Robert B. Heer
Born: Dubuque, Iowa  (1921)

 - US Army Air Corps 19th Bombardment Group

Malaybalay (Mindanao), Karenko, Heito # 3,
   Taihoku #6, (Formosa),  Akabira (Japan)

Mr. Robert B. Heer has many memories from his POW days. Here is his essay on one memory that stood out.


Radio Messages Home??

In Mid February 1943 the Japanese commander at Karenko POW camp ordered we POWs to assemble in front of the building in which we were billeted. At this formation we were ordered to prepare a short message to our next of kin. He assured us they would be collected, sent on to Tokyo and there would be broadcast to our homeland. Because of previous Japanese behavior toward us no POW believed the messages would be radioed to our homeland let alone leave our camp for Tokyo. As of this date, it had been over one year since there had been any communication between my family and me.

The message I printed for this very unlikely broadcast from Tokyo read:

From Robert B. Heer
Age 20…Pvt. U.S. Army Air Corps
Captured at Malaybalay, Mindanao, P.I.
May 10, 1942

Here’s hoping this message finds you all well and happy. I am in the best of health and have not had any illness so far. I hope to write you again some day.  If possible send bar chocolate, candy, gum and playing cards to pass the time and pictures of family members.  Don’t forget the Red Cross.  Say hello to Arley and my friends.  I hope that if you have been worried about me this message will lighten your heart. I hope it will not be long until I see you again.

Love to all



After returning home in mid October 1945 (following the close of WWII) Charlotte my younger sister presented me with letters and postcards from Americans across the United States who had picked up my short message written while at Karenko.  All had been received stateside on March 27, 1943 by at least sixteen American short-wave radio enthusiasts.

My message was transmitted from radio station JLG-4 located in the heart of Tokyo.

It was dispatched early Saturday morning of March 27, 1943 by a small group of Allied POWs who had previously been coerced by members of Japan’s Psychological Warfare Department to read current war news favorable to Japan, play jazz and popular music and read messages prepared by allied POWs detained in other camps throughout the Japanese Empire.


Robert also has a very special memory of having his father, mother, sister and brother all joined the military so that they could contribute to ending the war quickly and bringing Robert home. Only the younger sister, who had a two-year-old daughter, did not serve.

His father joined the US Army in late 1942 at the age of 41. He was sent to the Middle East and helped deliver war supplies to Russia.  His mother at age 40, enlisted in September of 1943 in the Women's Auxiliary Army Corps and served in the European theater. His elder sister enlisted in May of 1942 and served as a radio operator and control tower specialist.  His young brother joined the US Navy in 1943 after graduating from high school and participated in the battle of Iwo Jima. They all returned home safely.

                father,  Earl                   mother, Bessie                 sister, Evelyn                 brother, James

It was not until Robert came home that he found out what the family had done for him.  Today, he is very proud of his family.

Sen. Patty Murray congratulates Mr. Heer after presenting him with the Purple Heart.
 (From her official website, 08/16/02)

After the war, his mother wrote to one of the short-wave radio enthusiasts, who had caught Robert's message to home. She wrote, “Robert doesn’t talk about his prison camp life, just seems to want to forget it." She added that Robert played two records, Don’t Fence Me In and Sentimental Journey over and over again after he got home.

Robert started his long journey home from this fenced POW camp in Akabira, Hokkaido Japan, where he was forced to work for Sumitomo Mines.

He recently shared his reflection with this website:

My feeling toward the Japanese people hasn’t changed since Harold Harada was a high school buddy of mine while living in Riverside, CA.  (1939-1940)  Harold's mother and father died in a relocation camp in Topaz, Utah.  Harold and an older brother were members of the U.S. 442nd Division in Europe.  Their unit was the most decorated of any other during WWII.

Most of Japanese who were in charge of the POW camps in which we were interned were avid followers of the Samurai or Bushido philosophies and we POWs quickly learned how to avoid them.  However there were some Japanese guards and many more Japanese civilians with whom we worked who were far more tolerant and even pleasant toward us during those long three and one half years as POWs.

Karen and Robert Heer

* The Zero Hour

Reading POW messages was part of the Japanese propaganda radio program, The Zero Hour, which was broadcast by Radio Tokyo (NHK). The most famous broadcaster for this program was “Orphan Ann,” often called “Tokyo Rose” by Allied soldiers in the Pacific.  Here are some of  her broadcasts.

Sometimes, messages were actually read by POWs. You can hear some messages read by Canadian POWs here: "Messages: Cardboard discs carry voice of POW in Japan"