The Myth of Ike and Kay Summersby Part IV – Conclusion
The story of Ike and Kay Summersby might have ended with their parting in Germany in October 1945 but for the publication in 1974 of journalist Merle Miller’s Plain Speaking: An Oral Biography of Harry S. Truman, which the former president is alleged to have said that Eisenhower had sent a letter to Gen. George Marshall in 1945 stating that he intended to divorce Mamie in order to marry Kay. Marshall allegedly replied that “if Eisenhower even came close to doing such a thing, he’d not only bust him out of the army, he’d see to it that never for the rest of his life would he be able to draw a peaceful breath.”
No such letter exists in the Marshall Papers at the George C. Marshall Library, at VMI, in Lexington, Virginia, nor have Marshall’s biographers given any credence to this allegation. It is no coincidence that David McCullough does not even mention the so-called letter in his Pulitzer Prize winning biography, Truman.
Its most sensational aspect was its purported revelations about Ike and Kay Summersby.
Primarily as a result of Truman’s alleged and unproven accusations in Plain Speaking, Dwight Eisenhower and Kay Summersby were forever linked in the public mind as illicit lovers, to the detriment of both their reputations. However, Miller’s account has been thoroughly discredited. “Other than what Miller averred was on the tapes, there was almost no evidence for the tale,” wrote historian and authority on Truman, Robert H. Ferrell in 1995. “In the Miller tapes in the Truman Library, there is no Truman conversation, nothing about Kay Summersby. The tapes do not support the book’s text – not by any means.”
According to Ferrell, Miller simply made up the quotes to spice up his book. And, as Ferrell has noted, Plain Speaking is also full of misrepresentations on a variety of other subjects. Merle Miller’s so-called claim to being an “oral biographer” makes him nothing less than a fraud who abused his trust.
One of Merle Miller’s research assistants for his final book completed just before his death in 1986 (Ike the Soldier)was historian D.K.R Crosswell. In the introduction to Crosswell’s biography of Walter Bedell Smith, Ike’s wartime chief of staff, Crosswell writes that “One of Miller’s motives for writing the book centered on his desire to find some substance for rumors Eisenhower had an affair with his Irish driver, Kay Summersby . . . I never found any evidence of Eisenhower’s infidelity.” By faking his facts, Merle Miller kept the myth alive, more so than any other single event after the war, and is almost single-handedly responsible for lighting the fire of controversy that lingers to this day.
More than a quarter century after her death, Kay Summersby’s name still evokes echoes of her wartime relationship with Eisenhower. Other leaps of fantasy were not uncommon. On his deathbed, muckraking pundit Drew Pearson said, with no basis in fact, “There is no question that the British planted Kay Summersby . . . on General Eisenhower.”
John Eisenhower suggests that the public fascination with his father and Kay Summersby has been judged primarily in light of current moral values and standards. What was a friendship that benefited both parties now translates into an affair. The sex scandals of the 1990s, and now in the new century, whether presidential or by high-ranking officers, inevitably draws a parallel and raises the specter of Eisenhower’s alleged wartime romance. It is worth noting John Eisenhower’s observation that, “Dad would have made a lousy philanderer because he was so damned Victorian and moral. Sure he was attracted to vital women, like Marian Huff in the Philippines and Kay during the war, but these were friendships, not torrid affairs.”
No one was closer to Eisenhower than Ike’s U.S. Navy aide, Captain Harry Butcher and none ever in a better position to know the truth. To the end of his life Butcher repudiated the assertion of an affair between Ike and Kay. “I would not deny that he was fond of Kay,” recalled Butcher in 1980, “but he was fond of all of us. He considered us his family. But there was no sign of a romance. We were a close family, united by wartime camaraderie. If a romance had been brewing between Ike and Kay, I could hardly have missed it . . . hell, even his son John was fond of her!”
Eisenhower aide Kevin McCann adds his own assessment. “Kay was a tragic figure, and for tragic women everywhere Dwight Eisenhower had a heart of pure mush. Any woman who suffered a hurt of any kind could make his heart bleed. He suffered with Kay, and he helped her in all the ways he could. It is unfortunate that what he did was misinterpreted by so many people, including the woman herself.”
John Eisenhower also had this to say about Kay Summersby and his father in 1984. “She was an ambitious, spunky gal who looked mighty attractive in those bleak circumstances. She undoubtedly developed unrealistic hopes of snagging Dad after the war, and her second book, which I am convinced she never wrote, or even approved, hurt Mother. Nevertheless, she performed an invaluable function as Dad’s companion. And goodness knows, he had enough to contend with and the two should have been accorded some charity, especially from those who never took a boat ride [overseas] during the war.”
Kay Summersby Morgan was a longtime friend of the well-known syndicated columnist, author (Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo and The Babe Ruth Story) and former war correspondent Bob Considine and his wife. Considine was also a prolific ghostwriter and Kay had previously asked him to ghostwrite her 1948 memoir, Eisenhower Was My Boss, but he was unavailable and the job given to someone else. Considine believed that the “racy flavor” of the book dragged her “deeper in the unrealistic world of being ‘Ike’s girl.’”
One night in a New York restaurant, Considine wrote, “my wife asked Kay a question that one assumes only a clear-headed and honest woman could ask another: ‘Kay, did you ever sleep with General Eisenhower?’” With tears in her eyes, “Not of anger but relief,” Kay replied, “‘You’re the first person I’ve ever met who had the courage to ask me that question . . . The answer is no. Never. I loved as everybody in uniform or out of uniform loved him around the world. If he had asked me, beckoned a finger to me, I would have done anything he asked me to do. But he never asked me,’ Kay said with great dignity. I’ll believe her as long as I live,” concluded Considine in a column written shortly after her death in January 1975, in which he observed that she was “the victim of perhaps the cruelest character assassination of those gossipy times. Hitler did better.”
The sordid publicity regarding her role as Eisenhower’s alleged paramour has detracted from the fact that Kay Summersby’s accomplishments during World War II were – by any definition – extraordinary, and often harrowing, including being one of the few to survive being torpedoed by a German U-boat. She spent more of the war in harm’s way than many soldiers. Whether driving an ambulance in London during the Blitz or chauffeuring Eisenhower across England, North Africa, and Europe, Kay Summersby was as much a soldier as her boss.
She deserved a better fate.