3.2 Panama – September

Saturday, September 1, 1945
at sea

4-64-278 [I don’t know what these numbers mean. A coded location? Anyone else have a guess? – ed.]

Dearest Wife,

Another month ushered in – and another long month gone by without my seeing you. We’ll almost forget what July and August could be like together! Two in a row that we’ve missed. But there’ll be no more, I hope.

I can’t concentrate on anything. We’re almost in and tonight – or tomorrow at the latest – there should be a big pile of letters waiting for me. The latest I have was written August 3rd. Almost a month during which I know nothing of you. Have you changed greatly? I hope not, ’cause you’re already as near perfect as a mere mortal like me can stand. But soon I will know. Soon you will tell me how you are spending the second half of the summer, and how you are surviving – or have survived – French class, and how the garden grows, and how Nana & Gramp are reacting to your cooking, and how good a swimmer you are, and how you passed your classics test and how you still love me. And I hope you still do love me. Every letter I want to turn to the back first to see if you are still my own. I know you are, and yet I cannot be reassured too often. Most of all in your letters I want to know that I am still all in all to you as you are to me. All the other things – the deeds and the thoughts are directed to that goal. If you did not still love me they would be so empty – interesting in an academic

Saturday, September 1, 1945
Panama – at anchor


Dearest, dearest, wife –

Did you get my last letter telling you how happy I am going to be tonight? Well the anticipation was nothing to the actuality. I shall control my excitement a bit – I must if I am to tame the headlong rushes of my pen to something resembling legibility. Perhaps the best way would be to recount the day’s activities in orderly manner:

I wrote last just before supper. After supper I sat out on deck and watched the shore come closer. I was smoking a cigar. Since we were coming in I knew the chief might want to use his room. Also I was too excited to study. Finally we dropped the hook and seemed to settle for the night. Then a “boarding party” – that’s actually what they call themselves – of gold-braids came aboard to see the captain. Nothing seemed to be happening. It was very hot since we stopped moving. I went up to the chief’s room to see if he wanted to play some chess. He was busy but said a little later. I had to do something. The boarding party said the company agent would bring out our mail. Since it was Saturday night (the loneliest night in the week!) with a long weekend


coming up, and I am natural disdainful of all companion. I didn’t know when we’d get the mail. I was nervous – I knew it was coming and it would be wonderful when it did – but I couldn’t seem to relax very much. So I read for a while and then the chief said he’d play and we started a game. We had a couple of interruptions and he doesn’t concentrate too well anyhow, but it started out like a close game. But I’ll never know how it would have ended. For suddenly somebody said, “mail call!”. There was a long wait while the delegates sorted it out by departments, then Bob came down to the messhall and parcelled it among us. And my share was full to overflowing. I could hardly carry it all. Ten letters from others, and 16 from you. Wonderful, wonderful. Everything up thru number 201 written only 6 days ago. Just think, only last Sunday you were sitting down writing to me. And today, less than a week later, I am answering you. How wonderful it is to be alive, when life offers you. But now I’ve stopped talking about everyday things like anchors and chess and the lump is back in my throat. Maybe if I light a pipe it’ll help calm me down.

But I don’t want to calm down. The amazing excitement inside me is so glorious that I want to keep it there. But I want to tell you about it and to do that . . . .

Friday, September 7, 1945
at sea



At last we are really started on the long, long journey, and although I don’t like in the least the length of it, I am glad we are on our way. For the sooner we go the sooner we’ll be back, and that is all that matters to me.

The canal was fascinating. I have heard that there is no more censorship of mail so I shall describe it to the best of my ability:

Before we heaved up our anchor we took aboard a pilot, a group of navy and marines, and a large number of canal workers. The navy and marines are for security reasons. They trust no one. They stand around the ship with loaded guns and rumor has it that one should not throw an empty can over the side. They’re liable to shoot first and then ask if it was a bomb! There’s one on the bridge and one in the engine room, with a specially rigged phone connecting to make sure all orders are transmitted correctly.

The canal workers do everything involved in passing thru the locks except for the actual running of the winches. Which is a break for us.

Well then, so fortified we set out. The first locks are very near the entrance, so we did not go very fast. I stood up in the bow to see what went on, and it was extremely quiet. As we came into the locks the engines were on “stop” and the only sounds were our voices and the slow creaking of the winch being warmed up. Such silence is strange enough at sea, but it was very uncanny surrounded, as we were, by jungle. As soon as we entered it was a desolate place. Luxuriant vegetation right down to the water’s edge. We were on the lookout for crocodiles, but saw none, and no sounds at all from the jungle. An occasional ramshackle hut or beached row boat added to the desolation – as though man had attempted to settle and had been beaten by the jungle. Of course the illusion was only momentary. A jeep or a train would whiz by on hidden tracks to show that in a way man had conquered the jungle.

A gentle rain started to fall. It was unlike the sudden cloudbursts I had associated with the country as it sort of drizzled down for hours. But it was a welcome relief from the heat, since there was no breeze at all.

There was a group of canal men forward, one aft, and one amidships. As we approached the first lock a marine warned everyone back from the bow (I didn’t go far and sneaked up again later). The canal men let their heaving lines down thru a chock and a boat came out from the center strip. There are double sets of locks and the reversible arrow told us to take the right hand one. When we were

Panama Canal sketch

A – lighted arrow telling us which way to go
B – tracks for cog railway
C – locks

about at <1> a row boat came out with three lines. They tied the first one to the bow heaving line and dropped back to the other stations. The canal men pulled in the end of the line, tied it to the winch and heaved. The


other end was attached to a cable which came from one of the cog railway engines. We pulled in the cable and made it fast. About this time <2> another boat came from the shore side and the process was repeated on the starboard. Similar things were happening amid ships and astern, and our ship was now trussed in like so: Panama Canal sketch 2 The railroad engines were silly looking little things but tremendously powerful. The cable was on a windlass on top of them and could be reeled in or out, in addition to the engine moving along the track. The door to the first lock now opened and the engines (donkey engines, they call them) pulled us in. It looked like a tricky job, keeping us right in the middle, not too fast, not too slow. Not too hard with us. but imagine in a battleship, where the clearance on either side is less than a foot! It was obvious why they had to be cog railroads: a profile view of the track was something like this: It made the rises all at oncePanama Canal sketch 3 rather than in any sort of a gradual slope.

Anyhow, they pulled us safely into the lock, and as the big gate shut behind us, we sent a mooring line ashore on either side, bow and stern. One would think the engines enough to hold the ship, but I guess the lines are in case anything goes wrong. In a remarkably short time we had risen about 30 feet and the next door was being opened, and the whole process was repeated. As we moved from lock to lock they would cast off the mooring lines from shore, but leave the heaving lines attached, and a guy would walk alongside the ship holding it, waiting to tie up in the next lock.

There were three such locks, with a total rise of 85 feet, I think. Some such figure. And as we came out the last one in the lake we were already at the top of our journey. Then the dinner bell rang, which I think was very good timing.

And now it’s bed time, so you’ll have to wait a while for the second installment of the trip thru the canal.

And you’ll have to wait a while for me to hold you tight in my arms again. But when I do ….. !

I love you,



. . . the long list of meaningless names and positions on the ballot. My only choice was to not vote them or vote by party – and neither is conducive to good government. The federal govt is as it should be – it is the state and local govts that are bad.

The general principle should be to vote for legislative positions only, and probably the chief executive (although the city-manager, or British prime minister have much in their favor). But judicial and administrative posts should be filled entirely by appointment, as non-partisan as possible. Those who make the policies should be directly responsible to the public will. Those who carry them out should be experts who carry out the laws as made, and the judiciary which interpret them should definitely be non-partisan and of fixed tenure.

I read a little book by Jerome K Jerome, Three Men in a Boat. It’s very amusing in a way, and to anyone who knows the Thames doubtless interesting as well. But to me it seemed very long drawn out, although only a hundred-odd pages in length. As though he had material for 3 or 4 Benchley-type essays and had stretched them into a book.


. . . how you’d like me to look when I get home? mustache (d), beard (f), side burns (c), goatee (e), the whole works (a), or clean shaven (b) or any combination thereof.

Screenshot 2016-01-06 11.23.46

Just to give you an idea of the possibilities!

Read the original letters