In wartime, heroes present themselves in many forms and for that we are grateful. Those who wait at home serve too, and those who care about them -- and make an effort to relieve their suffering -- also fall into the category of hero.
Author Lisa Spahr found a treasure trove of heroes she didn’t know about in 2006 when she opened her grandfather’s “war trunk,” hidden in the attic all the years since WWII. Inside the trunk she found her grandfather’s uniform, his official papers, and letters written by people she had never heard of. These letters were written to her great-grandmother, Martha Spahr, the mother of Private Robert May Spahr -- Lisa’s grandfather -- and a prisoner of war for 26 months during WWII.
After Robert’s capture in Tunisia in 1943, like other prisoners, his name, his next of kin and his hometown were broadcast over the airwaves as a German propaganda effort. Short-wave operators in this country monitored the airwaves to learn the fates of American soldiers who had been taken prisoner. Sometimes they would hear the soldiers themselves speaking, sending a message to their families. Robert’s early messages told his family that he had arrived safely in Germany, that he would write when he could and that they were not to worry about him.
After hearing about Robert’s situation and that of other prisoners over the airwaves, the radio operators would wrote letters to their families to let them know their loved ones were alive. Sometimes the broadcasts were garbled but that didn’t stop the radio operators from trying to get the word out to American families through letters sent to their hometowns.
These are the 70 letters Lisa found in her grandfather’s trunk. Realizing she had come across something that was bigger than just her family history, she began to research the “Prisoner of War (POW) relay” or “POW monitoring” that had been going on during WWII, and something that most Americans are not even aware of to this day.
“I decided to write the book, World War II Radio Heroes: Lettters of Compassion,” Lisa says, “because I knew that when I stumbled upon this cache of letters that I was on to something extraordinary. I started to ask people I knew, many in the military and history communities, if they had heard of this POW monitoring or POW relay. They, too, hadn't heard of it. That is why I decided to write the book. I felt that the radio heroes needed a voice and they deserved our recognition for their hard work, then and now. They continue to be a pivotal part of our communications during emergencies.”
(As an aside, I worked for several years through Veteran Affairs with former POWs from WWII. I wrote biographies for these men so that their stories would not be lost. Even after countless hours spent with the former soldiers, I was completely surprised to hear about the letters like the ones the Spahr family had received.)
Lisa says the audience for this book and for her numerous speaking engagements is varied: “Radio fans, history buffs, seniors who remember that time and children of those who served love this book,” she says. “We've been featured in national radio magazines and are on tour speaking to senior communities across the country.”
Writing the book and speaking to groups is a way for Lisa to honor our veterans, the short-wave operators who brought relief to so many American families and especially “Pappy,” her grandfather, “the greatest man to grace the earth,” and a strong influence in her early life. In honor of Robert Spahr and other veterans this Veterans Day, Lisa would like to “wish a warm Happy Veterans Day to all of our veterans. I thank you for your service. And, I thank those who support you in all the ways that they can -- including the radio heroes I salute in my book! May peace, prosperity and happiness be yours!
Due to the popularity of the book, Lisa has recently completed an audio version which will be available later this month. The book is available at local bookstores, at Amazon.com or you can get a signed copy through the website, www.powletters.com. For more information, or to schedule a talk by Lisa for your group, contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 412-867-9991.
About Lisa Spahr
Lisa Spahr is a Master’s level psychologist and sole proprietor of Spahr Consulting, a life coaching business based in Pittsburgh. As a life coach she helps people live to their full potential and make their life transitions more successful. Her work includes helping people shape and achieve their goals. She is currently leading a new program called the Champions Series -- a nationwide effort to help people excel personally and professionally. She has been featured on The American Entrepreneur Radio Show, Pittsburgh’s KDKA evening news and in dozens of print media, including national magazines. To learn more about Lisa and her business visit www.spahrconsulting.com.
By Teresa K. Flatley