Port of Spain, Trinidad. 3 October, 1947

Dearest Betty,

If you see that kid brother of mine, before he goes back to sea, give him my best and tell him to, “keep his feet dry”!

As for Venus, the declination is such now that I can observe it transiting my meridian down here, at night, close to the moon, but, in Lexington, at this time of the year, Venus is over your head in the daytime, and Zenith distance is smallest in early afternoon. Go ahead! Make something of that.

But, if you really want to show your mother that you know your stuff, then turn the page and study the chart, and you’ll soon be able to point out some of the stars. While your studying them, think of me because at the same time, I’ll be shooting them to get the ship’s position.


David W. Shields

Nightfall~ A velvet cloak of midnight blue settles over the land.
A cloak~ Hard wearing fabric, pretext? doubt?~ fear, uncertainty.
A cloak!

Moonrise~ The pale shafts of enlightenment descend to light the breeze of faith,
tearing the cloak asunder.
Whose cloak?~ Your cloak!
Enshrouding the unknown, my love.

Behold, I am your moon!
Turn your face to me.
Bath your beauty in my shafts of enlightenment.
Feel the warm, but salty breeze of my faith.
Hold still! Whilst I tear your cloak asunder!



Port of Spain Again. November 2, 1947


Dearest “Cyclone”,

What is this, “Bark from a Lacewood Tree”, business?


Twice you’ve asked me and twice I’ve asked the natives. But, I can’t make them understand me. Maybe you could describe it to me, then I could explain what I’m looking for next time I see one of the natives.

We have to stick our bow into the jungle to turn the ship around each time we go up the “Commewijne River”.

Commewijine River

Commewijine River

The last 50 miles into the jungle, the river is so narrow that we have to be towed, stern first, otherwise we’d never be able to make it.

Well, last time we stuck our “nose” into the jungle, a 26 ft. Boa Constrictor dropped to our deck, and we found ourselves with a very undesirable passenger.

boa constrictor

After we killed it, we stretched it on a board, and the third mate skinned it. The skin of a dead Boa Constrictor is very beautiful, but it sure looked horrible when it was alive. How I’d hate to have one of those things drop on me!

Anyway, the third is going to make his wife a handbag, and have shoes made to match, out of the skin when we get back to the states.

Would you like an alligator handbag? If we stop at Dominica or St. Croix on the way north Bett, I’ll see what I can find for you.

Well, my 24th birthday was spent like so many of my previous ones, at sea. At sea in a world, not at peace, but, at least not in armed conflict, as yet.

Maybe if events continue in the same direction, we’ll be fighting the war after the next with clubs and spears.

Gosh darling, the days go slowly, when you count the passing of each. I scour the endings of your letters with a searching glance, looking for one that will tell me what I want to know. So, don’t think I missed the quotation markers you placed around “home”. Thanks darling. At least it’s one step in the right direction. If we’ve taken one step, we shall walk together yet.

The heat down here is simply terrific. I could take 10 showers a day, and still not cool off. I hope I don’t catch pneumonia when I go skiing with you in December.

This is, without a doubt, the hardest working run in the Merchant Marine. In addition, there is more than enough monotony. Work comes at any hour of the day or night. But, that’s the way I want it, because the time goes by just a little, not much, faster.

Well, judge for yourself. I have been away a little over three months, and aside from my regular work (8 hours per day, 7 days a week) I have a total so far of 700 hours of overtime work. Work done at all hours of the day and night. But, at $1.60 per hour extra, that makes $1120.00 in overtime alone, aside from my monthly pay. So, I guess I can stand it. Whom’ I kidding! Of course I can stand it. I’m making that $1.00 I had in the bank when I left home look sick.

In our five dollar bet as to the length of time you would remain unmarried, months that I am away count just as much as months that I am home remember!

Oh Betty, there are so many things I want to say when I start to write, so many things that are still unuttered. So many thoughts felt so beautifully and intensely, are still, just so many thoughts unshared. Partly because I fear to reveal some of them, but mostly because, when I start to write, I look at your picture while planning what I’ll say. Then all I can think of is, “Honey, soon-soon, you’ll be my girl again! Then anything I write seems stupid and irrelevant compared to the feeling of urgently, desperately wanting you.


I’ll close now sweetheart, at the end of day saturated with disgustingly healthy and torrid Caribbean sunshine. At the end of the one hundred and second day without you.

God Bless and keep you Betty
for your

P.S. Keep my heart beating!

Renaissance Man


Port of Spain, Trinidad, B.W.I. October 22, 1947


David W. Shields

Dearest Betty,

Came across the following while perusing a book of early essayists:

Her divine skill taught me this;
That from everything I saw
I could some instruction draw,
And raise pleasure to the height
From the meanest object’s sight.
By the murmur of a spring,
Or the least bough’s reselling;
By a daisy, whose leaves spread
Shut when Titan goes to bed;
Or a shady bush or tree;
She could more infuse in me,
Than all nature’s beauties can
In some other wiser man.

That’s all! Doesn’t it seem a little strange to you that I should enjoy poetry as I do? Maybe it’s because I work with the sun, stars, and planets and wagering my wits with the counter currents of the sea. Anyway, I enjoy reading good poetry.

Honey, I appreciate the fact that you would like to know when I’ll hit the states, in order to arrange your time etc.. But, nothing will be definite until written sailing orders come aboard, and we are actually loading for the states.

The New York office has been flooded with phone calls about the “Hawser Eye”. Enough of those, “when will my Johnny be home’s”, and we may go back sooner than I think.

I shall send you a wire just as soon as I find out for sure when we will leave for “Home”. When you will still have time to talking “Fluffy” into giving you your vacation when I am there to share it with you.

Maybe we can go skiing together, for a day anyway. I’d like to stop in at the old “Arlberg Inn” for a weekend though. Just to be once more in the spot where it all started.

The best estimate, it’s only a guess, mind you, of our voyage from here is as follows:

Port of Spain to the jungle
Jungle to Port of Spain
Port of Spain to jungle
Jungle to port of Spain
Port of Spain to jungle
Jungle to Georgetown, British Giana
Georgetown to Port of Spain
Port of Spain to Dominica
Dominica to St. Thomas
St. Thomas to New York City (arriving last week in Nov. or first week in Dec.)

You see darling, we can’t seem to get any information out of the “Alco” office down here about when we are leaving. Guesses run wild! You never really know until the written orders are on board.


There is still a chance that I may get home in time for that dance you mentioned. It will be wonderful to go out with Tom and Gwen again! And, oh Lady! would I love to see you in an evening gown again! With that corsage stowed in the usual place!

We have had wonderful times together my love. When you remember them, also remember that it is only the beginning. We have scarcely begun to enjoy each other.

Do I want to drive down to 3rd Cliff when I get home?


Third Cliff. Scituate, MA

Honey, that’s almost like saying, “Do I want to hold you in my arms again!” You know the answer to that. Third Cliff has been intricately and inseparably into every year of my life. All the years I was at sea, I returned, if only in thought, to the treasured, longed for beauty of Third Cliff in summer.

Now, I love it more than ever, because, as long as I live, when I think of Third Cliff, you will be beside me.

Yes, we will go to Third Cliff!

My darling, love me a little, have patience with me, for I’m not long from your arms. When your read this, the days shall be even less than now.

There will not be the slightest flaw in my work when we aim the bow north, and I navigate “home” to you. The Gulf Stream is strong this time of year, and I shall have a fair current all the way “home” to my darling Betty.

God Bless You and keep you for,

Your Dave

At Sea. Enroute Port of Spain. October 15, 1947


photo (11)

David W. Shields

Dearest Betty,

Well, it looks now as though I shall be coming home to you about the second or third week in November. In any case, no later than the third week in November.

I have the Chief Mate’s berth on here next voyage, if I want it. But, I’m going to have a talk with the Port Captain when I get back and see about a Chief Mate’s berth on one of the Liberties or a C-1 out of New York. Then I’d be home every five weeks. Wouldn’t that be great huh? Then you wouldn’t be able to forget what I look like.


Gosh darling, I’ve missed you terribly. There are so many things I want to talk over with you. I value your thoughts, and the interpretations you give. I want to share so many of my thoughts and ideas with you, and get your reactions. But, I don’t want to do it by mail. I want to wait until I have you beside me, once more. Has it seemed a long time since I’ve held you darling? Have you really missed me? Not just when your alone or feeling blue, then it’s easy to miss a body. Do you really miss me? At odd times in the day. Have you looked at the office door, perhaps, wishing I could come in and take you to lunch? I hope you have. When someone, whom I’ve never met, but am terribly jealous of, takes you home, do you find yourself wishing, occasionally, that the arms you’re in were mine? Please!

Girl of mine! Just think, in less than a month, I shall be “home” and for awhile, you shall be really my girl again.

I hope that each time I leave you in the coming months, you shall come to miss me more and more, then we shall both know and this affair shall be one-sided no longer.

Well, my love, I must sleep a few hours, (very few) in order to be fit for my watch.

Sleep very well my love,

October 25, 1947

I happened to come across the rest of this letter in my drawer. Must have forgotten it was there. However, I could just as well have written it today as the same thoughts are in my head.

Except for the sailing date. as you know by a previous letter, we are due in Newport News, Va. on the 6th of December, and I’ll be home one or two days, at the most, after that. So, sweetheart, if any event arises that you think you’d condescend to be seen at, with me, I shall be free each and every night until after Christmas.

Cold as it probably will be, Brr! I shudder to think of it! We shall have to go to 3rd Cliff one day. And if there is snow at Guilford, we shall have to go there one Sunday anyway, (a visit to the scene of the crime?)

See if you and Tom and Gwen can decide on a few thing we could do, and a few places we could go on double dates. A good play, a ball game (I guess the season will be over by then though). How about “Pops”, have they started yet?


But, don’t you dare have anything planned our first night, for I want to rediscover you without too many witnesses.

I imagine, allowing two days to discharge cargo, another for annual inspection, and one more getting my relief, that I shall be home on the 10th of December; one day either way at the most. So far as I know, that is definite.

Honey, I’m giving you fair warning on this so I don’t expect any surprised comments from you. I expect to see you my first night home. If you should be out on a date, and see the Shields’ car in your yard, upon return, it will mean that I’m inside, waiting for you, and I don’t care who your date is, get rid of him but quick and come “home” to your Dave. Forewarned is forearmed!

Can you still not understand why I’m so positive and insistent about our love? Think this old one over:

“Faith is the substance of things hoped for,
The evidence of things not seen!”

“The heart has reasons, of which, reason has no knowledge.”

I love you,

Yer ole Sea Daddy!

Georgetown, British Guiana. November 12, 1947

Homeward Bound!


Dearest “Cyclone”,

Originally, we were scheduled to begin loading operations for the States, today, the 12th of November. But, a week ago, while we were at sea, bound for Paramarito, our orders were changed by radio.

We have put in a very long week, believe me! Well, the outcome of it all is that right now, at 20:07 hours, 8:07 p.m., we are fully loaded and on our way home.

We will stop at Trinidad for bunkers, fuel, and fresh water, then Dominica for 120 tons of rum, then St. Croix for 2700 stems of bananas. From there we put in at Newport News, Va., for partial discharge.


This change in plans is maddening, because it means that I shall be in the States about 2 days before Thanksgiving. But, I shall be at Newport News. The voyage won’t end until we reach New York, either on Thanksgiving or the day after.

Darling, there is a chance that I’ll be able to go to that Thanksgiving dance, provided I can catch a plane. (This ship is rolling so violently, that I have trouble writing.) So, my girl, if you haven’t a date with someone else for the dance, get your gown, the black one, I have something for our that will look well with it. Cross your fingers, because if I don’t make it, it won’t be my fault. I may die trying.

Also, be sure your skis are ready, or better still, let them wait, and I’ll put a good running surface on them for you.

Darling, do you realize we will have almost a whole month together. Maybe you could even get your vacation the first week in December. Try!

Oh honey, I can’t remember when I’ve ever been as happy. I’m bubbling over! I hear a loud voice inside me singing…”going home, home, home, home!”.

I don’t want to say much more, because if you could guess how terribly I’ve missed you, and could feel the butterflies running riot inside me now, when I think that soon I’ll hold you in my arms, you’d probably be afraid, and your mind would start moving around in circles of doubt, like the loveable “cyclone” that you are.


One life,
One love,

Paramaribo, Dutch Guyana. October 7, 1947


Dearest Betty,

You say, in your last letter, that the gift of my heart frightens and bewilders you, and that perhaps I can help you when I get home.

Honey you wait and see how long you remain frightened and bewildered after I get home. I promise it wont be for long. NOW LETS GET THIS THING STRAIGHT! ONCE AND FOR ALL! I quote:

“You see once I gave my heart and for four years I waited and hoped and believed, and then things happened, waiting. Hoping and believing were over, were things of the past which only fools practiced. I dread waiting and I promised myself that I would never again wait as I waited. I know I am selfish, but that is how it is and must be. Dave, please hurry home.” (Home is in quotes thank God!).


To begin with precious, I’m the one who has been waiting for you! If you would not let foolish thoughts run riot within you so much, when you are alone. If you could only wake up to reality, you would realize that you are not even participating in your dreaded, “waiting”. You are merely floating on the surface of synthetic, aerated dreams. If you continue, my love, you will soon lose the capacity for making any decisions of your own.

The waiting, my sweet, is entirely up to you. I am, and have been, ready to offer you permanent shelter in my arms, the patience, knowledge, and understanding that can come only from one who truly and completely loves, as I love you. I offer you my heart, my life, my love, for life, immediately, or whenever you wake up to the fact that all you have been secretly hoping for, I intend giving to you.

I, not you, wait. How long? Just say, ” Dave, I love you! and see how long your dreaded waiting will continue. Betty, my sweet, please! please! wake up! Realize what we can be to each other. Have done with this, “I have been wronged in the past” complex. Right now! Your not the only one to whom it has ever happened. Your mind is so foolishly crowded with the nonsense and doubts of the past, that you fail to recognize the beauty and stability the present is offering you.

“Dave, you have given me much and believe me I could not and would not cheat you. Nothing lasts that is not built upon truth. You say you have given me your heart.”

I say I have! My gosh! I eat it, walk it, sleep it, and mull it over in my mind on watch! I know, and when are you going to start believing me? When I get home, take you in my arms, tell you that I love you with all my heart? When I look into your bewildered, uncomprehending eyes, and say,

“Love, I am your moon, turn your face to my shafts of enlightenment.
Feel the warm, salty breath of my faith.
Hold still whilst I tear the cloak asunder!”

I hope to be home for about two weeks, when I get there. Our sailing date, as yet, is none to definite. See if you can get “Fluffy” to hold off on your vacation so you can take it when I get home. About the third week in November, my best guess at present.

God bless you my love,
and keep you,

Your Dave

P.S. Write again soon.