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. 


Tampico, Mexico, November 14, 1918

Tampico, Mexico
November 14, 1918

My dearest Maude,

Well, here we are, anchored in the harbor of Tampico and from what I can see of it I would just as soon be somewhere else. It sure don’t look like very much, but oil wells and tanks down here, but I guess we are about 10 miles from the real town.

Well, at last the war is over. It hardly seems possible. I may get my walking papers in about 6 months. I expect to be on here 4 or 5 months yet but don’t know for sure. I doubt if this ever reaches you but it mite, so I am taking the chance. We only get fuel oil here and tomorrow go about 60 miles down the coast to Tuxpan for our cargo. Then as far as we know now we leave for Chile.

We sure have had a fine trip down. Been pretty hot for the last couple of days and I have a nice case of sunburn but we are getting used to it now.

I guess it is getting pretty chilly up there now. I hope I don’t go north till spring now that I am where it is warm.

We went close by the coast of Florida for one day and it sure is pretty. Saw Palm Beach. It must be some joint by the looks of it.

Well, I guess Clark won’t get a ship now unless he gets set to a battleship. I may have to go on a battleship, but I don’t know for sure.

There is about 5 monitors in the harbor now and when we came by they said “no liberty for any Armed Guards in any Mexican port.” But I am going to try to get ashore anyway. I am pretty sure we can get ashore in Tuxpan anyway.

We saw a lot of flying fish and porpoise on the way down and some sharks but no whales. I think there are whales around here but we saw none.

We have been standing regular watches, 4 on and 8 off but from now on I guess we  will not have to stand watch so regular. I will write you a long letter from Panama. I don’t think it’s much use to write much now because I doubt if this ever gets out of Mex.

We were working pretty steady on the gun all the way down. It was an old one and we had to work on it pretty hard to get it in shape but we fired two shots the other day to try it out and it works fine now.

Well, I will close for now and write again soon.

I am as ever yours with love,


Brooklyn, October 25, 1918 – “Maybe the war is going to be over one of these days. I hope so but I guess not till spring. “

Brooklyn Naval Yard
October 25, 1918

My dearest Maude,

Well I am writing this evening as I have lots of leisure time. We got a restriction for two weeks because an officer caught three fellows asleep in their bunks when they should have been studying. So he said, “Well, Guard 92 can just stay aboard for two weeks.” That’s the number of our guard.

This is only the second nite and I feel lost. Part of the bunch went to moving pictures in the mess hall but I have seen the picture so it don’t interest me much. I expect I have a letter from you at the Y. I will jump ship tomorrow and go see. I will jump ship anyway before I say in here two weeks. All we got restricted for was such a little thing that I don’t intend to stay in here for two weeks. Last nite one fellow jumped ship and another one got caught trying. They put him in the brig but let him out this morning.

I don’t think we will be here any way in two weeks. They tell us in the office that we will get either the next or second ship out. Believe me, I can’t get out of here too soon to suit me. I don’t do enuf to keep me from getting lazy. We did quite a bit of exercise this morning. We marched up to Fort Green Park, drilled quite a while, then boxed three rounds. Then had physical exercise, two games with basketballs and a game of “sacks” played with a football. Then some more drill and marched back. Not so bad, eh?

Then this afternoon we cleaned up the barracks for tomorrow’s inspection. So we did quite a bit today. I sure hate to think of laying around here Sat and Sun.
I have too much sleep already. I am not used to sleeping so much and turning in at 7 and getting up at 6 is too much. That’s what I have been doing the last two nites.

Maybe the war is going to be over one of these days. I hope so but I guess not till spring.

We had some time in here this evening. We had a half dozen boxing rounds and then put a good jazz tune on the Victrola and all had a dance. We sure are some bunch of dancers in here. But I would about 1000 times rather one-step with you than anybody I know of. I guess we can show them how to one-step, can’t we?

I came nearly losing my hammock lashing today. I just scrubbed it yesterday and it was not quite dry. I came in and a fellow was just lashing his hammock with it. I jumped him and he said, “Well, someone took mine and I had to have one.” I persuaded him that he didn’t’ want mine tho in pretty short order.

Well, I reckon you still have a hop in Harvard once in a while, don’t you? Henderson still comes, eh? Well, if I were you I wouldn’t let him take me home either. He is the one that wanted to know so much about me, eh? Well when he wants to know any more just tell him we are going to be married my next furlow or anything like that and he can come and talk to me then. I sure wish you could drop in and visit me next Sun. Lots of girls come to see the fellows Sundays.

Well, I hope I can soon buy you a souvenir in France or some other foreign country. I want to send this by a kid so I will ring off for now, here’s hoping I hear from you tomorrow.

As ever yours with oceans of love,


Brooklyn Naval Yard, October 1, 1918

Brooklyn, NY
October 1, 1918

My dearest Maude,

Yours recd this evening and here goes for an answer rite away. Pretty good for me, eh?

You must be having the same cold weather that we are having. We are sure getting enuf. It is clear but cold. At nites on watch, I nearly freeze. I see where my B.U.H.’s  come off when we go to sea. I had to stand watch at the brig Sun. nite 8-12 and Mon morning 8-12. They had some pretty bad prisoners and as there are no bars we stood with automatic pistols loaded and ready to get instantly. I had the flap on my holster back and I sure would have plugged any lad that tried coming thru that door. If a prisoner escapes we who are on guard have to serve his time out so you can see I was taking no chances.

We took them out for exercise and chow the next day and I walked with one hand on my gun all the time. Nearly froze, too, standing out there because it wasn’t very cold at 8 and I didn’t take my coat.

Our chief came back from his furlough this morning and he says he will soon get us a ship and then off for France or some other country.

Well dear, I am glad that you decided to forgive me for not coming home on my furlough and believe me I will be willing to risk “getting mine” when I get a chance to come see you.

Rollo sure must have had some job herding turkey in the rain. I don’t know what’s the matter with the little nut, he never writes to me any more. The folks say there is another Rollo Moore formerly of Pullman now in Camp in NY. Maybe he is getting the letters I write to the kid.

No doubt I would think Fern a doll if I should see her. It’s no question to me where she gets her looks, why from her aunt, of course. I pity any more little kid that ever has me for an uncle and expects to get any looks from me.

I think you look pretty good in that picture, tho a trifle peeved but I would much rather it had been me standing with you instead of Hugh. I bet I would have made you smile.

You say it must be nice to be popular. Well I bet if I were around there, I would show you just how nice it really is to be really popular with.

Yes, that is Ord Hamilton with me in that picture and he sure is a good skate, too. He is going to be married the third of this month. I wish I had a dollar for every hundred miles I have rode around with him. I would have enuf to have a lot of fun on, all rite.

I am buying a Liberty Bond. I will have #12.50 a month kept out of my wages for four months. I thot I should do all I could to help win this war.

I have my album about all fixed up now. I guess you know whose pictures are in it mostly. Yours of course. I may send it home for the folks to keep before I start out as there is always a chance of course of being sunk and losing your stuff.

That sure must have been a darned kid in Bovill that looked like me.

What do you want me to send you from France? One of these days you will be getting a letter postmarked France. Any way, I hope so. Well as usual my darned pen went dry so will have to finish with a common pen.

I thot Hugh Queener was going to enlist. Why didn’t he? Do you know its a year the 26th this month since I enlisted, or rather as we say, “shipped into the outfit.” So one fourth of my time is done whether the war ends or not but I don’t believe there will be any war in a year from now, do you?

Well, dear, I can’t think of much to write. It seems like things are just the same here. I sure will be glad when I see the Statute of Liberty getting small, away off but I know I will be a lot gladder to see it coming back. Any way, I know I was last time. A fellow likes to make tirps but the old U.S.A. Is a might good place to come back to, all rite.

Well, I guess I will have to call this a job for now. Here’s loping to hear from you again soon.

As ever yours with lots of love,

There is a jazz band playing up in the auditorium. Make me wish you were here and we could shake our feet a little.