Five years ago, in a book called "Plain Speaking," Merle Miller claimed that Harry S. Truman told him that at the end of World War II, Gen. Eisenhower wrote a letter to Chief of Staff George Marshall, informing Marshall that he intended to divorce Mamie so he could marry his British driver, Kay Summersby. According to Miller, Marshall gave Ike hell for even thinking of such a thing and threatened to drum Ike out of the Army if he did get a divorce. Truman later destroyed the letter, according to Miller.
In 1975, Summersby herself published a book, "Past Forgetting: My Love Affair With Dwight D. Eisenhower," supplying details to support the Miller/Truman story.
The tale was nicely designed to titillate Washington gossips, but the truth seems to be exactly the opposite. Ike did write to Marshall about Mamie immedately after the German surrender, but he wrote twice, not once, and the letters still exist among his documents in Abilene, Kan., and will be published in the next volume of "Eisenhower Papers." What Ike wanted was Marshall's permission, not to divorce Mamie, but to bring her to live him in Europe. Marshall refused. The chief of staff believed that officers, even five-star generals, should not enjoy special privileges, and since enlisted men could not bring their wives to Germany, Mamie Eisenhower had to stay in the States.
Miller could have discovered these facts had he done more research, thus sparing Mrs. Eisenhower needless embarrassment; but now, thanks to John Eisenhower, there is a happy ending. With his mother's permission, he has published Ike's wartime letters to Mrs. Eisenhower in a lovely volume that adds much to our understanding of his father's personality, and not incidentally shows conclusively that Ike's love for Mamie never wavered, despite a 3 1/2-year separation. Although he had a man-killing schedule (in 1945 Ike wrote that he not been to the theater or a restaurants in three years, and in that time had taken only four days off), Ike wrote his wife twice a week or more. He hated to write by hand and dictated his entire correspondence, except these letters, every one of which was handwritten.
Ike grew great strength from Mamie. Time and again he confessed, "I need you," Closing his office door and spending an hour or so alone with Mamie, via these letters, was almost his only escape from his crushing responsibilities. They had been married for 25 years when the war started (and remained married for 24 more years after it ended). Like millions of other couples separated by the war, the Eisenhower desparately needed to feel they were still in touch. They were starved for details about each other's daily life - both complained constantly that the other was not writing often enough. When the mail was delayed, a frequently occurrence, they became sick with worry.
Most readers will be surprised to learn how good a writer Ike was. These are love letters - the hardest kind to write - of high quality. "I just get to scrawling along," he wrote in August 1942, "and hope you'll read between the lines - and over and around them to see that I realise more than ever how much you mean and have meant to me."
As John notes in his excellent introduction, these letters show his father growing into his job, gaining in self-confidence almost daily, expressing boyish delight at his promotions. They reveal, too, what a tough job he had. "The boss. . . has only one real confidante," Ike wrote, "his pillow, and only the underneath side of that! Loneliness is the inescapable lot" of the supreme commander. When the strain of loneliness became too great, Ike added, his mind instinctly turned to thoughts of Mamie.
In some ways it is perhaps a pity these letters had to be published. In 1970, when Alfred D. Chandler Jr., wrote the introduction to the "Isenhower Papers," he pointed out that the only items missing were Eisenhower's letter to his wife. Chandler commented that even a great man was entitled to that much privacy. I still think Chandler was right, but these charming letters do serve a real purpose in showing what a devoted couple Ike and Mamie were.