Keeping the Lights On for Ike by Rebecca Daniels
Publisher: Sunbury Press,
Category: Memoir, History, Military, WWII, and Biography
Tour Dates June and July, 2020
Available in Print and ebook,
Description Keeping the Lights On for Ike by Rebecca DanielsDaily Life of a Utilities Engineer at AFHQ in Europe During WWII; or, What to Say in Letters Home When You're Not Allowed to Write about the War Most people don’t realize that during the war in Europe in the 1940s, it took an average of six support soldiers to make the work of four combat soldiers possible. Most of what’s available in the literature tends toward combat narratives, and yet the support soldiers had complex and unique experiences as well. This book is based on personal correspondence, and it is primarily a memoir that creates a picture of the day-to-day realities of an individual soldier told in his own words [as much as he could tell under the wartime rules of censorship, that is] as well as giving insight into what it was actually like to be an American soldier during WWII. It explores the experiences of a non-combat Army utilities engineer working in a combat zone during the war in Europe and takes the protagonist from basic training through various overseas assignments—in this case to England, North Africa, and Italy as a support soldier under Eisenhower and his successors at Allied Force Headquarters. It also includes some reflections about his life after returning to Oregon when the war was over. The soldier involved is Captain Harold Alec Daniels [OSU, Class of 1939, ROTC] and most of the letters were written to his wife, Mary Daniels [attended U of O in the late 1930s]. They are the author's parents, and she inherited the letter collection, photos, and all other primary source materials after her mother’s death in 2006.
Praise Keeping the Lights On for Ike by Rebecca Daniels“The book moves swiftly along, while at the same time capturing the frustration of their prolonged separation. The historical timeline provides just the right bit of historical context to these war years behind at the tail of the army. This is not the typical WWII combat book.”- The Montague Reporter “The lack of military detail — the focus on everyday life and on the relationship between Alec and Mary — ends up being one of the book’s greatest assets. Many works of history detail the story of great battles. Fewer dwell on individual wartime experiences. The book is also strengthened by the affection expressed in Alec’s relatively inarticulate yet moving letters to his wife on the home front.”- Tinky Weisblat, Greenfield Recorder, author of “The Pudding Hollow Cookbook,” “Pulling Taffy,” and “Love, Laughter, and Rhubarb” “Carefully researched history and a beautiful remembrance of one soldier’s letters home. A poignant and personal look into the lives of two very private people and an extraordinary first hand example of why it’s called the Greatest Generation. In detail and in truly first class research one is left with the sense that they know these two people very well. Not only is this a well written historical account of World War II, it is a touching and gentle love story from a remarkable author with a most deft touch and turn. Got five stars from me. So worth it.”-W. Richards, Amazon “This book made me feel almost like I was right there with Alec and Mary as they experienced that time of their lives. My parents, being the same age, also had a similar experience and I thought of them as I read every word. The author cleverly brought to life their story and for that I shall be forever grateful.”- Sunbury Press Reader Review
Excerpt from Chapter 8:
Daily Life in Algiers During the Tunisian Campaign (March—May 1943)
He also told Mary about his French teacher, who had become a good friend:
My French teacher’s fiancé was reported missing a month ago and she thought he was dead, but when I went down for my lesson Friday night she had just received a cable from Switzerland that he had been taken prisoner and released to the custody of a relative he had in France. She was so excited that she vibrated just like you did that day when I came to see you in Eugene and you, crazy kid, went walking along the tracks when you had such a bad cold you should have been in bed. I wonder if all women vibrate when they think about men they love. Perhaps you could enlighten me on that subject. Of course, I know you said get a homely teacher, but I didn’t know any homely ones. This one works as an interpreter in a lot of the dealings that I have with the French is how it all came about, and I can assure you that all I do is study French [March 1943].
Alec in his jeep in Algiers.
It seemed Alec took a fair bit of ribbing from his American Army buddies about his glamorous-looking teacher. Occasional references in various letters made it clear that the other GIs thought he was nuts to acknowledge her beauty to his wife. In fact, Alec even sent Mary a picture of the teacher with some of his other buddies, which he hoped would prove both to her and to any others that he truly had eyes for no one but his beloved. He also regularly reported on what his teacher said in response to Mary’s comments about her, which is definitely not something a man would do who was hiding anything. Curiously, both women seem to be a bit nervous about his openness, even though he probably thought he was being reassuring when he updated Mary on how his lessons were going:
Your new French book looks to me to be just the thing that I need as what I have to learn most is conversation. I told my French teacher what you said about me getting a lovely teacher, and she was a little concerned about whether you would approve of her. It’s just like a woman, that is being vain, or is that what they say about men? I really don’t know. Anyway I have now gotten to the point where I can ask directions in French and get an understandable answer. The process is simple. I say “Ou (est) la ---?” and watch the policeman’s finger, drive a ways and repeat, and eventually I arrive at my destination. Very simple the French language, isn’t it? [March 20, 1943]
He also added a little romance to his French lesson references to show her exactly where his heart lay: “Let’s hope I don’t have time to learn perfect French but get to take lessons in perfect love from you. You see, wif, in that subject you are an adept teacher, for your pupil just comes back for more and more learning. The preliminary course you gave me was very good, the graduation was excellent, but it’s the postgraduate course that means so much. Wif, what I want is a DLL degree (doctor of legal love) from you” [March 1943]. He eventually even enlisted Mary’s help in finding a wedding gift for his teacher and her fiancé once he was able to return to Algiers:
I was going to ask you to send me something that would be good for a wedding present, as my French teacher’s fiancé is coming back, and they will probably be married soon. It seems that he escaped from France to Spain and will be back as soon as the necessary arrangements can be made for his release from Spain. Perhaps you wonder just how much French that I know. Well, it isn’t very much but it is quite a help at times. One of the men heard me talking in French over the telephone and said he would give a hundred dollars just to be able to do that, but what he didn’t know was that I was just talking in phrases and that the Frenchman was doing all the talking. Maybe when I go to some other place I will have to learn their language. The trouble is that I don’t study enough. It wouldn’t take long to learn a language for talking if one would just spend a little time at it and not lie down and go to sleep every evening [June 11, 1943].
Alec and some of his French friends, including his French
teacher and probably his friend, Joe, the engineer.
teacher and probably his friend, Joe, the engineer.
This mention of constantly falling asleep when he should have been studying his French lessons was a regular theme for most of the spring of 1943. It’s in reference to what he characterized as his laziness that he also started to hint at one of the medical problems that had been bothering him, a mystery ailment afflicting his eyes that made it hard to read when he was tired. His doctors didn’t seem to be able to identify or help with the problem. He reminded her it had been going on for several years, even before his time in the Army, and he hoped someone would figure out what was wrong soon, so it was probably not a typical vision challenge, such as near or far-sightedness. Eyestrain such as he described could be caused by stress or fatigue, so it’s possible that his discontent at the shipyards, followed by the stresses of entering into active duty in the Army, and then being sent overseas, plus the fatigue of having seven-day-a-week duty were mostly to blame for his eye problems, but it’s also possible that the eye problem was an early manifestation of rheumatoid arthritis, an immune-system disorder that would plague him in his later years.[i] He also told her that because of his eye problem, he didn’t read much anymore for pleasure, excepting her letters, of course. By now, the mail service was more or less regular, and he thought he might be mostly caught up with her letters, though probably with a few still missing.
[i] Arthritis Foundation online, s.v. “Rheumatoid Arthritis,” accessed 9 March 2017, http://www.arthritis.org/about-arthritis/types/rheumatoid-arthritis/symptoms.php
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Keeping the Lights on for Ike: Daily Life of a Utilities Engineer at AFHQ in Europe During WWII; or, What to Say in Letters Home When You're Not Allowed to Write about the War is a great read. I liked getting a personal account of what living during the World War II was like. It was interesting to find out what couples endured during war. I loved reading the love story between Mary and Alec. It was sweet and beautiful to read some of their letters. Seeing their pictures was another plus.
I give Keeping the Lights on for Ike a very well deserved five plus stars. I recommend it for readers who want to get a glimpse of life during the World War II.
I received this book from the publisher. This review is 100% my own honest opinion.