Archive for Thursday, October 27, 2005

Letters from Ike

Lecturer gives insight into WWII correspondence

October 27, 2005

For some wives, no amount of letter-writing from their away-on-business husbands suffices.

The 319 letters to Mamie Eisenhower that Dwight D. Eisenhower wrote while he was a commander in Europe and Africa during World War II - an average of nearly two a week - apparently never satisfied the wife of the future president.

Area residents who attended "An American Soldier Writes Home: Letters to Mamie, 1942-1945" Saturday morning at the Lansing Historical Museum, 115 E. Kansas Ave., learned this and other interesting facts about the "private Ike" from Loren Pennington, an adjunct professor of history at Emporia State University. The lecture was sponsored by the Kansas Humanities Council, Leavenworth County Historical Society and Lansing Historical Society.

After a short introduction that included the history of the letters - they were only discovered in 1972, when Mamie pointed out the box that held them to her son John, three years after Eisenhower had died - Pennington read choice excerpts.

Pennington said the letters brought out qualities in the war general that were not so obvious in his public persona: his "Kansasness" and his continued affection for his wife.

"Ike was a Kansas hick," Pennington said of the longtime Abilene resident's sensibilities, most notably in his dislike of pomp and diplomatic hobnobbing. The letters also make it clear, Pennington said, that Eisenhower was a different person when the war ended than when it began.

The general's letters to his wife contained such effusive sentiment, Pennington said, they were sometimes "mushy." Eisenhower apparently didn't keep the letters that Mamie wrote him, Pennington said.

Another fact the 19 people who attended may have learned was that Eisenhower had been a prolific smoker, averaging 80 cigarettes a day, Pennington said.

He recounted an episode in which Ike offended a group of British officers at a dinner in London when he lit up before the customary, postprandial toast to the king, before which smoking was taboo.

After the lecture, Pennington took questions from the audience.

Kathy Huskey, vice president of Leavenworth County Historical Society, said, "I absolutely learned a lot" from Pennington's lecture.

"There's so much rich history in this state," Huskey said.

Verlin Tompkins, secretary for Lansing Historical Society, told Pennington after his presentation, "We enjoyed the show. We all have."

Tompkins said the society hopes to put on more of such events, after the museum will be moved to a larger, regional prisons museum and there will be more space to accommodate more people in the old depot building.

Also, Tompkins said, "With just lay people and volunteers, there's a limit to what you can do." The regional prisons museum will have a full-time director who will be an employee of the city of Lansing.

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