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The postcard read: “Your boy is alive!”

James MacMannis and his wife listen to their ham radio

James ‘Dad Mac’ MacMannis is believed to have sent as many as 33,000 postcards during World War II.

WEST PALM BEACH — Dad Mac sat in his living room and furiously scribbled the names the German propaganda machine rattled off. Names of GIs whose moms and dads and siblings and sweethearts in Florida and Iowa and Oregon. Loved ones who for weeks or months had wondered and worried and wrung their hands. Mac would fill out and address a postcard. It would say: Your boy is alive.

As World War II raged, and before and after D-Day, James L. MacMannis wrote as many as 33,000 postcards to families across America. After a while, people called him Dad.

At first, he said, he sent out just a few cards, and he got few responses.

“I was discouraged,” he told Palm Beach Evening Times Editor Tom Penick for a June 1944 column. “It was weeks before I heard from any of the folks I had written. Then they started.”

One parent wrote, “You are doing marvelous work. May God bless you.”

The date of Penick’s column was June 2, 1944. Neither he nor most of the country knew at the time that in four days, on June 6, the world would change

‘Keeping faith’

James L. MacMannis was a veteran of both the Army and Navy and both world wars. He’d been a barnstorming pilot in those first days of flight — a relative claimed he got America’s fourth-ever pilot’s license, something that couldn’t be independently verified — and taught pilots in World War I, when military aviation was in its infancy

He was a parachute jumper who later became an airplane inspector. He joined World War II via the Coast Guard in the Baltimore area.  Around 1943, he moved to West Palm Beach, believed to be about a block south of what’s now the Norton Museum of Art.

MacMannis did have a hobby: shortwave radio.

In August 1943, he tuned in to a Berlin station. Naturally, it was a propaganda broadcast by the Third Reich. Night after night, the feminine voice would rattle off each soldier’s name and serial number, along with messages the GI hoped would get back to their families in the U.S. The Berlin fräulein even gave the GI’s home address so that anyone listening could drop a line to the family that he was OK, at least relatively.

Whether the idea was to show how humane the Germans were or was a ploy to get parents to pressure the U.S. government to push for peace, only the Nazis could say.

But for Dad Mac, a light went on.

Ray Sherman

Every night at 7, Dad would settle into his rocking chair. He listened even when the static made broadcasts pretty much undecipherable. Some nights he would listen until dawn.

“He doesn’t dare leave because he fears he may miss some of the broadcast with the prisoners’ list,” Mary MacMannis said, “And he tries to get all.”

Some nights it was 20 names, some nights 60 or 80. One night he heard 157 names. Some nights, there was no list.

Dad Mac didn’t tell families everything. Sometimes the broadcast would impart that a boy had had both legs blown off or had bullets still lodged in his body.

“It’s enough to let them know that Berlin says they (soldiers) are alive and a POW,” MacMannis said.

He also worried at times if he was a dupe, forwarding details to desperate families about which the Nazi propaganda machine might be lying. He said he felt better when the War Department began verifying to him what he was hearing.

Once word got out about “Dad’s Listening Post,” others stepped up to help; fellow radio enthusiasts, the West Palm Beach fire chief, an assistant chief and a printing firm donated everything from radio parts to postcards. Dad Mac graduated from a small radio to a big receiver.

By January 1945, MacMannis estimated he’d heard 20,000 messages about American POWs and mailed out about 15,000 cards.

Life magazine got wind of him and ran a photo of Dad and Mary in their living room in front of a giant radio. That story quoted a total of 33,000 messages from POWs, including Canadians.

“War Prisoner Information,” Dad Mac’s cards said. “A free humanitarian service given by ‘Dad MacMannis’ Listening Post.′ ” And, “A veteran of both wars keeping faith with his buddies.”

“Howdy, folks,” one postcard quoted G.I. Ray Sherman. “I won’t be long. These Germans treat us mighty well. I will write you soon. Don’t worry. Love Ray.” The form was dated July 22; no year.

A search of databases shows a Ray J. Sherman, born in 1923, had enlisted in Milwaukee and served in the infantry in both the North African and Italian theaters before the Germans captured him at Anzio on Feb. 16, 1944.

Article located in the Palm Beach Post.

We spoke once before about the ham radio operators during WWII and the great job they did, read HERE!

Click on images to enlarge.

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Home Front Ham Radio Humor – 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Farewell Salutes – 

Anne Bertola – Rockland County, NY; US Army WAC, WWII

Arnold Fleischmann – Brn: GER/ MD; US Army, WWII, ETO, Eisenhower’s interpreter, POW, Col. (Ret.)

Roy Harsh – Lancaster, PA; US Navy, WWII, USS St. Paul

Joseph Murphy – Dedham, MA; US Navy, WWII, ETO

James Newmark – Chicago, IL; US Navy, WWII, Carrier pilot

Robert Parks – New Smyrna, FL; US Army Air Corps, WWII, PTO, HQ Co./2/187/11th Airborne Division

Louis Reeg – Galveston, TX; US Army Air Corps, WWII, 82nd Airborne Division

Peter Shymske – Seville, OH; US Army, WWII & Korea, 43/103 Infantry Division

Albert Vnencak – Whippany, NJ; USMC, WWII

Ernest Webb – Neodesha, KS; US Army Air Corps, WWII, medic

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Personal Note –  This is my 1000th post.  Yikes, I never would have believed it!!

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