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Alumnus recalls wartime Washington memories

David Hamilton's review of David Brinkley's Washington Goes to War ["From Southern backwater to free world's capital: DC grows up," Feb. 14] brings back memories of my own undergraduate years at MIT.

My family was living in Arlington, VA, when I entered MIT and I spent most of the summers and holiday breaks in Washington, then commuted from New York until the last of the years of which Brinkley writes. My memories of pre-war and wartime Washington are somewhat different from his. It was not really the chaos he describes; from Brinkley's account, one might almost think the United States lost World War II. In fact, compared with other countries so engaged, the American war effort was very well run indeed.

In fairness to Brinkley, he was not actually in Washington himself until somewhat late in the war after he got out of the Army.

MIT students were a conservative lot in those days. One survey showed also that seniors were more conservative than freshmen, a trend contrary to that of every other educational institution in the survey. Unlike Harvard, MIT was strongly Republican. During the 1940 election campaign Franklin Delano Roosevelt came to spend an evening with his son John and his bride, then living at 520 Beacon Street. To permit easy presidential access, the city of Boston paved the back alley between Massachusetts Avenue and the Fensgate. For the President's benefit the four fraternities on Beacon Street all put up "Win With Willkie" signs in their back windows.

One last item: Hamilton's review implies there was no absentee voting for the armed services in World War II. Not so. Special federal ballots were made up for all servicemen unable to obtain absentee ballots from their home states. I voted in my first presidential election using one of those ballots in 1944.

Robert W. Blake '41->