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Keeping the Lights on for Ike: 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

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284 pages, Paperback

Published February 18, 2019

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About the author

Rebecca Daniels

3 books7 followers
Rebecca Daniels (MFA, PhD) taught performance, writing, and speaking in liberal arts universities for over 25 years, including St. Lawrence University in Canton, NY, from 1992-2015. She was the founding producing director of Artists Repertory Theatre in Portland, OR, and directed with many professional Portland theatre companies in the 1980s. She is the author of the groundbreaking Women Stage Directors Speak: Exploring the Effects of Gender on Their Work (McFarland, 1996, 2000) and has been published in multiple professional theatre journals.

After her retirement from teaching, she began her association with Sunbury Press with Keeping the Lights on for Ike: 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 (2019), a book based on her father’s letter home from Europe during WWII.

She had always known she was adopted, but it was only as retirement approached, and with a friend’s encouragement, that she began the search for her genetic heritage through DNA testing. Finding Sisters: How One Adoptee Used DNA Testing and Determination to Uncover Family Secrets and Find Her Birth Family (Sunbury Press, 2021) explores how DNA testing, combined with traditional genealogical research, helped her find her genetic parents, two half-sisters, and other relatives in spite of being given up for a closed adoption at birth.

She is currently working on a new memoir about her late-in-life second marriage and sudden widowhood called Adventures with the Bartender: Finding and Losing the Love of My Life in Six Short Years.

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Displaying 1 - 16 of 16 reviews
Profile Image for Bonnie DeMoss.
764 reviews85 followers
June 17, 2021
Rebecca Daniels shares the letters, thoughts, and memories of her parents, Alec and Mary Daniels, mostly during the time when her father was serving in Europe during World War II. Accompanying each letter or story from her parents, Daniels provides the rich history of what was going on in the war, the country, and/or the military at that time. The history is well researched, and the letters of her parents are an interesting look at what it was like to write letters that they knew were going to go through a censor.

The importance of letters and the post office in general really resonated with me as well. In this day of smartphones, Facetime, and quick emails, few people really think about hand-written letters, but they were the lifeline of families during WWII. Both the soldiers and the families waited hopefully for the post, and when it finally came, drank in the only communication with their loved ones they may have had in weeks or even months.

One of the most poignant quotes for me came from Daniels' father about the nature of war. I myself have never been in a war zone and would not presume to know what it is like, but his words rang true for me. When talking about a Christmas celebration during the war in December 1942, he said: "...The dinner was a great success and everyone forgot their trouble for a moment and had a grand old time. You see, Mary, a war isn't all that you think it might be. You just have to be in one to understand how people live almost as they would if no war existed, except for short periods of extreme activity." Of course, he couldn't put anything more descriptive than "extreme activity," or it likely would have been censored.

The letters and snippets of stories from Mary Daniels showed a woman of deep thought with real writing talent. I am the spouse of a retired military member, and when Mary described what it was like living near a Navy yard, that instantly brought me back to my own time living on military bases, and my own visits to Navy shipyards. Mary's writings that were provided show she had a talent for connecting with the reader.

This is a well-researched and interesting memoir, and really provides a window of what things were like for World War II era couples, separated for so long but trying to keep the lines of communication open.

This is a great tribute from Rebecca Daniels to her parents, and a thoughtful history of what life was like at that time.

I downloaded the book on Kindle Unlimited, where subscribers can borrow it for free. I also received a PDF from the author. My review is voluntary and my opinions are my own.
Profile Image for Teddy.
526 reviews64 followers
July 14, 2020
“I married a hero,” one of Mary Daniels letters begins, and another states: “According to Life [Magazine], the engineers are the ELITE of the army. I'd rather he'd be in the finance corps.”

Such letters being sent to a young wife's family members in 1941 were probably not all that uncommon. After all, World War II was raging, Japan had just recently bombed Pearl Harbor and countless men had been drafted to fight on the front lines. Many a wife was left at home, missing her husband and praying for his safety. But the situation with Mary's husband was just a little bit different.
You see, Alec Daniels was not fighting in the trenches but he was battling against the Nazis in a slightly different capacity.

Alec was a support officer, a soldier who was in charge of maintaining the infrastructure, administration and logistical aspects of the war effort. As an electrical engineer, Alec's job was, as the title suggests literally “keeping the lights on.” As the memoir says, these support troops were an enormous part of the war that is often overlooked and not talked about.

Because of the delicate nature of Alec's work, he could only relay so much in his letters home, so he focused more on his thoughts and feelings about his work than any specific details. Many of the letters between Mary and Alec are used in the memoir and they add such a lovely element of realness that really makes the book sing.

Reading their thoughts from that time in their own words, along with the beautiful black and white pictures used throughout the memoir made this book a home run for me. A timeless story about love and war, 'Keeping the Lights on for Ike' is one to be read and read again.
Profile Image for Bookgirl86.
113 reviews15 followers
June 27, 2020
'Keeping the Lights on for Ike' is a memoir that you won't regret picking up.
Rebecca Daniels digs into the story of her parents life together and of her father's wartime service in World War II with a relish and sincerity that both touch the heart and thrill the spirit.
I can never get enough of memoirs. Every time I read one I feel like I'm getting a secret little window into a different world. And this one was no exception.
Daniels' writes about her parents with the gentleness and thoroughness that can only be brought by someone who knew them personally. And, after reading this book I feel like I know them personally, too.
So let me tell you about them. Alec and Mary Daniels' met in the late 1930's while attending college together at the University of Oregon. After being set up by a mutual friend, they discovered that they had attended the same high school but never met during that time. Almost immediately after they met they fell in deep love and were married a short while later.
But, the course of true love never did run smooth and soon after their marriage, America was drawn into World War II by the bombing of Pearl Harbor.
Alec was drafted into the war, but not to serve on the front lines. As an electrical engineer and member of the ROTC, Alec became a utilities engineer, a soldier whose job it was to maintain electrical systems on the war front.
The book mentions early on that for every four combat soldiers in the European theater there were another six support troops responsible for administrative, logistical and infrastructure support.
This was a fascinating read and I learned so much about the war from reading along with Alec and Mary's correspondence. I'm so glad that Rebecca Daniels decided to share this wonderful story.
Profile Image for Linda.
41 reviews
June 21, 2020
“In the European Theater of World War II, for every four combat soldiers, there were approximately another six support troops who provided administrative, logistical, and infrastructure support. This is the story of one of those support troops.”

A stunning memoir about love, hope, and family, 'Keeping the Lights on For Ike,' by Rebecca Daniels checks all of the boxes that a good story should. It has all of the romance and drama of a feature film, and the best part is, it's real. Daniels tells the story of her parents, Alec and Mary Daniels, who met in college and married in 1941, just before America was pulled into World War II via the bombing of Pearl Harbor. Being in the ROTC led Alec to be called to join the war effort as a Utilities Engineer, a position that, while it wasn't on the front lines of the battle, was still just as vital to keeping the combat soldiers safe in the trenches.

Alec's story is retold using his extensive correspondence with his wife, all of which was kept by Mary for 65 years until her death. As well as the beautiful photos included in the book, the correspondence paints the picture of a loving husband and an intelligent man who felt strange being so far from home for so long. Of course, Alec could not relay everything about his job, as much of what he did was technically needed to be kept secret from the enemy. Reading his carefully worded letters is fascinating.

This memoir is a sweeping, grandiose story that completely wrapped me up and took me away. Daniels' writing was as lovely as it was detailed. It can be twice as difficult to construct a narrative within a memoir, as the author has to stay truthful to what happened above all else, but Daniels' nailed it and this book is a testament to her talent.
54 reviews5 followers
June 25, 2020
Not many times does one get to read a war memoir all enveloped in stunning themes of love and hope. Rebecca Daniels has gone ahead to offer readers this chance through her incredible work, 'Keeping the Lights on for Ike', with the help of her parents letters to each other and photos during WWII.
While many battles have ravaged the world there is always a great deal about World War II. However, with many authors being fixated on the battlefront and the heroes of the day Rebecca takes us through the life of a soldier working as a utility engineer during the war. The soldier who also happens to be the author's father gives some incredible insight into what it entails being an American soldier, who worked behind the scenes during the war all done through letters he sends to his wife back home.
The read which is delivered in searing detail through blending some good wartime letters with some wonderful photos tells of a story of the behind the scene heroes of the war. This memoir is just beautifully written allowing the reader to hover between wartime through her father's stories and love and hope back home through the author's mother’s short stories and scrapbooks. A sweeping grandiose memoir complete with intimately drawn details both in the context of war and back home thus renders Rebecca Daniels a towering authority in this genre. Truly enlightening and gratifying and highly recommendable!
2 reviews
June 7, 2020
Rebecca Daniels, has done her part in telling the story of her parents strong bonding, their loyalty and love during the World War II in her new book, “Keeping the Lights on for Ike” . Daniels firmly focuses on the love and devotion that can supply hope during wartime. Daniels offers a detailed account of her parents’ sustained relationship during her father Alec’s participation in WWII.
She emphases on her parents, Alec and Mary Daniels, from their very first meeting in their college in the 1930s to their marriage and over Alec’s deployment as an engineer in England, Algeria, and Italy during the war.
The book is based on letters (mostly from Alec to Mary back home), photographs, mementos, and military documents to give a sense of what was like for both partners in this very close marriage as war separated them apart physically for three years.

Daniels remembered that her mother would unearth wartime letters from her father and also photographs, mostly in slide form.
“Both of my parents were avid amateur photographers,” she noted.
“Maybe the memories were too hard or maybe they thought no one would be interested,” mused Daniels.
Daniels transcribed the letters—a painstaking process, she remembered, particularly in light of her father’s terrible scrawl. “If you think doctors have bad handwriting, you should see an engineer’s!” she exclaimed. Happily, her father typed most of his wartime letters.
Having spent her career as a professor of theater at St. Lawrence University in northern New York State, Daniels originally thought she would turn her parents’ story into a play but eventually decided against that approach.
This is the story of a support soldier, not a soldier in the combat zone. ... I didn’t want to impose a dramatic structure on it,” she explained.
“They said, ‘There’s a beautiful, moving story in here. Tell it,’” she recalled.
The book in its final form shadows Alec through his military duties as much as it can, given the restrictions imposed on soldiers about revealing the details of their war work.
The lack of military detail in her parent’s letters shows their loyalty and commitment to their homeland. Alec focuses on everyday life and on the relationship between Alec and Mary. The book is also important because it tells the story of a soldier who worked in support. According to Daniels, support troops outnumbered their combat counterparts, four to six. Their story is under-told, and “Keeping the Lights on for Ike” helps correct that issue.
The book is also strengthened by the affection expressed in Alec’s relatively inarticulate yet moving letters to his wife on the home front.
Rebecca Daniels has utilized her energy to write this delightful book about her parents, their love, their lives and their painful separation during WWII. She really loved and admired her parents.
Profile Image for Bettybee306.
32 reviews
June 17, 2020
Who doesn't love to hear a good parent’s first meeting story? I think many of us secretly think that our parents had the most romantic first meeting, but Rebecca Daniels may have us all beat. 'Keeping the Lights on For Ike,' opens with the story of how Daniels' parents attended the same high school, but never actually met until a mutual friend set them up on a date in college. Sparks flew, and the two were married only a short while later. But, as romantic a story as that is, this is not just a book about people meeting and falling in love. Daniels' parents married in 1941, which, of course, means that very shortly after they married, her father, Alec was drafted into World War II. In all of human history, there may never have been a war as fascinating and strange as the Second World War. I, personally, never get tired of reading stories set in and around World War II for this reason. There are just so many stories that came out of it!

'Keeping the Lights on for Ike' is an in-depth look at the life of a soldier working as a utilities engineer during World War II, told through the eyes of his daughter. Daniels' not only relays her father's story through her own words, but through the use of the prolific correspondence between her parents during the time that he was away. The use of these letters gives the book a wonderfully personal and appealing touch, almost as if you are peering over the couples' shoulders as they read. I can't imagine a more fitting legacy to leave on this planet then to have your daughter write such a moving and beautiful book about your life. Between the correspondence and the black and white pictures included in the book, I really got the feeling that I knew Rebecca’s parents myself. A thrilling read and one that I highly recommend!
32 reviews5 followers
June 3, 2020
Review by Amwoma Ngoge

In a story told of war, one will naturally anticipate bombings and shootings with death playing a key role in shaping the plot of the story. However, Rebecca Daniels’ story speaks the opposite. Based on the love life of her parents during World War two, Daniels’ gives a story, one of true love and hope in times of hopelessness and desperateness.

Keeping the Lights on for Ike is a recreation of her father’ s experiences and the efforts he made with his wife Mary to keep their love burning over the three years he was away from home. Daniels uniquely recreates this story through the love letters her father sent home will servicing the allied forces in Europe and North Africa as well as family conversations and photos.

Typical of all personal accounts about the war, the story tells about love and a deep longing to get back home. It is devoid of actual military encounters which can partly be explained by the military bureaucracy and censorship that guided and constrained officers from reporting such accounts.

What makes this piece so interesting to read is perhaps the way Daniels recollects pictorial fragments and artistically places them into the historical context of World War II. Besides coming out as a family memoir, through her story, we get a foretaste of military bureaucracy, racial segregation and tensions including such issue harried and poor training of African Americans and above all the experiences of American support soldiers meeting new people, places, cultures and languages during World War II.

Author 1 book231 followers
June 28, 2020
This is the story of two people in love. It is romantic, sensual, and sometimes is red-faced embarrassing. This could be anyone's story...maybe...but it isn't. This is the story of two people who were kept apart for four years by World War II.

Mary and Alec are the prime characters in this true story that is told through their letter writing throughout the war. Gaps and historical references are filled in by their daughter but some is left untold due to the censorship at the time.

Their story is sweet as Alec's love for his beloved Mary is noted throughout the whole book. Alec tells of his faithfulness to her but also his severe loneliness. He tells of irritations of a war gone on too long and of people who were sometimes not so pleasant to work with. Photos are spread throughout the book of places he visited as well as the couple themselves, each continents away.

Alec, although a non-combat officer, (he was close to the battles)gives a clear picture of what life was like for those who had to support the combat troops and clean up after war ravaged the countries. His words reflected Mary's frustrations of American wives who were left at home to carry on and hope in wait for their military families.

The author did a fabulous job of depicting her parent's love which endured for years and giving accurate history. This book is a great read with a different perspective.

5 stars

Disclosure: I was given a copy of this book to review. The opinions expressed here are 100% my own and may differ from yours. ~Michelle
5,340 reviews
July 5, 2020
Keeping the Lights on for Ike: 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 is a great read. I liked getting a personal account of what living during the World War II was like. It was interesting to find out what couples endured during war. I loved reading the love story between Mary and Alec. It was sweet and beautiful to read some of their letters. Seeing their pictures was another plus.

I give Keeping the Lights on for Ike a very well deserved five plus stars. I recommend it for readers who want to get a glimpse of life during the World War II.

I received this book from the publisher. This review is 100% my own honest opinion.
Profile Image for Danielle Urban.
Author 15 books136 followers
July 1, 2020
Keeping the Lights on for Ike by Rebecca Daniels is a well-written and thoroughly researched book. As it should be, since she is writing about her parent's story. The story details the time period of WWII and its censorship via written communication. It was difficult to tell loved ones how, when, and where one was due to the military and it's censorship. The letters reflected the love this couple had and continued to hold despite the separation. I liked this story especially, all the documents and photos that went with it.

I received this copy from the publisher. This is my voluntary review.
Profile Image for David.
142 reviews4 followers
May 30, 2020
We baby boomers are by definition the generation whose parents lived through World War II as young adults. Many of us share Rebecca Daniels' curiosity about what that was really like. My parents, like hers and probably most, never talked about it much--just a few humorous stories repeated many times when appropos.

After her parents had both passed away, Rebecca inherited a box of clues: her mother Mary's collection of letters from her father during his time overseas in the Army. The clues are fragementary; start with the fact that she doesn't have Mary's replies. Nevertheless, Daniels pieces together an engaging portrait of those years, primarily from her father Alec's point of view. Perhaps better put, it's a portrait of her parents' relationship during three years of enforced separation.

Daniels provides continuity to the narrative by supplementing the letters with historical accounts, so we can place Alec in the context of the North African and Italian campaigns. Alec himself was of course forbidden by the military censors from providing that kind of context. We glimpse through his eyes the foibles of military bureaucracy, including hints about segregation and racial tension. We also see Alec navigate foreign customs and language barriers in perhaps his first time outside the U.S.

But perhaps with an eye for the plot of a play--from her years of theater experience-- Daniels knows that the real story is that of Alec and Mary's relationship, and how profoundly the War shaped it. I think of a large mass curving space-time. And there's another love story at play here--the love between Rebecca and her parents, and her labor of love in writing the book. It's a satisfying and informative combination.
Profile Image for Virginia Brackett.
Author 27 books4 followers
April 13, 2020
In a memoir about war, one would naturally anticipate reading about death and separation. In her book, Keeping the Lights on for Ike, Rebecca Daniels does not shy away from those topics. However, Daniels firmly focuses on the love and devotion that can supply hope during wartime. Daniels offers a detailed account of her parents’ sustained relationship during her father Alec’s participation in WWII. She does so through use of his dedicated, voluminous correspondence to his wife Mary that provides readers privileged insight into the strength that defined so many couples separated by war. As an engineer, Alec was part of the tens of thousands of invaluable U.S. Army troops who supported the fighting Allies, all the while remaining firmly committed to expressing his devotion to his wife. Mary’s letters did not survive, but one understands her concerns through Alec’s responses. For instance, his counseling Mary about her situation as an impatient wife determined to contribute to society in his absence adds much detail regarding the position of women during the war. Likewise, Alec’s unusual notion that women should be allowed freedom to determine their fates is an interesting revelation for that time period. Readers will find especially absorbing the descriptive accounts of Alec’s experiences in Algiers and Italy, his many photos and mementos, and Mary’s own interest in creative writing that she eventually gifted to her daughter. In the end, it is the spirit that inhabited Alec’s letters and represented her parents’ close relationship that is the heart of Daniels’ memoir. Her parents’ decades of devotion to one another and their children remain a beacon not only for their daughter, but for all who read this loving account.
Profile Image for Tom.
31 reviews11 followers
April 19, 2020
Rebecca Daniels' book Keeping the Lights on for Ike is a delightful biography of her parents' devotion to each other during three years of separation during World War II. The story is told through her father's letters home, and her mothers's short stories and scrapbooks. Rebecca's parents, Alec and Mary, are deeply in love, and this shines through Alec's letters home. What makes this book truly stand out is the sound historical context in which this story is told. Written with scholarly care, the book clearly explains the context of the war, as Alec is stationed in North Africa, then in Italy, during the war. I found myself eagerly reading the whole book, looking forward to the end of the war and the day that Alec and Mary were reunited. This is a fine book for anyone with an interest in family history and the Second World War. It's one of the best books I've read this year.
Profile Image for Donadee's Corner.
1,851 reviews50 followers
July 15, 2020
Rebecca Daniels – Keeping The Lights On For Ike – Reviewed 6/13/20 – Read 5/13/20

Life of an engineer during WWII, from letters sent home regarding when the lights go out!

Harold Alec Daniels joined the ROTC to help pay for his college education. When he graduated he had reached the rank of second lieutenant in the Army Reserves. While in his senior year one of his buddies set him up on a blind date. It was love on the first date. The date went well, and he knew that this woman was the one that he was going to marry. Seeing that they were attending different colleges, Alec courted Mary by mail. After graduating Mary and Alec were married.

When the war started he was working in the Navel yard in Washington as a civil service junior electrical engineer. Their first child was actually a dog that they named Pete. Pete went with them everywhere. On that fateful day, Alec was changing a tire when his neighbor's radio broadcasted the news that Pearl Harbor had been bombed. It would only be a short time later that Alec as a reservist was called up for active duty. Mary and Pete followed Alec as he did all of his training until the day he was shipped overseas, and she was not allowed to follow. Alec’s assignment was as a support engineer for Dwight Eisenhower. Not many people knew that during the war it took an average of six support soldiers for four combat soldiers. During all the time Alec was overseas, he was not able to say specifically where he was, or what he was doing in his letters written to Mary. She wrote to him daily and encouraged him to do the same. Now the story begins along with three years of separation…

What did I like? I don’t think I have ever read a book such as this one. Looking at the war history from the POV of the support soldier. I found the information quite fascinating, and so detailed. My dad served in WWII, and I can remember back at things that he told us. Also, he brought back photos that were so shocking. But, to hear what Alec went through was awesome. To read about the surrounding areas that he visited, plus his view on the locals that lived there was incredible. Another thing I found interesting was, all of the letters that his wife kept and for 65 years. Wow, I thought I was a packrat, but 65 years outdoes me!

What will you like? Factual, interesting, detailed, humorous, and incredible history of WWII. The life of the men that served during that time, brought to life through the words of one man that lived to tell about it, even though it took three years of his life. The details and descriptions that will draw you right into the book, and you will experience the war going on around you. This book will grab you in the beginning and won’t stop till the last page. I was so drawn in, I read it all in one sitting. Awesome read and I highly recommend for any history buffs.

• File Size: 5965 KB
• Print Length: 373 pages
• Publisher: Sunbury Press, Inc. (April 9, 2019)
• Publication Date: April 9, 2019
• ASIN: B07QH7W55L
• Genre: Military & Spies Biographies, Biographies of the Army, Biographies of WWII
Profile Image for Peter Harrington.
137 reviews
October 12, 2022
Wonderful Read. I gave this book five stars because the Author's unique take on this Memoir; Rebecca Daniels utilized her Dad's letters to his Wife (or Wif as he calls her) as he was Deployed to Europe during WWII. The Author did a fantastic job with both the characters and the facts of the War; a must read for any WWII buff IMO! In the end I was very touched by the "love story" of Alec and Mary; I felt as if I really knew them. This is a keeper in my Library!
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