SS-SV Harkness, Nov 23-26, 1918

SS-SV Harkness
November 23, 1918

Well I guess I will make a few more remarks. It is getting pretty hot again now but I am sitting rite under a ventilator so don’t mind it. Last Tue we got a SOS from the Princeton, another Standard Oil tanker. She was out of fuel oil and we had to lay at anchor a nite and half a day to give her some. That delayed us. We would have reached Panama tomorrow but now we won’t get there till Mon nite. It is sure ideal weather tho. Warm but comfortable in the breeze, a smooth sea, the ship hardly rolls a bit. And so clear that you can see a long ways. We have passed a lot of fishing smacks, little two masted sailing vessels.

We are in the Caribbean Sea now. We passed quite close to Yucatan when we came through the Yucatan Channel.

For a chance I did a half days work yesterday, helped clean up our armory. We had a lot of work to do on the gun too this morning. We had to take it all off with emery cloth and it sure was some job.

Well, we will soon know if we go off at Panama or finish the trip. I hope we finish teh trip altho if we do we will be over a month with no chance to write or hear a bit of news. But it will be a nice trip tho.

Well can’t think of much to write so guess I will wait til we get to Panama to finish this.

Tue. 26

Well we are just about halfway thru the Canal now. We passed Gatun Locks about 9 o’clock. I guess that we will soon be to Culebra Cut. I never saw such a beautiful country as this. Dense green trees everywhere. I saw lots of oranges growing wild along the banks. We just got out of Gatun Lake. We have seen lots of natives paddling around with canoe loads of green bananas. I bot some big ripe bananas for 25 cents a dozen. Sure were fine ones, too. Wish I could send you a bunch by wireless. I guess that we won’t be taken off at Balboa. We haven’t heard anything about it, anyway.

We didn’t get a chance to land in Colon. Hope we do in Balboa. The locks at Gatun sure are wonderful. They raise you 85 feet in three locks. We just now passed a soldier post away up on the banks. They all seem friendly enuf. Lots of white people along, too.

I guess we can send letters ashore by the pilot if we don’t get ashore ourselves.

Well I guess I will quit for now. If we can go ashore I will write more if not will try and write from Pisagua, Chile.

Yours with oceans of love,


SS-SV Harkness, November 19, 1918

SS-SV Harkness
November 19, 1918

My dearest Maude,

Well, it will be about a week before I can mail this letter but I can write some now and then when I get to Panama. We left Tuxpan nite before last about midnite and I guess we will be at Panama next Sun or Mon. There is a chance that we will be taken off there but I hardly think so before we get to the states again. It is a little cooler now because we are going around the Yucatan peninsula but it will be hot again when we start south.

I mailed you a letter from Tampico, but I doubt if you got it because you know how the greasers are.

We were in Tampico about two days. We were not allowed liberty but I went ashore in dungarees. There wasn’t much there, just a bunch of dirty greasy peons. They live in worse shacks than we keep pigs in and pigs, chickens, burros and cultures live with them. They are sure unfriendly to Americans and favor Germany. I pointed to our gun and said to one greaser aboard, “Mucho combato allemand sumarino” and he wouldn’t answer me. I believe if I hung around there I could talk spigoty too. There were all kinds of peddlers aboard selling parrots, lace, fruit and opals. I got some fruit, lace, and traded an old shirt for an opal. I got some Mex money, too. I want to get some coin of every country I go to. I have dos cinco centavas pieces and dos una centaro pieces. That is two 5 cent pieces and two one cent pieces. Mex money is worth only about half as much as ours. A dollar of our money is worth $1.90 Mex.

We have been having quite a sea ever since we left Tuxpan. I was awakened by about a gallon of sea water in my face that came through a port the nite we left Tuxpan and water is coming over the rail all the time on the well deck.

Tankers have a low deck except aft is the poop deck, midships the saloon deck, and forward the forecastle. These are about 15 feet higher than the well deck and are connected by a fore and aft bridge called the monkey bridge. We have to walk on it to keep from getting wet.

I guess you are skating now, but I can hardly imagine it. My arms and face are brown as nuts and my neck and shoulders are so sunburned from going around without a shirt on that I can hardly sleep at nite. If we stay on here I guess we will get to Frisco about the last of Jan or the first of Feb.

I sure would like to be in NY when the first bunch of troops come back. All the news we get is a little wireless and sometimes we don’t get any. Last nite we heard that the first troops were coming back this week and that Wilson was going to France. I hope I will get out by next spring. I rather believe I can. I would not mind staying in for four years but there isn’t much advantage to staying in peace times.

Well, I have some work to do so guess I will ring off for today.

As ever yours,

Although I can say to myself “times have changed” and that these were young men who were raised with very different views of humanity than I was, it still always disappoints me to read the racism in the letters. Especially with Sylvan, who was so sophisticated in so many other ways (even at this point in his life; he was about 19). It was what it was, but it’s still a letdown.