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Dad's Message Recorded At War, A Gift Given Decades Later

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At 71, Margaret Ann Wolf Harris heard her father's voice for the first time in her adult life.

Her dad, Sgt. Cody Wolf, died in World War II when his plane was shot down over Germany on Jan. 11, 1944. But a couple of weeks before his death, he contributed to a Christmas broadcast, produced by war correspondents of the Maryland newspaper The Baltimore Sun.

Wolf recorded a message in which he mentioned his baby girl, Margaret Ann. Harris, who was 17 months old when her father was killed, heard the recording for the first time 70 years later when it was rebroadcast on NPR member station WYPR.

Wolf told the interviewer he'd been thinking a lot about Catonsville, home to his parents, wife and "my 16-month-old daughter, Margaret Ann."

"It was so wonderful," Harris tells NPR's Arun Rath. "And it was not a sad thing at all. It was just a wonderful experience to know that I could hear that voice and that my father said my name. That was the most poignant part."

The story of this unique reunion starts in The Baltimore Sun library. Researcher Paul McCardell was rummaging through the paper's library and found a black box, tied in rope. Inside the box were vinyl record albums.

"It was beautiful," says multimedia editor Steve Sullivan. "It was a pristine copy of this 1943 radio show."

The hour-long broadcast was like a time capsule — full of recordings from servicemen and Red Cross workers from the Mid-Atlantic region, who were stationed in England.

Determined to get the broadcast back on the radio, McCardell and Sullivan contacted Baltimore Sun columnist Dan Rodricks, who also hosts a show on WYPR. The station aired it on Dec. 20 and 24.

"It's kinda charming," says Rodricks. "And it's also a little bit chilling to think about. These men are 6-7 months away from the invasion of Europe, and many of them in the broadcast have been through several bombing missions over Germany."

Harris' father was one of more than 50 service members and aid workers to record a message to family members back home.

When she heard the broadcast, Harris contacted Sullivan and McCardell at The Sun via email. She wrote:

"I am the daughter of Sgt. Cody Wolf. Today I heard my father's voice for the very first time. You have sent me a very treasured Christmas present. There are no words to explain how I felt when I heard my father speak about me. I was only 17 months old when he was killed.

"I am 71 years old and today I was his 'Margaret Ann.' "

Before hearing the recording, she says, she'd never really imagined what his voice sounded like.

"And when I heard his voice, it was very typical of his family," Harris says. "It was very of the time — very calm and very reassuring voice. Kind of like the Jimmy Stewart/Gary Cooper era."

The recording is a treasure for the whole family.

"It's something I always knew, but to hear the voice — so wonderful," says Harris. "And my grandchildren heard the voice and my daughters, and they all heard my father speak, which was a terrific Christmas present for our whole family."

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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