www.baltimoresun.com/features/bs-ae-fathers-voice-20131227,0,6270747.story

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At 71, finally hearing her father's voice

Reairing of Sun broadcast reconnects daughter to turret gunner killed in WWII

By Susan Reimer, The Baltimore Sun

6:58 PM EST, December 27, 2013

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She is 71 years old, and she has no memory of his voice. But that was her father on the recording, and he called her his "Margaret Ann."

She was glad she was alone when she heard him speak, she said. It was just such a surprise. His voice was so clear, he sounded so much like the rest of his Catonsville family. He spoke slowly and gently. He sounded calm.

Sgt. Cody L. Wolf, a turret gunner, died when his plane was shot down over Germany on Jan. 11, 1944. It was just weeks after his holiday greeting had been recorded as part of a 1943 Sunpapers Christmas Show produced by the newspaper's war correspondents in England.

Margaret Ann Wolf Harris was just 17 months old.

"I have all the pictures and all the mementos, but they were like a silent movie to me," said the retired teacher, who still lives in her grandparents' Prospect Avenue house, where she and her mother moved when her father was called up.

"Now I have his voice," she said after hearing that Christmas show, rebroadcast last week for the first time — after 70 years — on WYPR-FM and on baltimoresun.com.

Earlier this year, Baltimore Sun research librarian Paul McCardell discovered a package from the publisher's vault, unopened for decades. It contained a pair of reddish vinyl recordings of a wartime holiday broadcast from England that featured more than 50 soldiers and women in the Red Cross from the Mid-Atlantic region.

The Sun arranged to have the recordings converted to digital and worked with students and faculty at Stevenson University to locate survivors, family members and any information about what became of the men and women in the broadcast.

The project was completed in time for a 70th anniversary broadcast on "Midday with Dan Rodricks" on Dec. 20.

"A friend came to dinner that Friday night and told me I had to listen, that my father was on that broadcast," said Harris. "But it didn't really sink in.

"Then a cousin called and said I had to listen to it, and he gave me the link." She sat down at her computer Saturday morning, alone, and listened.

"Then he said my name, and it was a shock," she said. "How many times do you hear your father say your name? I never had."

Harris then sent an email of gratitude to McCardell and multimedia editor Steve Sullivan at The Sun.

"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.' "

She remembers the family talking about the broadcast years later, and how astonished they were that Wolf had been chosen to send his greetings.

"He'd only been in England a couple of weeks," she said. "My uncle told my mother they would never pick him, not when there were guys who had flown 28 combat missions and had been there for two or three Christmases."

"I've been thinking a lot about Catonsville," Wolf tells the host of the broadcast. The conversations were scripted in advance for security reasons, so he sounds a little formal.

"My parents and my wife and our 16-month-old daughter, Margaret Ann."

In an article that ran in The Sun after the broadcast, Harris' mother said she was thrilled to hear her husband's voice. "He sounded so good," she said. Margaret Ann, she told the reporter, had been busy babbling to her father's picture during the broadcast.

Cody Wolf was the oldest boy among five children of Lee and Ida Wolf, who had settled in Catonsville in 1927. He earned a degree in architecture from Maryland Institute and was working in the burgeoning Catonsville building industry.

He first laid eyes on Immaculata Beccio when he and some friends spotted her with her sister, Anna, while cruising the streets of Catonsville. They offered the girls a ride and Immaculata, known as Emma, said no. But Anna lied and said she knew the boys, and they hopped in the car.

"They dated for what was a long time back then," said Harris. She remembered her mother's words: "My father said you have to know a woman during every season before you married her."

Harris was just 2 months old when her father was drafted. The little family packed up their apartment and moved into the home where the Beccio family had lived since 1939. Emma and her baby visited Wolf during his training in Mississippi. She thinks she was about 6 months old when he came home on furlough and brought her a giant teddy bear he'd won in a poker game.

"When the telegram [informing the family of his death] arrived at the door, all of Catonsville already knew. That's how it was then," said Harris. Emma Wolf had married at 23 and was widowed at 25. She and her daughter never moved out of the family home. And she never remarried.

"My mother used to say all the men around her seemed too old to date," remembered Harris. "Her life had stopped when my father died at 29. They had only been married 21/2 years. And they had been so happy."

Harris' husband, Bill, said the tragedy of World War II touched almost every family, and it never really left them.

"I feel like her mother was sad all of her life," said Bill Harris, who is retired from Johns Hopkins Hospital, where he was manager of customer service.

Margaret Ann received $33 a month in government benefits, and her mother got a small check, too. They were lucky to have family to take them in, her mother told her. If Emma had remarried or taken a job, her half of the benefits would have been withdrawn, said Margaret Harris, who would eventually earn a teaching degree and a master's degree under her father's GI benefits.

Harris was 6 years old before her father's body was returned from Germany to be buried in Baltimore National Cemetery. Her mother died at 61 and is buried next to him, not far from where their daughter still lives.

She and Bill Harris have two daughters, Amy Birdsall, who lives in New Jersey with her husband and two children, and Maria Sigala, who lives in California with her husband and two children. She called her daughters right away and told them there was something she wanted them to hear.

"We were out running around, shopping for Christmas," Birdsall said. "I felt like we had to sit down and listen to this as a family. Now my children have heard their great-grandfather's voice, a voice I never heard.

"I told my mother, 'Well, I guess everything we got you for Christmas will pale by comparison.' "

"I heard him call my name, and that is something special," said Harris. "I could hear the pride in his voice.

"My mother used to tell me that when everybody else's father couldn't be with them, that mine could be with me because he would always be at my side. And I believed it.

"But I never imagined him talking to me. There was no voice to hear. Now I have an image I didn't have and there are things I can imagine that I never could before.

"Now I have his voice."

susan.reimer@baltsun.com

twitter.com/SusanReimer