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IKE

by David Westheimer

 

Almost 60 years ago I spoke with Gen. Dwight Eisenhower at Camp Lucky Strike in France

And I've been telling everyone about it ever since, sometimes more than once. Camp Lucky Strike was for RAMPs (Recovered Allied Military Personnel, which meant liberated POWs). I spoke with him in the mess tent during lunch. While we were talking I was aware (because of the flash) that our picture was being taken. Six or seven years later, after being recalled to active during the Korean War, I landed in a desk job at the Pentagon. While looking through the Pentagon directory I chanced upon the number of a Signal Corps photo unit. I called the unit and asked if they had pictures of General Eisenhower visiting Camp Lucky Strike in May or June in 1945. I was asked my name and serial number. After I gave it, a voice said, "Just a minute." In what seemed even less than a minute, the voice said, "An eight by ten copy will be 50 cents." I ordered one and years later I was able to get it presented to President Eisenhower on a golf course in Palm Springs. And he autographed it to me.

I've written about that conversation with Ike in the now departed Houston Post and in The Retired Officer Magazine, which later changed its name to the Military Officer Magazine. Do you think it mere coincidence that of the two places I wrote about Ike, one went out of business and the other changed its name?

Anyhow, I wrote about it again, as fiction, in a novel of mine called Delay En Route, for which I could not find a trade publish and had to "vanity publish" myself. At 31 copies, I was its biggest buyer. Do you detect a pattern here?

So here is the actual event presented as fiction in the novel:

General Dwight D. Eisenhower came into the mess tent on an inspection tour at lunch. They were having fried chicken for the first time, and plenty of it, and we were commenting on how the mess had improved when a light colonel MP, the most rank any of them had ever seen on an MP, came in the tent, gave the area a quick inspection and then slipped out again. He returned leading half a dozen middle-aged civilians in sober suits and a big officer. The civilians started working the dining tables and the officer remained in front looking the Ramps over and grinning. A muffled cry ran from the front table to those in back.

"It's Ike!"

When the general heard that his grin broadened. Ritter tore his eyes away from the Supreme Commander when one of the sober suits came up to his table smiling broadly and said, "Men, I'm Senator Burton K. Wheeler from Montana. Any of you men from Montana?" Montana. Cohan's state.

Ritter didnt know anyone at his table but he said, "No, sir, we're all from Texas."

He didnt like Senator Burton K. Wheeler. Hed been one of the politicians who opposed the U.S. entering the war against the Nazis. From time to time a flashbulb popped in the background.

Senator Burton K. Wheeler said, "Hows everything?"

Everyone at the table except Ritter said "Good" or "Fine."

Ritter said, "Not so good."

Senator Burton K. Wheeler was startled. He said, "Well, uh, well uh, Lieutenant, what seems to be the problem?"

Ritter said, "It's better here, sir, but where we were..." He described conditions in C Area, and how Ramps were being repatriated with no regard for their length of prison time or how long they'd been in Lucky Strike, and the bad attitude of the camps GIs. Everything bad he could think of, happy to get a chance to blow off steam. And to a Senator. He laid it on a little thick because he could see Senator Burton K. Wheeler didn't like what he was hearing. Everyone else at the table nodded his head in agreement.

Shocked, Senator Burton K. Wheeler spun on his heel and fled. Ritter speared another piece of fried chicken and accepted the plaudits of his table mates. And suddenly the babble stilled. The guys across from him were staring at him. Not at him, exactly. Something above him. He turned to see what they were staring at. A military tunic with more rows of ribbons on it than he had ever seen. And above that, broad shoulders with circles of five little stars on them, and above that the genial, smiling face of Ike. Ritter knew you werent supposed to pop to for a superior officer when you eating but this was a five star general!

General Eisenhower motioned for him to remain seated and said, "Lieutenant, I understand you have a complaint."

That goddamned Senator Wheeler.

Ritter was intimidated, not by the generals manner, he was more like someone's kindly uncle, but by his rank and presence.

He managed to say, "Sir, I suppose that should go through channels."

General Eisenhower laughed and said, "You dont suppose anyones going to question me, do you?"

So Ritter gave him a watered-down version of what he had told Senator Burton K. Wheeler, conscious of flash bulbs going off near them.  He was having a picture taken with Ike. What a souvenir that would make.

When he was through, General Eisenhower said, "I suppose a general and a colonel can take care of that." Ritter thought the colonel must be the one in command of Camp Lucky Strike.

End of excerpt. I'd like to add, after my conversation with Ike, conditions did improve at Camp Lucky Strike.

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