The Colonel’s Lady, a World War II Memoir, Book I is the joint posthumous memoir of Midge and Eugene Nixon, an Episcopal priest who served his country in the U.S. Army as a chaplain, and his wife. They tell their story through the hundreds of letters they exchanged during the war, following the 8th Division through all its training. Much more than just letters to and from home, they are an historical record of the extensive training of the 8th Division before they embarked for Europe, as well as the perspective of his wife, raising their three sons and infant daughter on the home front while dealing with government rationing of everything from sugar, to shoes, to gasoline, and tires for the car and even bicycles. The poignant conversations are reminiscent of The Notebook, with their love for each other shining through the perilous times they were living in.
The 8th’s training carried them through Fort Jackson, South Carolina, to the mountains of Camp Forrest, Tennessee, to the ice and snow of Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri, and on to desert training in the sweltering, 100+ temperatures of Camp Laguna, in the Mojave Desert, near Yuma, Arizona. Though the men complained about the rigors of training, particularly the tent living in ice and snow, it stood them in good stead in the future, at the Battle of the Bulge. An example from Camp Forrest, Tennessee:
“And, dear, I’m afraid it’s going to be my last leave. Gen. Ben Lear is here with us right now, and he told us today that he had always had a prejudice against the 8th (because we think General Drum had been fond of us), and had ridden us; had thrown us into the mud and ice to prove we were no good, and we had come out with the highest ratings in the whole Army! When we ended maneuvers we had had only one death (and that proven not due to maneuvers); out of 14,000 men, only 22 were in hospital, sick, or injured; of 2,700 vehicles, only 14 were on the ‘deadline;’ and we pushed an armored division (4th) and another motorized division (6th) all over Tennessee!”
From Ft. Leonard Wood, Missouri:
“I’ve often been thankful for my early interest in artillery and projectiles. It paid off yesterday. At the Ranger graduation exercises, known locally as ‘the five hours of hell,’ a charge of one hundred pounds of TNT went off about a hundred yards from my group. Debris went up sky high, then I could hear a whistling sound that means a close one, and I plowed a neat furrow with my nose as I dove elsewhere. Exactly where I had been, a huge fragment buried itself in the ground. A very white and shaken lieutenant a few feet off called, ‘What miracle caused you to duck, sir?’ Captain Hannabery of the artillery said, ‘Padre, I always thought you lived right, but now I know it!’”
And from Camp Laguna, Arizona, in the Mojave Desert near Yuma:
“So we sat on the peak and watched the coming battle shape up. Our medium bombers (B-26’s) were making a regular ‘mail run’ of sweeping in on bombing runs over the advancing armored force. (…I watched them peel off time and again throughout the morning, and each time great geysers of smoke and a terrific explosion would go up wherever they’d hit! Don’t kid yourself that it was anything like playing cops and robbers!) Finally, ‘Hoot’ (Colonel ‘Hoot’ Gibson) said to me, ‘Nick, you’d better go alert your section, and tell Colonel Keeler to take the whole echelon and get the hell out of where you are. That’s going to be the scene of the damndest tank battle of the war!’ So I did. We figured that we had about three hours before the tanks could make a break-through if they did.”
And from the home front with Gene’s family:
“And two letters arrived from you, sweet! Wonderful…It was awful at the very beginning when mail was scarce, but now everything is all right. As I sat and read your letters a while ago, Frank and John were both on the couch. After a bit, Frank noticed tears rolling down my cheeks. ‘What’s wrong, Mother?
“An interesting and delightful read! by D. LIN”
The letters between the man who would become the “colonel” (Gene) and his “lady” (his wife Midge) really immerse the reader in what life was like for couples who were separated during the war. Book I takes the reader up to the time Colonel Nixon is deployed to Europe. Dr. White does a good job of framing the letter exchange in the forward and afterward she wrote for the book. Book II, which will be called The Fighting Chaplain, should be very interesting and of historical interest: After Colonel Nixon was deployed to Europe, he became the chaplain for George Patton during part of the war, and was with him during some of the most important events of World War II, including the Battle of the Bulge. I will look forward to reading that book when it comes out, and I highly recommend this book to readers who are interested in World War II and what life was like in the 1940s!