Keeping the Lights On for Ike by Rebecca Daniels
Publisher: Sunbury Press, February 2019
Category: Memoir, History, Military, WWII, and Biography
Available in Print and ebook, 284 pages
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
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.
Guest Review by Laura Lee
The author of this book, Rebecca Daniels dedicated it to both of her parents and I can’t think of a more fitting tribute to two people who led such extraordinary lives.
In the 1930’s, two people, a man and a woman lived in the same town and attended the same high school without ever meeting each other. The two did not meet until college, when Alec, a reserved and quiet engineering student and Mary, a journalism major who longed to be a mother one day, were set up on a blind date by a mutual friend.
But, of course, every good story has to have a little heartbreak, and shortly after the pair were married, the United States entered World War II. Like so many men during that time, Alec was drafted into the war. But, rather than being sent to the front lines, he was sent to a position in a support troop. Being an electrical engineer and a member of the ROTC meant that Alec had a special set of skills that were best used in one of the many troops that provided support to the combat soldiers on the front lines of the war.
These troops covered things like administrative, logistical and infrastructure duties that made it so the soldiers in the trenches had an easier time staying alive. It’s a seldom talked about aspect of the war effort, and one that Rebecca Daniels covers beautifully not just from the perspective of a daughter but, through the usage of letters and cards between her parents from that time, from the perspective of Alec himself. Though Alec was not able to discuss much about his whereabouts or his work in the letters that he sent home to his new wife, his love for Mary was clear and it is through these letters that the narrative gains a very sweet and humanizing element.
I highly recommend this incredibly touching read! You can’t go wrong with this one! I give it 5 stars, more if I could.
Praise for Keeping the Lights on for Ike
“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
About the Author
Rebecca Daniels has been a university professor for many years who has also simultaneously had a vital creative career in the theatre. Throughout her career, her work has always been a mix of performance, teaching, and her own writing.
Her groundbreaking book on women directors and the effects of gender on their work is currently still in print [Women Stage Directors Speak: Exploring the Effects of Gender on Their Work, McFarland, 1996], and she has been published in several theatre-related professional journals over the years as well. After her retirement in the summer of 2015, she was finally able to focus all her energies on this book.
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