Untold Stories: Women Who Changed The Course of WWII — General Mari Eder
Untold Stories: Women Who Changed The Course of WWII — General Mari Eder
She was one of the few … Out of over 1.2 million Army service members, General Mari Eder was one of six senior women generals. And after 36 years of service, she went on to become an author and public speaker. Her latest book tells the stories of 15 courageous women from the Greatest Generation who changed the course of World War II. General Eder discusses her experience in the Army and the subjects of her new book with host Charles Mizrahi.
- An Introduction to General Eder (00:00:00)
- The Girls Who Stepped Out of Line (00:06:06)
- Getting Their Stories Right (00:09:58)
- Wearing the Uniform (00:21:36)
- Marching Upwards in the Military (00:28:58)
- Commanding General (00:38:31)
- Not Your Ordinary History Book (00:42:52)
Major General Mari Eder (retired) is an author, public speaker and former commanding general of the USAR Joint and Special Troops Support Command. She began serving in the Army in 1977, and has since commanded at the company, battalion, brigade and division levels.
General Eder has also served in several senior positions at the Pentagon and as the Director of Public Affairs at the George C. Marshall European Center for Security Studies. In addition, she’s written several books that span strategic communications, leadership and even furry friends. Her latest book is below.
Before You Leave:
MARY EDER: “In World War II, my grandmother was about to be shot into a pit. She turned to the guard and said: ‘What happens if I step out of line?’ And he said: ‘Well, I don’t have the heart to shoot you. But somebody probably will.’ She stepped out of line. And for that, I am here today. And for that, my children are here today. So, step out of line, ladies. Step out of line.”
CHARLES MIZRAHI: My guest today is General Mari Eder. General Eder entered the United States Army in 1977 after receiving her commission as a second lieutenant in the Signal Corps. Over the next 36 years, General Eder commanded at the company, battalion, brigade and division levels. In 2009, she was appointed commanding general of the United States Army Reserve Joint and Special Troops Support Command.
CHARLES MIZRAHI: At the time of her retirement, she was the senior woman general in the Army Reserve. And she was one of only six in the Army at the time — out of 1.2 million serving.
CHARLES MIZRAHI: General Eder recently wrote: The Girls Who Stepped Out of Line: Untold Stories of the Women Who Changed the Course of World War II. The book takes you inside the lives and experiences of 15 unknown women heroes from the Greatest Generation. These women served, fought, struggled and made things happen during World War II.
CHARLES MIZRAHI: I recently sat down with General Eder, and we talked about her life in the Army as a female general and what motivated her to tell the stories of these courageous ladies.
CHARLES MIZRAHI: General, thank you so much for agreeing to appear on the show. I’ve been looking forward to this since we spoke last week. Your book really jumped out at me — which we’re going to talk about in a minute. But thanks so much for being here.
MARY EDER: Oh, thank you. I now subscribe to your newsletter. And I think I can actually figure it out and follow it. So, that’s wonderful.
CHARLES MIZRAHI: When my mother was alive, I used to start off every newsletter on my computer with: “Dear Mom.” And I would write everything. And if there was one part that I felt she wouldn’t be able to understand, I had to explain it. So, in the end, it was something that my mother could understand. I figured if she could understand it — and she didn’t have a PhD in finance — anyone could. And that’s what I always try to achieve. I’m so glad you said that. And thanks so much for subscribing. I really appreciate that.
MARY EDER: Thank you.
CHARLES MIZRAHI: OK, so you just recently wrote a book. You have a couple of other books. We’ll talk about them in a little while. You wrote a book for the military. And you also wrote a book on leadership. But this book — The Girls Who Stepped Out of Line — tell me where you got the idea to write this book and why you had a book in you.
MARY EDER: Well, I have many fiction books that I would like to write. I have written some of them already — and I will need to go back to [them]. Even as I left the Army after 36 years, I found that I had to start over with writing — to write in different ways, write better and write conversations. But for this book, I had been asked to speak at a leadership and ethics conference. I had just read a story about Stephanie Czech Rader — who had recently passed away. The Army was looking to present her with the Legion of Merit at her funeral. It’s an award that she should have received many years earlier.
MARY EDER: So, it was a story about her service — what she had done. She was a counterintelligence agent at the end of the war. I was fascinated. So, I saved it and used it as part of my presentation — along with several other obituaries I had read at the time. The greatest generation is continuing to pass in ever greater numbers right now. Many of them are at least 100 years old — or very close to that. So, I had three or four of these stories saved. Coming into 2019, I heard the presentation at the Emmy Awards — where Alex Borstein received the award for “Best Supporting Actress.”
CHARLES MIZRAHI: That was for The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel. She was that character.
MARY EDER: Yes.
CHARLES MIZRAHI: She was hysterical. She was absolutely great.
MARY EDER: I know you’ve heard it, but I can tell you what she said again.
CHARLES MIZRAHI: Definitely! So, she wins the award in 2019. She wins “Best Supporting Actress in a Comedy.” She gets up. She has a couple of funny lines. And then she says something that sparks not only a book or title but a mission. It really drives into you.
MARY EDER: She was talking fast because they don’t have much time. But she said: “In World War II, my grandmother was about to be shot into a pit. She turned to the guard and said: ‘What happens if I step out of line?’ And he said: ‘Well, I don’t have the heart to shoot you. But somebody probably will.’ She stepped out of line. And for that, I am here today. And for that, my children are here today. So, step out of line, ladies. Step out of line.”
CHARLES MIZRAHI: When you heard that — you already had information on Stephanie Czech Rader and a few others. Is that what motivated you to write this book? You felt that these stories needed to be told?
MARY EDER: It was an immediate connection. That was it. That’s what they did. And I know there are others. When you read this book, it’s not about the jobs that people had. Many books you see about World War II are about missions, specific units or types of jobs that people had. But, to me, it’s not about what they did. It’s about the life lessons they learned, the connections they made, the networks they built and how the whole experience affected and changed them. It changed a generation — and the generations to come.
CHARLES MIZRAHI: And in this book, you write about 15 different ladies in World War II who hardly got recognition. Many of them did really harrowing stuff — which nobody knew about. Yet, at certain times, it was pivotal to the cause of the war. They showed extreme heroism at a time when females — especially in World War II — were pushed to the back.
MARY EDER: And many of them had the same attitude that I think everyone in that area did. “Well, I just did my part. I just did my bit. Oh, I didn’t deserve any awards.” Virginia Hall had to do reports from the field. She was the part of the OSS that I think is the forerunner to Special Operations. She trained insurgents behind enemy lines.
MARY EDER: In one of her reports, one of the standard questions was: “Were you decorated during your duty? Did you receive any awards?” And her one-line answer was: “No — nor is there any need to be. I just want to do my job.” And that’s what you heard over and over with them: “I just wanted to do my job. I’m proving to myself that I can do this. I’m not even sure I need to prove it to others. But I’m showing that I am capable and making a difference. And that’s what’s important.”
CHARLES MIZRAHI: So, how did you select — by the way, I was briefing through your book over the weekend. The chapters aren’t long. It’s about 15 minutes of reading. Each chapter is about one character — one female hero. You can skip around and go anywhere you want. They’re really great stories. And I like what you did. You showed a connection between every one of those women in different chapters — even though they might not have known each other. But you tried to bridge it. Why did you do that?
MARY EDER: I was amazed at finding that. I would have thought: “It’s a big world. They were in wildly different places and doing such different things.” And to find out that some of them knew about the others — and had been in the same place at the same time…
MARY EDER: Betty McIntosh worked with the OSS in China. Her primary job was propaganda and misinformation. But she also helped when it was an all-hands event to get teams together, go to the eastern part of China — where the Japanese prison camps had just been liberated — and make sure the Japanese soldiers didn’t kill Americans.
MARY EDER: So, she helped them all to work on that. And one of the other people in my book is a 12-year-old girl who’d spent five years of her childhood in one of those camps. So, there was a connection there. And Betty McIntosh was also well aware of Virginia Hall as a spy. She was also well aware of Stephanie Rader. So, there were connections. And it was the connections that fascinated me.
CHARLES MIZRAHI: Before you wrote this book, these ladies — other than Virginia Hall and maybe one or two others — were unknown to the public.
MARY EDER: Some of them might have been known in their local communities. A few never talked about their experiences. And when they did begin to speak and say: “OK, I’ll go to this veteran’ event” they were in their 70s or 80s. That’s when they finally talked about what they did. There are two veterans who are living. And when I talked to them, I said: “Did you talk to your children about what you did in the war?” And she said: “No, they never asked. But I wish I’d been able to tell my parents.”
CHARLES MIZRAHI: Wow. OK, so I’m going to ask you a hard question. First of all, before I ask you a hard question, when I wrote my book — I will probably never write another book again. It really sucks the lifeblood out of you. It becomes a term paper that you have to prepare. And the deadline keeps creeping up on you. You can’t sleep. You can’t eat. All you do is think about writing. You rewrite. It’s going down there. And it has to be perfect. I think I spent eight to 10 hours on one footnote — trying to confirm it and see another source of it. And I was writing about investing. You were writing about people. I’m sure that you felt the burden of getting it right — to celebrate their lives and respect their memories.
MARY EDER: I did. And it was especially hard to write this during the first few months of the pandemic. So, I was writing this in January, February and March of last year. As I was getting into writing, I had that deadline and sense of dread. As the deadline approached, I found that I couldn’t talk to museums and libraries. I couldn’t get to the National Archives — the Library of Congress. Some of my sources were closed, shut down or unavailable.
MARY EDER: In many cases, I ended up buying books. So, I have a really good library right now. But it also made me do the right thing in finding these books and going back to the original sources. I have Charity Adams’ autobiography. She published it in 1947. I also have Alice Marble’s book called: The Road to Wimbledon. She published it in the 1930s. And her biography was right after that. A lot of these are stamped by whichever high schools or colleges gave them up. So, for those who have had to give up good books, know they have a home now with me. And I have them all.
CHARLES MIZRAHI: Were you speaking to any of these ladies? How many were still living when you wrote this?
MARY EDER: Two were still living. I have spoken to many families. For the most part, it took me quite a while to track down the families. It was difficult. I would find places they’d spoken to before and interviews they had done. I would try to find those reporters, photographers and outlets and track them that way. It didn’t always work. There were a few where I was not able to find any family members or references for them.
MARY EDER: But for the most part, I found a great number of families to talk to. And even in some of the simple things they said, their views were amazing. I talked to Kate Flynn Nolan’s children. They had seven children. She was the nurse in the book. She was a combat nurse in a heavy casualty hospital. She was about 5’3 — like me. She nearly got washed away in the waves at Normandy because she landed there two weeks after the first troops with her unit. She went the whole way to the end of the war. It was amazing. So, I spoke to her children. Two of her sons fought in Vietnam. One [fought] in Iraq. And a granddaughter [fought] in Afghanistan. So, there was a family legacy of service. I thought the example that she set was amazing.
CHARLES MIZRAHI: I know it’s a tough question, but out of the 15 heroes in your book, which one is your favorite?
MARY EDER: I don’t have any favorites. You can ask me tomorrow, and it will be a different person.
CHARLES MIZRAHI: I’m asking you today. Who’s your favorite today?
MARY EDER: Today, I’ve been thinking quite a lot about Mary Taylor Previte — the 12-year-old girl. She spent five years of her childhood in that camp. When she grew up, she taught high school English. She was married and divorced. Actually, she became the director of a juvenile detention center. Who could better understand kids behind bars than someone who spent their childhood behind a barbed wire fence — watching Japanese soldiers practicing how to kill them if they tried to escape?
CHARLES MIZRAHI: When I was looking through Steven Spielberg’s movie — what was the name of it? It talks about the Japanese invasion of Shanghai. Empire of the Sun. I think it has a young Christian Bale who’s separated from his parents and put in a Japanese camp. He spends a couple of years there under brutal conditions. It’s a really great movie. It’s a facet of the war that I never knew much about. And this young girl — share with us how she got there, what she was doing and what her parents were doing there.
MARY EDER: Her parents and grandparents were missionaries. She got there because the Japanese surrounded the boarding school that she was at. It was a boarding school for Westerners. And when the camp was liberated, they discovered that there were about 1,500 [people] there — of all nationalities. They had a band. The band practiced playing the national anthems for the U.S. and England.
MARY EDER: They played the day that the rescuers parachuted in. And they parachuted in on August 17th. V-J Day was the 15th, and the OSS teams arrived two days later. So, they were there for about a month before the children were put on army planes and taken back — flying three hours west to be reunited with their parents.
MARY EDER: For those three weeks, it was about making sure that everyone was healthy enough to travel. They were parachuting in food. And when they did, the kids had to hide inside so that they didn’t get hit on the head with cans of peaches or something like that. But after the book came out, and her daughter received a copy of it, I heard from her. And she said: “I always think of August 15th not as V-J day but as the liberation day. Because if my mother hadn’t been liberated and saved, I wouldn’t be here now. That kind of goes back to the title. I kept hearing sentiments like that from the family members that I talked to.
CHARLES MIZRAHI: So, you dedicated this book — and I’m sure a lot of thought went into this — to your great grandmother, Harriet Pettersen Greer. Why her?
MARY EDER: She was an inspiration. She was an immigrant to this country. She came when she was 16 years old — in 1870 — along with her 10 brothers and sisters. One stayed in England. I thought maybe he fell off the boat or had to stay with the parents. It’s about trying to understand the situation at the time. To leave everything and think you’ll never go back — at that age. They came with nothing. They had nothing. They came to a very small town in western Pennsylvania — which is still a very small town. It’s called Stoneboro. The population is about 850. They came to start over and make it work.
MARY EDER: That drive is what I recognized in many of the people in this book. Hilda Eisen came to this country with nothing of her entire family except for a small piece of embroidery that she found on the wall of the kitchen after being repatriated back to her hometown. So, it’s about learning more about the situations that people faced — and not just what they did. It’s the family story. Yes, they all came here then. But it’s not knowing what that meant and how hard that was.
MARY EDER: For example, for all of the people in the book who joined the military, their orders said: “For the duration — plus six months.” So, it wasn’t: “You go now, do your bid and come home to a parade.” That meant that they didn’t know how long they’d be there. It was four years. Five years — plus six months. That’s incredible.
CHARLES MIZRAHI: Yeah, especially with communications. The way they were then, there was no face time. There was no seeing anyone. Letters took a week or so to get from the recipient to the sender. It was a while. It’s crazy. Hence, it’s the Greatest Generation. There are six females who achieved your rank in the Army out of the 1.2 million who have served. Is that right?
MARY EDER: It fluctuates — depending on who’s still on active duty, who leaves and who gets promoted. But around that time, in the active Army Reserve, that’s about right.
CHARLES MIZRAHI: OK, so you went into the Army in 1977. As a little girl, did you grow up saying: “I’m going to join the military, and I want to be a general”? All the other kids are playing cops and robbers or with dolls.
MARY EDER: I had no idea. I never had a thought about it. I was probably on my bicycle — trying to get across the road to where the ice cream stand was. I never had a thought about doing anything with the military until I was in college and had friends who graduated earlier and joined. They had experiences that helped them with jobs — or helped them later in life. And I thought: “I could do that, too.”
CHARLES MIZRAHI: So, you joined the Army at the end of Vietnam. Vietnam was over in 1975 or so. You entered the Army in 1977. So, that was under President Jimmy Carter. Time wasn’t good. The military was being cut back. American prestige was in the toilet. It was absolutely terrible.
CHARLES MIZRAHI: I remember those times as being so depressing — especially in New York. A couple of years before, President Ford said to New York City: “Drop dead.” New York was bankrupt. It was terrible. There was a malaise in the country. And the military was not looked upon as something good. I remember the vets coming home. They were called “baby killers.” They suffered indignities coming back. And you want to join the Army?
MARY EDER: There is a lot to be said for naïveté. Sometimes, it can lead you to the doors that, if you knew better, you probably wouldn’t open. So, at the time, what I saw was an opportunity to leave the small town, learn new things and have different experiences. I wasn’t clever enough to see beyond that at the time.
CHARLES MIZRAHI: Wow. Lucky for us, you didn’t. So, you joined the Army in 1977. You turn around, and it’s 36 years later. Did you think you’d stay in the Army for 36 years?
MARY EDER: I thought I’d stay for three years. I stayed for five because, as you said, it was a terrible time in the country and military. It was not a great time to be in the Army. It was not a positive place to work.
CHARLES MIZRAHI: I’m sorry to interrupt. When you wore your uniform — I remember feeling so terrible for vets. They came home and took off their uniforms — never to put them on again. I remember in 1986 or 1987 there was a parade for Vietnam vets in New York City. The mood of the crowd was so incredible. People were spitting on these poor people when they came home 10 or 11 years before. And now, they were like: “We understand what you went through, how difficult it was and what PTSD did to so many” — which wasn’t recognized as well. What was it like to be wearing a uniform in 1977?
MARY EDER: What was interesting— you talked about people coming back from Vietnam and the way they were treated — was that they were all draftees. They didn’t choose to go. Their number came up, and they went. Many people — older veterans at the time — had been in Korea. So, there were still a few who might have been in World War II, Korea and the beginnings of Vietnam. So, they saw the differences in these types of conflicts and what they meant to the country. When I first came in, you didn’t wear it when you traveled. It wasn’t a good idea to be recognized in uniform.
CHARLES MIZRAHI: It was discouraged?
MARY EDER: It was discouraged. It was discouraged later — when I was in Europe — too. It wasn’t safe to be recognized as a member of the U.S. forces.
CHARLES MIZRAHI: You’re telling me that military brass sent the orders down — or discouraged — it was an unwritten law. Don’t wear your uniform when you walk around civilians. Really?
MARY EDER: Right.
CHARLES MIZRAHI: Wow, that’s amazing. I never knew that.
MARY EDER: It also means you’re not representing the military in the public eye. And over the years, as we’ve had drawdowns and changes in the number of bases, many Americans don’t even know someone who has served or is serving. Right now, less than 1% of the country serves. So, be out there. Be out there in the uniform. Be recognized, and be thanked.
MARY EDER: You mentioned this parade. If you think about draftees coming home — who are not recognized. And yet, today, we have parades for the all-volunteer force. It doesn’t make much sense, does it? When you think about it logically, why wouldn’t we have recognized the people who, when their country called upon them, they went — rather than those who volunteer to serve? I’m not saying they shouldn’t be recognized. But the dichotomy doesn’t make sense — and how people look at those two types of service.
CHARLES MIZRAHI: I remember that Europe, before President Reagan, was a dangerous place for Americans.
MARY EDER: Yes. I remember that there were kidnappings at the time. There were gangs. There’s nothing like being stopped on the autobahn and watching the police run by you carrying the Uzis. You don’t know who they’re after or what is going on. The German police definitely does not slow down. They do not ask questions. They act. And so, at that time, you followed their directions. If there was anything that happened outside of the base…
MARY EDER: As you said, there were a lot of issues going on there with the safety of U.S. troops. We also had a lot of issues with Russia. We had trips going to East Berlin — when there were still two Germanys. I had a high security clearance, so I never got to go on one of those trips. So, I made sure that I did a couple of years ago.
CHARLES MIZRAHI: During the time period — during the Cold War — who were these trips to East Berlin sponsored by?
MARY EDER: It was called a familiarization trip. You could go to see what East and West Germany were like — to understand the meaning of your service there. At the time, the main adversary of this country was Russia. Will they come to the Fulda Gap? What will happen if there is a conflict? And so, it was about showing how they lived and how things were under communism. It was about letting people see what it was like.
CHARLES MIZRAHI: But that was controlled by the Soviet Union — who let you in there.
MARY EDER: If you were going to Berlin, you would look over the wall. You didn’t go in.
CHARLES MIZRAHI: So, you went up to the wall, looked over and saw. I was wondering. The Soviets were not going to let you in there. It was a terrible time. In 1979, on Christmas Day — the invasion of Afghanistan. The malaise. It was terrible. You’re in the military there. You only thought you’d be there for five years. That would take you to ’82. So, you were in there during the Carter administration. Did you start to see things change when Ronald Reagan became president?
MARY EDER: I can vaguely remember the talks — “Now, there’s going to be more funding to rebuild our military.” So, at that point, I was in the Reserves. I had left the active Army and joined the Reserves. I love the Reserves.
CHARLES MIZRAHI: Could you explain to me what the Reserves are?
MARY EDER: I joined the Army Reserve. There’s also the Army Guard — which also has the state component. That is true of all guard units — Air Guard or Army Guard. In the Army Reserve, I was in Virginia — in what was then a training unit. That meant if there was a major mobilization, and active duty units left or deployed, this unit would be activated to take over basic infantry training. So, that was a great unit to be part of.
CHARLES MIZRAHI: OK, so you’re in this unit. What makes you re-up after five years? What makes you continue onward?
MARY EDER: There is the need to have these kinds of colleagues and friends that you can’t find any other way. I don’t think [you can find them] in any other profession. When you are side by side and going through difficult times — even if it’s a training day and in the rain or mud. And it’s unpleasant. No matter what you do with a group of people that you would never have met, known, or become friends or colleagues with otherwise, you develop a bond that stays with you. And that was what I had missed.
CHARLES MIZRAHI: Growing up, did you have brothers or sisters?
MARY EDER: I had an older brother and sister.
CHARLES MIZRAHI: Were you close to them?
MARY EDER: No, they were much older than I was. My brother was eight years older, and my sister was six years older.
CHARLES MIZRAHI: So, when you were in the military, they became your brothers and sisters.
MARY EDER: This is your family.
CHARLES MIZRAHI: It’s your family. And how is it for a woman? You said you’re 5’3. So, you’re not a big, commanding presence. You’re 5’3. You’re one of very few. How did you make your way in such a male-dominated culture?
MARY EDER: It’s one of those things that you can’t think about. I’ve described it before as being on a tightrope. You can do what you’re supposed to do. We’re going to tell you to walk this way, take this weapon and shoot this target. And you do it. You don’t pay attention to the voices around you — or those who are watching to see if you fail. And you definitely don’t look down to see if you will fail. You’re given a task. You complete the task, and you do it as best you can. You make sure you understand it — what you’re supposed to do and how you do it. You watch how it’s done, and you go do it.
MARY EDER: Much of the training is done in this way so that if you are in a situation that is dangerous or frightening, you will automatically do the right things in the right order. So, there’s some repetition involved with some of these tasks. But once you’ve mastered those, there are levels and levels of access. There are cards that get you in the door and experiences you have to get you to certain points.
MARY EDER: But once you get to those points — one of the things we say is: “Anyone you look at, across the front of their uniform, they’re wearing their entire career.” So, you can tell. I can tell where you’ve been and which years. You were here, and you did this. We call some of them credibility badges. They give you instant recognition and credibility. And then, it starts the dance of: “Oh, you were here around those years. Did you know so-and-so?” And they say: “Yes, I did. Did you know this person?” And we get to where there’s two degrees of separation everywhere we go. It’s not six. It really is two.
CHARLES MIZRAHI: Right. So, was there a lot of animosity from men for having you around — and other women like you?
MARY EDER: Of course, there is that. It exists. I wouldn’t say it’s a lot. I would say it exists with those who might think: “You’re taking the job away that I could have had. You’re taking something from me.” Not that we can both succeed together. I was familiar with that. I was surprised by it at times. And other times you grow to expect it. But it doesn’t touch you. The part of me that is me is small, protected and internal so that I can navigate. I don’t let any of that bother me. I don’t react to it. I don’t become angry about it. I don’t lash out. I keep going.
CHARLES MIZRAHI: How did you take those lessons and use them in your post-Army life?
MARY EDER: Well, I think they become part of who you are. Your post-Army life. Every guy I know grew a beard for a while. There are the reactions that we know we’re going to have — a bit of rebellion. When I first retired, I ate ice cream every day for six months. And then I had to lose all that weight. But I got to enjoy it for a little bit. And then, the discipline comes back because it’s always there.
CHARLES MIZRAHI: Were women in combat during that time period?
MARY EDER: During that time period, we went through every phase of: “Don’t ask, don’t tell.” The change in that to women in combat — removing combat exclusions — to now. And I think it’s been several years where women are able to go to any jobs in which they can achieve the standard. That makes sense. We can’t have separate standards. Reality doesn’t change — whether you’re 5’3 or 6’5.
CHARLES MIZRAHI: Right. If you have to drag someone from a Humvee, you’ve got to have X amount of muscle and strength. You don’t want someone who got there simply because she checked the right box.
MARY EDER: Exactly. Because it’s going to put everyone else in danger. You have to do the same things and do them just as well.
CHARLES MIZRAHI: So, you commanded at the company, battalion, brigade and division levels. And all throughout your — pardon the pun — march upwards in your career, did you think every morning: “I want to be a major general. I want to move up.” I’ve never been in the military. I have awe and respect. In fact, several of the guests on my show have been Navy SEALs and people who have served with distinction. So, I am totally in awe of people like you who have given so much service. Do you wake up every morning and say that? In the business world, a lot of people do that. “I want to get to the next level. I want to get to the next level.” How was that for you?
MARY EDER: There are timed-gates, if you will, for the next level. So, you can wake up in the morning and look at a book that says: “You must do these things before you get to that gate.” That is just like investing. You must do these things. So, you know what you should do. You put it down. And then, you go off and do them. But you don’t look at the book again for another year. You don’t look at all your investments for another year because you would get too caught up in the day-to-day. Am I doing the right thing?
MARY EDER: So, if you put them away and look at them a year later, you can go: “I think I’m on track. Check.” Put it away. So, my goal was always: “I want to make Lt Col.” I’ve done all the things I should do. And I didn’t do them thinking: “I don’t want to do this, but I have to.” I did it with: “I’m going to enjoy this opportunity. I’m going to learn everything I can from it.” My ultimate goal — and this was wasn’t certain — was to make Colonel. At my time, 11% made Colonel — out of all of the lieutenant colonels being considered. So, that was a big step. I never thought I would make general. I didn’t plan for that. I was totally surprised by it. And it was a big shock.
CHARLES MIZRAHI: Why were you surprised? How does it work — where all of a sudden you wake up one morning, and military brass comes in and says: “I’ll make you a general”? How does that work?
MARY EDER: They’re all boards. The board doesn’t see you in person. They see your picture. They see your file of all the things you’ve done. They see how you were rated in your performance. So, you’re judged on that. Only when you get to the board that considers you for colonel are the people on the board — who are other generals — allowed to say: “I know this person. I think they would be good.” Or, they could say: “I know this person, and I don’t think so.”
CHARLES MIZRAHI: Right. So, you got to that level, and they all gave you the thumbs up. Were there any women sitting on that panel?
MARY EDER: I’m sure there were. I’m sure there was at least one. The board also gets guidance from the Department of the Army that says: “This year, we all want you to make sure you look at providing equal opportunity to every member who comes before this court. And don’t just look at those who may not have had an opportunity to. We don’t always choose the job. So, if someone has not had the opportunity to have a certain job, you can’t judge them negatively.”
CHARLES MIZRAHI: So, you didn’t get into this simply because you were the affirmative action type. You got in there on your merits.
MARY EDER: Yes.
CHARLES MIZRAHI: Wow. You could put all of female [generals] in one room — out of more than one million serving at the time. When you walked into a room and had all of these subordinates stand for you, were they shocked when they saw a woman with your rank walk in? There weren’t that many of them around.
MARY EDER: The first few times that happened, I looked around to see if there was someone behind me who they were standing for.
CHARLES MIZRAHI: Are you serious or joking?
MARY EDER: No, I’m serious. It’s a big adjustment. It’s not just a step up. It’s two levels. It’s a big adjustment with how everything works down. So, in the next job I had, the admin people in the office had to tell me: “Stop answering the phone. We’ll answer the phone. We’ll tell you when it’s for you.” And I said: “But I’m perfectly capable.” But they said: “No, don’t do that. We’re going to do it.”
MARY EDER: So, it was a learning experience. It’s not because you are at such a high level or a better person. They do this so you are freed up to work more. And that’s what you’re selected for: potential. It shows that you can do the work. You’re not a workaholic. You understand strategy and know how to put plans together. You manage projects and lead people. You know how to make a large organization follow your vision. Putting all of that together is the reason they promote you.
CHARLES MIZRAHI: When you got to be Major General, how many people were under your command?
MARY EDER: As the deputy chief of the Reserve — at that time, the Army Reserve was 205,000 people. So, my boss — the three-star general — was the commander of the Army Reserve. At the same time, he was also the Army Reserve advisor on the Army staff. And I was the second — behind him.
MARY EDER: To be given my own command is a symbol of trust. We think you can do this. And it was brand new. So, it started on day one with me and one other person. And then, over the next six to 18 months, we grew it to something like 18 units and over 6,000 people. That is not much. It certainly could be — and probably is by now — two to three times that. But with every step of that growth, there is all of the logistics in the buildings, the support staff and the everything that goes with that. It’s not difficult to put together, but it’s cumbersome and bureaucratic.
CHARLES MIZRAHI: What was the biggest change? You came into the Army in 1977, and you left 36 years later in 2015 or 2016?
MARY EDER: It was 2013.
CHARLES MIZRAHI: What was the biggest change you saw in your career?
MARY EDER: I think the biggest thing I saw was that, by the time I left, I had total confidence in the senior leadership of this organization. If you want to look at something comparable in size that’s global, it’s GM — or something of that level. But to have a global presence and a values-based organization…
MARY EDER: When I was first in the Pentagon, the Army developed the soldier’s creed. This is who we are. This is what we believe in. I am an American soldier. I am a warrior and a member of a team. I will always put the mission first. And there are several other parts to this. But everyone who is on this massive team believes in and supports the same ideals.
CHARLES MIZRAHI: Outstanding. Do you speak to young women in high school or college about what you’ve done and what the possibilities are — not even in the military, but what’s out there for them?
MARY EDER: Yeah, I do. I do some mentoring at local high schools here in Virginia. And in Florida, I have friends who call on me. I go back to my own high schools and college, too.
CHARLES MIZRAHI: Wow, outstanding. What’s the reception from the girls that you speak to? Do they look at you and say: “You’re an enigma” or “You’re so out of whack”? Or do they say: “Holy smokes”?
MARY EDER: Well, if they know what a general is, they’re like: “Holy smokes.” If they don’t, they’re like: “Wow, how long have you been around?” So, you’ve got a bit of both.
CHARLES MIZRAHI: By the way, the reception to your book — I saw the book. It was in the review section of the Wall Street Journal, which I read every Saturday. And not only did you get a writeup, but you also got a picture there. I didn’t know you were 5’3. The way they angled that picture made you look pretty impressive. I looked at it and said: “She’s totally in command.” It was a great piece!
MARY EDER: Thank you. You know, I’m facing the sun in that. So, I look like I’m being very frowny.
CHARLES MIZRAHI: You look like Patton. You look like George Patton.
MARY EDER: I had a giant cicada coming toward me.
CHARLES MIZRAHI: Why do you think your book is getting such a great reception? You told me that you have a byline. I think it was in the Wall Street Journal.
MARY EDER: No, it was in TIME Magazine.
CHARLES MIZRAHI: TIME Magazine. Right.
MARY EDER: It was an excerpt on the Charity Adams story.
CHARLES MIZRAHI: You were in the Wall Street Journal. It’s not an easy place to get to — especially for a new book. It’s about something that happened 75 or 76 years ago. And it’s really climbing up the charts. I looked at the amazing reviews you got on Amazon. What do you think? What nerve do you think it struck that made people so interested? I’ll tell you what I think. But I want to hear from you.
MARY EDER: Part of it is the way in which it’s written. It’s not written like it’s a regular history book — which will be all narrative or prose. By bringing in conversations and making these real people who you would want to meet, I think that changes the perspective of the stories a bit. It makes them accessible to new generations who think World War II is way back there beside the pyramids — thousands of years ago. In reality, it was just yesterday.
CHARLES MIZRAHI: Wow, and you just started, right? This book just came out a few weeks ago.
MARY EDER: On August 3, yeah.
CHARLES MIZRAHI: August 3. Holy smokes. So, it’s catching fire. When I read it, I said: “This could definitely be a Netflix miniseries. One chapter on one person at a time.” I love it. I get a finder’s fee on that if you definitely make that deal. One thing I did when reading parts of these stories — I think I told you in our first conversation on the phone: “I wish they went longer. There was so much more that I wanted to know about these people.”
CHARLES MIZRAHI: For example, I’m looking through my notes. Hilda Eisen. There was so much there. This lady was captured twice by the Nazis. Twice she escaped. Her husband was killed. They took her husband. They killed him. She jumped out of a two-story window. She was going to be raped. This lady had moxie! And she fights with the resistance in Poland. And she goes ahead with her husband, in California, and builds an enormous business of egg supplies. They start with little chickens. And all of the sudden … They’re amazing.
MARY EDER: They were the biggest egg supplier west of the Mississippi by the time they sold the business in 2000. When they started, neither of them spoke English. They saved enough money to buy about $5,000 worth of chickens. She would package the eggs up, and he’d sell them on the back of his bicycle. And as the business grew, they moved it to Norco Ranch and changed places. He was running the business, and she was doing the marketing. So, they were total business partners in this.
MARY EDER: But to go from absolutely nothing to that is just amazing. Both of them lost their entire families. She lost her brothers, sisters and parents. They were killed in one of the camps. He survived Auschwitz — along with his brother. And his stepbrother was the only other one who survived. So, the family they created, the legacy they built and the people they helped came from the absolute worst time in our history.
CHARLES MIZRAHI: They gave hundreds of thousands of dollars away to charities and foundations. They wanted to help others. I’m absolutely amazed. What strikes me about your book — I can speak to why it’s catching fire the way it is. I think you made these people very human. You showed all the frailties. When you’re reading it, you say: “They weren’t Wonder Woman. They had fears, but they barreled through.” They just said the Army creed — the soldier’s creed. The mission comes before everything else. I think they framed it that way. And you get that feel simply because of the way you wrote it.
CHARLES MIZRAHI: I’m not trying to dig too deep here, but you wrote it from a position of experience. You weren’t any of these women. But you understood what the mission was. It wasn’t a matter of getting a reward. It was: “I have to accomplish it. It’s all on my shoulders. I have to get this done.” And they got it done.
MARY EDER: And they were young, too. They were 17 and 18 and said: “Yeah, I can do this.”
CHARLES MIZRAHI: Wow. Alice Marble. She was young. She had a career as an amazing tennis player. And she was riding around and getting stopped by Nazis. It was crazy. Folks, the name of the book is: The Girls Who Stepped Out of Line. I highly, highly recommend it. At worst, you’ll learn something. And at best, you’ll have pride in what people can do when they put the mission above themselves and have dedication to a cause. I think that’s the inspiration I got out of your book. I think you’ve done a tremendous service to the public.
MARY EDER: Thank you. Thank you so much.
CHARLES MIZRAHI: And I say this sincerely — I say it to everyone, and I really mean it — thank you for your service. It was because of people like you that I was able sleep soundly at night, raise a family and worry about how to make money in the market while you were out there putting your life on the line. This country — and all of us who have not served — owe people like you a tremendous debt of gratitude. Thank you.
MARY EDER: Thank you. Now, I’m going to listen to you.
CHARLES MIZRAHI: Great to hear. General Mary Eder. The name of the book is: The Girls Who Stepped Out of Line. Go out and get it, folks. It’s an amazing read. Thank you so much, General.
MARY EDER: Thank you.
CHARLES MIZRAHI: Thanks for listening to this episode of The Charles Mizrahi Show. If you’re a new listener, welcome! If you’ve been listening for a while, we’re glad to have you back. Either way, we’d love to know what you think of the show. Please leave a review if you listen on Apple Podcasts. Reviews make it easier for others to find the show. You can also see the video of the interview on The Charles Mizrahi Show channel on YouTube.
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