."
From Woburn, Mass., (date not given): "Your message pertaining to the safety of Leo A. Callahan received. . . . I am a brother of
Leo'sT mother who died of a broken heart worrying over her son's welfare."
From Sedalia, Mo., (date not given): "It was the first word we have from our son in a year and a half. John was so good to write, we were afraid he was a prisoner when no letter came."
Sister Edge developed a long-term correspondence with some of the families of prisoners of war; some made efforts to meet her.
For more than two years she wrote to a woman who told her of plans for "after the war." The woman and her husband would live in Arizona or New Mexico, she said. The woman wrote Sister Edge from Miami, Fla.: "It has been my fondest hope that when Col. Marshall returned I would meet him on the west coast, come back through your part of the country and we could both thank you in person for relaying his message two years ago. But such is not our destiny. He is one of those not to return. He was unable to withstand the rigors of imprisonment. Although a strong man, he contracted tuberculosis and died Aug. 15 just as they were being liberated."
Sister Edge said many people regarded the broadcasts as propaganda by the Japanese and said the messages were of no value. She said that even though the messages by the prisoners were heavily censored, the prisoners still managed to communicate their status to their families. "I received a letter from a woman who said her son's message stated that he was being treated well, and was `living the life of Bruno.' The family's dog was named Bruno."
Sister Edge monitored the radio broadcasts from Japan until the war ended. Whenever her husband, Hubert, or their children - Carl, Charlotte (Hazen) and Virginia (Spilsbury) - went to town, they routinely posted letters she had written to families of POWs and picked up the mail sent to her. "There was always a handful of mail for her in the Post Office," Sister Spilsbury said. "I don't think anyone in town got more mail than our mother."