Keeping the Lights On for Ike by Rebecca Daniels
Publisher: Sunbury Press, February 2019
Category: Memoir, History, Military, WWII, and Biography
Tour Dates June and July, 2020 | ISBN: 978-1620061145
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
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“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
Q.: In what ways has writing affected other aspects of your life?
A.: Though I have only recently started referring to myself as primarily an author, writing has been in integral part of my professional and person life for as long as I can remember. In fact, one could say that writing has affected all aspects of my life to one degree or another, and those aspects have helped define what I wrote about and when. I expect the fact that my mother was an aspiring journalist and creative writer had a lot of unconscious influence on my love of writing from an early age.
I wrote my first “book” in elementary school. It was quite short, elaborately illustrated, and it was about a burro. Our family had recently traveled to Mexico where my mother got the idea that we should have a burro for a family pet, and though we didn’t actually come home with a burro, I thought that was a story worth sharing. Further, I had fun doing it, and I expect I enjoyed the praises from my teacher for doing something that hadn’t been formally assigned to the whole class.
My next serious writing projects were all angst-driven teen and young adult poems, a few original songs, and one fully produced choreopoem performance with a group of fellow actors, all of which were significant creative and emotional outlets for me during high school and college. Interestingly, though I loved writing as a form of expression, I was never a dedicated journal writer, having decided at some point, and for reasons I don’t really remember any more, that my day-to-day middle-class suburban life was probably not interesting enough to document in prose. However, I was a prolific letter-writer, and people didn’t always have to be at a distance to get letters from me.
After college, my theater degree didn’t put me on the fast track for any big money jobs, and when I was accepted to grad school in acting in New York City, they didn’t offer scholarships to anyone in the first year, so I couldn’t afford to go for more training. I embarked on a series of interesting jobs, some in the arts and some just to make money to live on, but it soon became clear to me that communication, whether spoken or written, was going to become important in anything I was going to do in my adult life.
After a series of “day jobs” to pay the rent while I tried to make a life as an actor/singer, I started a theater company with a group of other like-minded artists. Keeping that company running took a fair bit of writing in addition to the creative/performative work I was doing. As the producing director of the company and its primary stage director in the early years, I did a little bit of all kinds of writing: publicity materials (press releases, brochure copy, program notes, etc.), audition announcements, manuals for administrative support functions, grant proposals, and more. I also started adapting children’s books for the stage as part of our children’s theater program.
From that point on, I saw good narrative writing as a given for any job in arts management and theater production; it was simply what I needed to do to get the job done. If we wanted the theater to do well, the writing had to be descriptive and persuasive, to bring in the audiences as well as other kinds of support. Though I left the company after eight years to return to school for two advanced degrees (MFA, PhD), the company is now one of the oldest (almost 40 years of continuous operation until the pandemic shut it down temporarily nearly three months ago) and has become one of the most highly regarded live theatres in Portland, OR. I like to think that my early leadership and general writing ability helped set the company on the road to success all those years ago.
I went back to graduate school in my late 30s, and writing became very central to this endeavor. Who knows how many thousands of words I wrote while working on my MFA, followed shortly thereafter by a PhD program. My doctoral dissertation, revised for a broader audience, eventually became my first published book, Women Stage Directors Speak. My next career step was teaching at the college level, and writing became part of my teaching duties, not just as a professor of theater but also as part of an interdisciplinary first year program. Our goal was to help young college students develop the skills to express themselves—both orally and in writing—in cogent, knowledgeable ways in a variety of disciplines. My university provided a lot of training in how to teach writing and speaking, and in learning how to be a better educator, I became a better writer as well.
In the early years of my teaching career I decided to try play-writing as a creative writing discipline. Though I’d never studied play-writing in grad school (my focus was on directing and theory), I’d certainly read and been involved with many plays over the years, and I knew what I liked. I also had a main character I was very passionate about, an American woman composer from the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The Famous Mrs. Beach was given both a full academic production with student actors (2002) and a professional staged reading (2003), though it never did get a full professional run. I continue to have a strong interest in play-writing and have been working in collaboration with a colleague for several years on a re visioning of the story of Penelope, wife of Odysseus, entitled Weaving Penelope.
I have now taught writing at the college level for almost 30 years, so you could say that writing in various genres strongly influenced all aspects of my teaching for those decades, and I was and still am a committed communicator via letter writing, though that impulse is now mostly expressed through extensive email correspondences, both professional and personal. When I retired from teaching, I started a new kind of writing: creative non-fiction and memoir.
After my parents died, I inherited all the materials (letters, stories, slides, scrapbooks) that eventually became Keeping the Lights on for Ike, and during the time I was working on the WWII book, I documented my four-year search for genetic antecedents in extensive email correspondence. Those “notes” became my next book, Finding Sisters, which will be released by Sunbury most likely in early 2021. After that, who knows? Frankly, I’m not sure what I would do if I couldn’t write, but though I’ve started a monthly blog on my author’s website (writing about my own writing adventures), I still don’t journal regularly...
About Rebecca Daniels
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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