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Ike letters hint anew at affair

A previously unknown collection of wartime letters from Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower to his driver, Capt. Kay Summersby, appears likely to stir renewed debate over whether the two were lovers during the last year of World War II. Both Eisenhower, who was married, and Summersby initially denied the long-rumored romance. But in 1976, as she was dying of cancer, Summersby published a second book of memoirs of the war years, Past Forgetting: My Love Affair With Dwight D. Eisenhower, in which she described a passionate but frustrating affair with the Supreme Allied Commander.

"I feel free to talk about it now," she wrote then, 16 years after the end of Eisenhower's presidency and seven years after his death.

In his own memoirs of the war years, Eisenhower referred to Summersby only once, when he listed various members of his staff. But the new letters appear to reveal a more extensive relationship.

The letters, originally part of Summersby's estate, apparently later wound up in other hands and are to be auctioned by Sotheby's on June 13. The auction house has identified the seller only as an American.

The letters include a scribbled note in pencil addressed to "Irish," a nickname for Summersby, in which the general evidently asked to spend a free day with her.

"How about lunch, tea & dinner today?" the note says. "If yes: Who else do you want, if any? At which time? How are you?"

Selby Kiffer, vice president in the books and manuscripts department of Sotheby's, described one of the letters as an "extraordinary" message in which "Eisenhower attempts to soften the blow of Summersby's being left behind in Germany" after the war while the rest of his staff was transferred with him to his new duty in Washington.

In her second book, Summersby wrote of how her friendship with the general had developed into passion.

"I suppose inevitably, we found ourselves in each others' arms in an unrestrained embrace," she wrote. "Our jackets came off. Buttons were unbuttoned. It was as if we were frantic, and we were." But, she added, the general had difficulty consummating the affair.