There were many ways to serve your country during World War II, even on the home front. As their young people went off to war, those left behind dealt with food and tire rationing, grew victory gardens, and bought war bonds.
Although ham radio transmissions were suspended during the war, many operators made it their mission to listen. They copied down and relayed messages from shortwave broadcasts from Germany and Japan to families of the men named as Prisoners of War.
Nancy Street of Reno, Nevada, heard one from Japan in March of 1944, naming Dale Wilson of Minburn. She wrote that he been picked up when his plane went down, and was a Japanese prisoner on the island of Wiewak [sic].
Dale had been missing off the New Guinea town of Wewak since the end of November.
“We are hoping it’s true,” Dale’s sister Doris wrote her husband, “but can’t understand how she could have gotten details and names so well from a broadcast like that. Of course, we are hoping if Dale is a prisoner, he is in better hands than some are.”
Japan had signed the Geneva Convention, which provided rules for humane treatment of military prisoners of war, never ratified it so didn’t follow it. Allied airmen were especially mistreated after being shot down. They were beaten, many executed, and at least one was ceremoniously beheaded. Five American fliers who survived the crash of their B-25 off the coast of New Guinea the fall of 1943 had been bayoneted and beheaded.
“Mom is going to have the Perry Red Cross see if they can find out anything definite. Oh, Lord, I hope he’s all right.”
Two more letters about the short-wave message came from people in Seattle and Los Angeles. Now Wilsons were ready to believe that Dale was still alive.
“We are sure praying that he is still ok but four months is a long time to be a prisoner of Japan. Mom is writing to thank the people for notifying us and let them know we were the right people, as they all seemed about as skeptical as we were at first. Gosh, I hope we get word directly from him so we will be sure he is all right.”
From The Perry Daily Chief, April 4, 1944:
Jap Radio Says Dale R. Wilson Of Minburn, A Prisoner
Mr. and Mrs. Clabe D. Wilson of Minburn, whose son, Lieut. Dale Ross Wilson was reported missing in action in the Pacific war theatre some time ago, have heard that a Jap broadcast last week said Lieut. Wilson was a prisoner. According to messages to the Wilsons from several persons on the west coast who picked up the Jap short-wave broadcast, the enemy radio said Lieut. Wilson was rescued after his plane was shot down into the sea. The report added that he is a prisoner of war of the imperial Japanese army at Wewak, New Guinea. Mr. and Mrs. Wilson have received no official word, other than their son is missing.
“Honestly, Mom & Dad,” daughter-in-law Evelyn wrote, “I don’t know what to say about Dale. It is all so horrible. All we can do is hope and pray he is well. It is a dirty shame you raise such fine boys and then have to send them off to war. I was sick when I read Doris’s letter the other day. I shouldn’t have been shocked at hearing it because Del and Don thought all along he was a P.O.W. but it is different when you see it in black and white. Try and not worry too much. If there were only something we could do. There are going to be a lot of broken hearts, homes, and people when this awful mess is over. So keep your chins up, and don’t worry.”
Delbert added, “If only he could escape–and he may, too. If he would just use his head and not get too stubborn he will get his break. I know he will. All we can do is try and get word to him, pray, and hope. Let’s don’t let our minds dwell too much on what a Jap P.O.W. has to endure. He will make it and when we get him back–boy, we will fill him so full of wheat an’ milk.”
“It certainly is good news,” Danny Wilson wrote. “Dale is most certainly alive, but of the treatment he is getting, I would certainly question. Prisoners are given treatment and conditions according to the conqueror’s desire. Dale is one man who can take it, until he is rescued.
“Australian and U.S. forces are about 150 miles from Wewak, so Dale has a good chance of being rescued, if the Japs don’t move them out before then. We will probably drive up that coast, as Wewak has a pretty important base and airfield. If Dale is rescued, he will most certainly get to come home to the U.S.A. You will probably hear from or about Dale before long from American sources.”
At the end of the war in 1945, those POW letters kept his parents hoping as they listened to the radio day after day. The names of POWs being released in the Philippines and on Japan were being announced–day after day.
The Wilsons also learned that the family of one other crew member received letters from short-wave listeners–the navigator, John Stack.
Names of next of kin and addresses aren’t included on an airman’s dog-tags. Did the Japanese learn information from War Department telegrams to the families? I tried to find out more about this in the 1990s, but had no luck. Dale Wilson and John Stack were never officially named as POWs, but those letters from strangers gave their families hope.
But they were never heard from again.