Man Overboard


Port of Spain, Trinidad
27 August 1947
10:00 p.m.

Hello Heart Tender, (Keeper, that is)

It’s rather hot down here, as you can see by the way the ink blurs. Tonight, about two hours ago, to be exact, I was taking a longboat back to the ship. As I rounded the stern of a Liberty ship, a seaman committed suicide by leaping into the ocean. My boat searched for him for over an hour but we could not locate him, in the dark and with the swift current. He probably made one trip too many up into the jungle of Moengo, under the hot sun.

Men crack up on this run my dear. But, never the ones who are really seamen, who have clear heads, a sense of humor, faith, and a woman who loves them.  For example, several weeks ago, an engineer tried to smuggle through customs with his pockets and suitcase filed with Bauxite. (bauxite is ore, something like iron ore only very light and powdery) The engineer had just been down here too long, and with the continuous heat and constant hauling of Bauxite, the poor fellow’s mind just cracked. “Going Fruit” we call it down here. Why do I like the sea you ask?!

It’s peace and quiet,
It’s the roar of elements, angry and torn asunder.

It’s smooth and gentle,
It’s mountainous and terrifying.

It’s challenge.
It’s defeat.

It’s confidence.
It’s fear.

It makes men.
It breaks men.

It’s comfortable and pleasant.
It destroys men who know not how to sail.

It’s securing loose gear on a dark night on a wet deck with green seas coming aboard.

The sea is the place where a man who knows his work reigns supreme and unchallenged, and where a man who tries to bluff his way along is eventually caught and taught a permanent lesson, by the sea, the very element he thought to bluff.

Only those who know the sea and his habits can successfully sail her. Men who don’t do their work in the proper manner, are careless, are caught eventually, and reckoned with in nature’s own way.


The question, “Why do I like the sea?”, is really a poser. Sometimes I like it, mostly I don’t. But a man is suppose to do what he knows best. At least until new opportunities are available.

I know that rather than go to sea, I should like to be married to the girl I love, work ashore, come home to her every night, etc..

But, at present, let us say merely, that like the sea, or not, there are other things I desire more, and what I’m doing now, will enable me to obtain that which I desire, more easily, and retain it more capably. All this work is an attempt to answer your question.

Sept. 1. At Sea

Darling, I haven’t written for the past two days because I haven’t felt too hot! The sun is changing it’s declination from North to South, which means that it is directly overhead. If it is hot where you are, just imagine what kind of furnace I am working in. Not only is the sun hot, but, it’s heat is retained and reflected up to you by the steel decks on which you stand your watches.

Four hours, under those conditions, I must confess have been all I could cope with lately. I had sun fever yesterday, but was all right by the time my watch came around, so I went up for more punishment.

This is all for now my love. I have to sleep off today’s sun so that at midnight (four hours from now) I can stand watch again. Darn! It’s hot!

I love you Bette!



“Tag, You’re it Venus”


At Sea, bound from Bermuda to St. Thomas
6 August 1947


Hello Darling,


I’m very close to you this evening.  It’s a truly beautiful night.  The ship has a merry pitching roll, as if deep down in her dark insides, she was laughing at a fellow who falls in love, then goes to sea.  For a while, tonight, I went on deck, smoked a pipe-full in that “skiing pipe”, and listened to my thought waves clamor with one another for your frequency.  How am I to know you are even tuned in?

Then, after a bit, while I relaxed there, smoking, the moon rose, and Venus started playing her nightly game of tag with her, and I was no longer here.  I was sitting on the porch at Scituate with my back against your knees, tasting the sublimness of an unforgettable moment.

About that time, “The Hawser Eye” takes a lively dip, and a roll, then another dip, frolicking happily in her unharnessed freedom, as if to say, cradling me, “I’ve got you now Dave Shields, you came back didn’t you!”

Sure I’m back temporarily!  But, one day soon, someone else will say, “I’ve got you, you came back didn’t you!”  And…that will be in East Lexington, not at sea!  And…that will be my love, not “The Hawser Eye”!  And…I’ll sign on for good!  Not three months.

This is the thought I shall have to close with tonight as I’m due on the midnight watch in 2 hours and have to get some sleep.  More tomorrow!  See you in a half hour.  Goodnight.




At Sea. 22 September 1947

at sea

Darling Betty,

It is evening! The soft, lulling, hiss of the season’s first snow is just audible above the lively crackle of the fire, and through the storm windows. The golden circle of light from the fire forms a cozy haven from the overture of winter without.

Here in “pre-tucking -in” conversation, sit a sweet young girl, Betty and her son, “Davy”. After the consistency of pleading, of which only the young are capable, the bedtime story begins. Taking a lock of hair from the little boy’s head at her breast, and curling it around her finger, with a strange sparkle in her eyes, she looks into the fire and says:

“Once there was a man who, sailed ships like that one on the mantelpiece, all over the world. But, after six years, he no longer wanted to go to sea, he wanted to come home and settle down and have little boys like you, Davy.”

So he started working ashore helping his father design houses, like this one. But, he wasn’t happy, although he was glad to be home with his mother and father, and put thoughts of war, Iwo Jima, and the marine he killed behind him. He was uneasy, and needed an outlet to ease his mind until he decided how he was going to earn his living ashore.

Now, about this time, the snow started to fall, and one day while he was cleaning the cellar, this man noticed a pair of skiis, covered and neglected in the dust of six years of idleness.

So each weekend he would relax by going North into the crisp, untarnished air and ski, and ski, and ski, until his heart, (still within him) sang with exhilaration, and joy.

Now, one weekend, on a reunion with several old ski buddies, back also from the, “Late Hate”, he met a lovely girl, who was to change his whole life.

He tried several means of becoming acquainted, one most notable. But, he had little success, so he copied down her name and address from the hotel register, resolving to try to get in touch with her when he got home.

After the initial date, things went smoothly, and the nights they were together went by all too fast. After a few months, and with her help, he finally made up his mind to go back to sea for a year.

Now the girl knew that the man loved her very much, in fact, he gave her his heart for her birthday. But, she really didn’t think she loved him, until after he had gone to sea. Then she began to miss him, and to realize that she might be falling in love with him too!

Then little Davy raised his head sleepily and asked, “Who was the man Mommy?” “He was Your Daddy!” you answer.”



Maybe someday you can tell a little Davey that, my love. I hope so! At least it’s my dream at present. Will it be yours?

I love you Betty,


P.S. This letter sounds a little strange, when I read it over, but you get the general idea, so please bear with me on the rest. ( I really shouldn’t send it, but, oh well- here goes!)

Goodnight Darling!