The first book I picked up at the used book sale was rather old looking and in the loosely defined section of biography/history. It appealed to me because I had just seen a picture of a young Mamie and Dwight Eisenhower during their brief time in my city, plus I love reading old letters. I flipped through the pages, but put it down. After all I don’t like to read about war and times of war. Before I checked out I went back to this section just to make sure I hadn’t overlooked a treasure that I needed. I looked at the book again and decided that since it was only a dollar I should go ahead and give it a try. I’m glad I did as it was a good read.
Between June 23, 1942 and October 28, 1952 Ike wrote 319 handwritten letters to Mamie; she kept every one of them. In 1972 she gave them to her son, John S.D. Eisenhower, and told him to use them as he saw fit. In 1977 Letters to Mamie was published with John’s commentary on the events of the war interspersed among them. John edited the letters some to avoid tedious salutations and farewells, but otherwise are just as Ike wrote them. He was a “rigid censor” of his writings to Mamie even though because of his rank he could have written more details of his daily life and the events he was shaping as Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces. Even so, his letters convey his loneliness and frustration with the management of the war. The reader also sees him grow from a newly promoted colonel with no combat experience to a confident leader who was much loved by military personnel and civilians.
Through his gently written letters a different picture of the war emerges. Endless meetings that lasted long hours, phone calls, grueling trips on almost non-existent roads in freezing temperatures, exhaustion and sickness that have to be ignored, and waiting for news from the front when a major offensive was taking place. Of course, there was also the delicate negotiations required to keep peace among the different nations participating in the Allied force.Ike shied away from social obligations, leaving other officers to officiate in his place, but instead choosing to have a scotty pup and a few close officers as evening companions. He shared with Mamie that his greatest joy was reviewing the troops and being among them; often the troops had no idea he as coming and he delighted in their surprise at seeing him in the field with them.
John reminds the reader that at the time of the editing of the letters the world was just a little over 40 years from the end of World War II. That really gave me a startling time-perspective jolt. At that time I was just a young woman and it seemed that WWII had been a long time in the past, but in reality the world was still recovering. Now I know that 40 years wasn’t really that long ago. This 277 page book really isn’t as old as it looks, now is it?