Aug
2012

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,
Sylvan

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. 

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