U.S. Coast Guard Oral History Program


 

The Back Story of an Engagement

by

C. William Bailey


Claude William and Dorothy Neideck Bailey had over 48 years together.  When they celebrated their 48th Anniversary on December 12th, 1995, in her hospital room with their Priest, family and hospital staff, they were just as deeply in love as they were one evening in August, 1947, when on the sofa in Ruth Clark's "Mirador" apartment in San Juan, Puerto Rico, they planned their life together.

Thirty four days later in January 1996 Dorothy was "Promoted To Glory" to worship and serve Our Lord in Heaven.

Dorothy's life can be summed up in that one word, "Service".  Before the marriage she had a professional career as a Nurse Anesthetist serving the sick.  During the early years of the marriage she raised three fine sons with a considerable percentage of the time alone due to her husband being away at sea.  In later years she studied to become a Eucharistic Minister to visit the sick and infirm.  Always she was "there" to support her husband.

We learned from the 2001 TV diet that it is interesting to look behind the scenes of a story to see what went on in the back lot, so to speak.  Well, here's the Back Story of Dorothy and Bill:

A first post-WWII tourist, Dorothy, 24, was making her first major trip away from the bosom of her family.  Her mother was concerned but glad that she would be visiting an old family friend in Puerto Rico who was teaching English and the organist at the Episcopal Cathedral. I am sure that Mother 'Jean' believed that Ruth would act as a "Duena" for her daughter turned loose in this sphere of Spanish influence.

Bill, 31, a Lieutenant in the U. S. Coast Guard, had achieved command of two ships during the war, and was now skipper of his third ship, newly assigned to the CG Base in San Juan.

The story of the romance is told from Bill's point of view in Chapter Five of his Autobiography.  Dorothy never kept a Diary, so we can only guess at her thoughts.  During the courtship, the young people thought that Dorothy's folks back home were not aware of what was going on.  Dorothy did not like to write letters and probably thought it would be better to tell all about it when she returned home.  What the kids did not know was that Ruth, a sweet and lovable old lady, was also a prolific letter writer and took her self-imposed duties as a "Duena" most seriously.  She wrote a detailed report almost every day of the three week visit, but always saying "Now don't let the young people know that you have already been told."

Many years later these letters were found.  Now here in her own words, is what happened from the Duena's point of view.  If the comments appear somewhat disjointed or grammatically unconnected, please remember that amid the mountain of correspondence to be screened, only that which directly involves the two principal characters is quoted here:

August 3rd 1947 "A Mr. Bailey called Dorothy this afternoon. He is in the Coast Guard and I figure he counts himself quite lucky to be able to have a nice girl for the evening It is just real sweet the way the boys are dating Dorothy. Tomorrow we are being taken around on the island and up into the mountains, but Dorothy says we just must get back by five. I guess she considers that her date with Mr. Bailey is worth more than time spent with the fat young Lutheran Minister who drove us all around".

"Don't be surprised if Dorothy doesn't write. She is in such a whirl, I wish you could have seen the only two boys left in the choir--Ted and Mr. Bailey. Sunday morning in the choir room I saw them watching her with an attitude of having together, found a rare attractive creature. Later that day Ted asked if I would mind if Dorothy went to a concert with him. It was OK with me but I remembered that she had told me that Mr. Bailey wanted her to come to the ship the next evening. It was just about midnight when they came in.. Dorothy seems to enjoy this boy, Ted, so much. He is a tall angular youth, 21, but mentally way ahead for his years. Dorothy was the first girl he has found that can talk seriously about things he is interested in. After a short visit I shooed him out. When he left, D said it had been a perfect evening, and that it was so nice to have an evening with a boy who could really discuss things and exchange opinions."

"The next day I thought Mr. Bailey was coming at five, but he was early and I entertained him while D finished dressing. I found out that he had been a trumpeter in the Boston Civic Symphony Orchestra, and that his father was a professor in the music conservatory of Capital University, in Ohio. I asked Bill what he did on the ship. He replied that he was the Captain. I was so embarrassed. I hadn't noticed his insignia. He was quite the proper officer in our conversation. He said he hoped I didn't mind taking my guest for the evening. He was so pleased to have her with him. This was a "command" affair and was ultra formal. The Commodore had come down to the ship to ask for the loan of two stewards-mates to come up to serve at the party".

"We were talking about home later and it came out that he was a descendent on his mother's side of the first Episcopal Bishop of New York. Then he spoke about the party. They were to go on board his ship before going to the Commodore's quarters. It was the 147th. Birthday of the United States Coast Guard, and that the ladies were coming in long dinner dresses, with something over the shoulders. Would I please tell Dorothy".

"She came in about twelve or a little after. The party had been a great success and she had a lot of fun. What thrills me is that she tells me all the little things that happen. That is, she tells me plenty, perhaps not all. They went to the ship and looked her over. Bill's cabin was spacious and attractive. He had five officers with their dates or wives, and they all walked over to the Commodore's together. After the party she went back to the ship to have some frozen strawberries, a rare delight in Puerto Rico. Changing to a street dress she returned to the wardroom, and sat down to howls of laughter of the ship's officers They said she has just committed a serious blunder-she had sat in the "Captain's Chair" She just laughed and did not get up. The Captain came in and was much amused, getting his camera and taking her picture."

"The next morning Dorothy said she was going with Captain Bailey to an Army Post Exchange to buy a light meter for her camera, visit the Governor's Palace and Gardens, and go to the ship for lunch. Afterwards she would come home because Ted was to take her swimming at three."

"Tomorrow I will be taking her across the island to visit Ponce and Mayaguez. The boys will have to wait a while. Captain Bailey said he had to take the ship out on Friday for a week so I guess he won't see her again. But, believe me, you'll see him in New York some time in October."

"The Captain called about eleven this morning and said he was taking his ship out this afternoon and would like Dorothy to come for a short ride. She hadn't been gone twenty minutes when the Reverend Roig called, wanting us to come over there tomorrow night. I know I will have to press a little because Dorothy and Captain Bailey are going to take pictures tomorrow and go to the Officer's Club for a swim. A little later, Ted called asking if Dorothy was there. He wanted to go swimming this afternoon. I just hold my breath every time the phone rings, wondering if I can be tactful and keep everything going smoothly."

"Dorothy seems to be really enjoying herself. This morning she came out in our kitchenette and gave me a big kiss and a spank, and another kiss. This from our reserved Dorothy gave me the surprise of my life"..

"So far everything continues to work out smoothly, without one boy knowing about the other's dates. Perhaps they wouldn't care if they did. Ted left the church just at five, I went out on the terrace just then and saw Dorothy and Mr. Bailey going into the church. Later, when I got home, they were both there. I told Dorothy that Ted would be barging in shortly to pick up a book, but with that she sweetly said that she and Bill were going out for a lemonade. Which they did just before Ted came. He got the book, and asked for Dorothy.. (That was what he had come for mostly). She. got back a few minutes before seven. She and Bill were having such a good talk that she wished she could have had another hour. The phone rang. It was young Jorge. She asked him to come a little later, perhaps about eight. The dinner turned out very well but we had only a few minutes and ate standing up at the kitchen table. While we ate, poor Ted called, asking Dorothy to go swimming tomorrow. That couldn't be done as she and Bill have the day fully planned. So Ted is waiting until Sunday afternoon.

"Her trip to Bill's ship must have been thrilling. She took the taxi from here as Mr. Bailey had asked her to do. They wouldn't let the taxi pull onto the pier, saying that the ship had just pulled out. She explained that that was a sister ship and that the one she was to meet would arrive exactly at one PM.. Although the guard insisted that there was no other ship coming, he let her in anyway and even dusted off a box to sit on. At one, right on the dot, Bill pulled in to get Dorothy aboard before sailing to the fuel pier. I wish I could have been there with her. It isn't a boat, it is a big ship, and the whole crew came to the side waving to her. They put out the gangway but it was very steep. One officer came down to steady her and another reached down from the ship to take her hand. When they got her aboard they escorted her right up to Bill on the bridge. She stood beside him as he backed the ship out, turned it around and headed for the fuel pier across the harbor. They were out on this trip for a couple of hours. When she came home she was simply "walking on air".

"The boys literally are sitting on her doorstep waiting their turns for a date. Yesterday morning she left at 9 AM and went shopping and to lunch with the Captain. Ted came to the Mirador at 2 PM to be on time for his date to go swimming at 2:30. Dorothy came tripping up the steps at 2:20. And almost fell over when she saw Ted's head in the window. But she entered with such poise, showed us the precious light meter, carefully avoiding any mention of whom she'd been with this morning. She sat down at my desk in a most business-like manner, saying to excuse her, she had to write a note of something. A few moments later she called me into the bedroom and held before my eyes what she had written at the desk. "Ruth' Captain Bailey wants to take us both out to dinner at 6 o'clock. 0 K?" I said "Fine", and two minutes later she glided out the door with Ted. She came beaming back at 5:20, I got her out in the kitchenette and whispered "How are you going to get Ted out of here before Bailey arrives?" She looked pleadingly at me but I told her it was entirely up to her. In five minutes Ted was happy and blithely on his way with a promise that he would get word as soon as we get back from our trip to Mayaguaz. She said "Ted, I'll have to show you out since we have to dress for a dinner date". I heard him say "Why, yes, that's quite all right'. Bailey showed up at six, just as scheduled, and as I dumped my beautiful pudding all over the kitchen floor, he graciously helped me clean up and fixed the pot handles. We had a lovely dinner in down town San Juan.".

On Dorothy's last night in San Juan, Ruth wrote: "I noted that Bill manages Dorothy more as if he were an older brother or a father, than just a friend. They'll be back around eleven and Dorothy will open her champagne, that is, I guess she will. I've made one big bobble. The other boy, Ted, has been calling yesterday and again today, and I thought that since Bill has had every minute of her time since Thursday, and since this was the last night, it was the thing to do to ask Ted over too for a few minutes. Bill will be with us all day tomorrow-he will be a big help in getting her luggage ready for the plane. I suggested to Dorothy "the thing to do is to have Ted come over tonight---he has been so nice, taking you swimming, to the show, etc." Well, by Jove, if our young lady didn't say "No" in no uncertain terms. She'll just call Ted tomorrow morning from the airport and say "Goodbye". So that's that! : After Dorothy's plane departed, Ruth wrote: "1 didn't count on finding you a son-in-law but this surely has the ear-marks of "such a thing". I just can't say he is good looking, but I must admit that he comes across with everything that is worth while. They have so much in common, it's just uncanny. "

"Since the middle of last week, Dorothy hasn't seen anyone, or anything, but Bill, and he hasn't seen anything or anyone but Dorothy. The birds at the window haven't a world of their own any more than these two young folks."

"Now, please don't forget to tell me in detail, how this young man impresses you when you meet him this fall. It wont be long because he thinks he will be sent north by the middle of September. This I am sure of, Dorothy has had one perfect three weeks visit."

"It is my idea that Bill is ready to "pop the question" now, but he is so prosaic and conventional that he is waiting to see Papa first. I venture to say Papa will like him. If Bill Bailey doesn't turn out to be your future son- in-law, I really miss my guess. They have so much in common that it is uncanny. He has that characteristic of yours, Frank, of quietly planning ahead for everyone's good, and in such a pleasant way that Dorothy always says "All right".

* * * * * *

And with that, the back stage correspondence from Puerto Rico came to a halt. . Dorothy was happily flying home, eager to tell her family her good news, when Fate intervened.

Dorothy's father, Frank Neideck, suddenly passed away from a heart attack while vacationing in Vermont on the very day she flew in. An uncle met her at the airport. The following day I received an overseas radio-phone call.. Like all calls of that period, the connection was poor and at times unreadable. Thunderstruck, I felt that my response to my Beloved had been inadequate---one seldom knows what to say when hit with news like that. So I called her back and said I would move heaven and earth to try to get Emergency Leave to come to New York to be with her.

This was quite a problem because my ship had a work schedule to sail the next day, and my executive officer was not yet qualified to command. The Base Operations Officer, our non-favorite Commander, was giving me a hard time over my request. Fortunately the skipper of our sister ship which was going into repair status, volunteered to take my ship. I got a Coast Guard flight over to Guantanamo Naval Base in Cuba, and from there a Navy plane direct to New York the same day. I met my future Mother-in-law at the funeral home, not 10 feet from her husband's body. Was it a difficult meeting-for both of us? Yes, you might say that! She was gracious but cool.

Mother Jean had arranged for a room for me at the nearby YMCA where she was an executive. Leaving the funeral parlor, she invited me home and we sat around the kitchen table getting acquainted over coffee and sandwiches. The temperature had warmed considerably.

The big Lutheran Church on West 65th Street and Central Park was filled with mourners. Dorothy's parents were well known and very active members. I am sure that the presence of a strange young naval officer in the family pew was duly noted. I could not help thinking that this would not be the last time I would see this church.

Before I had to go back to my ship, Dorothy and I went shopping for The Ring. There was no way I would use the one I had bought in Hawaii. There were two strikes against it already. Before the day was over we has just what we wanted-a perfect diamond set in platinum with matching wedding rings. There had to be secret inscriptions engraved so we could not get the rings right away. I knew I would be coming north in the ship quite soon in a change of home port and would be stopping in Charleston, S. C. on the way to the Great Lakes. So I suggested that Dorothy pick up the rings and meet me in Charleston so I could present her ring properly. She was anxious, of course, to show it off at the hospital where she worked.

Back I went to San Juan and the US Mail did a land office business in lovers' correspondence for the next few weeks.. Soon we got our sailing orders and started north. The exciting trip to Charleston is described in page 44, Chapter Six of my Autobiography. Dorothy met us and after a wonderful day together we ended up in the famous Battery Park on the harbor edge at 0130 hours. I formally presented my Beloved with Her Ring, swearing eternal fealty and love as has been done by Southern Gallants in this spot for several hundred years.

Dorothy went home with a new radiance, keeping her left hand conspicuously visible. I took my ship straight around Nova Scotia and up through Canada into the Great Lakes, to our new home port at the city of Grand Haven, Michigan. There waiting for me was my relief, a full Commander. This turned out to be a less than happy occasion due to his complete ignorance of our type of vessel. Read Chapter Six of the Biography. Headquarters in it's wisdom had decided that after command of three hard working Buoy Tender 180-ft class ships, I should be exposed to the spit and polish routine of large Coast Guard Cutters. Thus I was ordered to duty as Navigating Officer of a 311- ft Ocean Weather Station ship home ported in Boston, and was granted a 30 day leave en route.

Ruth resumed her correspondence with Mother Jean. The proposed trip for Dorothy to go south to Charleston had apparently raised some eyebrows.

The Mirador, September 27th, 1947

"About the trip south: Frankly I did not think Dorothy would go and I think Bill doubted it too, as it would be an expense and he is so level-headed that he looks at things from all angles.. However, now that she did go, I wouldn't say one word about it one way or the other. I cannot comprehend the seeming depth of their attraction for each other. Bill could scarcely stand it, to be away from her, even before he left here. It isn't just silly puppy love stuff either. He wants her so that he can tell her all about everything that happens every day, and he wants to start a home.".

"In letting her go to Charleston, I'm sure you did the right thing. Dorothy has a mind very much of her own and its time for her to begin to use it. Where she is not practical, I think Bill will keep an even keel. I am sure she is inclined to act and then do the thinking afterward. With you and Frank right by her, she didn't get off the track."

"Now since they've seen each other down south, I'll be all for gently but firmly standing for an after-Lent wedding. In every way that is the sensible thing. But the thing one has to watch is the two themselves, Dorothy and Bill. My conclusion is that if it had not been for Bill, Dorothy's losing her father, with whom she was so extremely close, would have been much worse for her. I think she found so many traits in Bill like Frank, that this is the reason why she decided in an instant that this was the man she wanted to marry. For my peace of mind it was fortunate that all this happened while Frank was still with us. But now I am sure that Bill's having come just when he did, is making him nearer to Dorothy, almost doubly so, and I am wondering if the emotional strain isn't awfully heavy for her, to be separated from him at all."

"I could write another paragraph on Bill's side of the picture. He is a man that acts when he makes up his mind. He said to me when 1. questioned this quick engagement, " I have been a Captain now for six or seven years and I had to train myself to make correct decisions without dilly-dallying, and then carry them out, and the worst of it is that they simply have to be correct." He went on to say" Don't think I just rushed into this. I sat up one whole night deciding whether I should ask her. And then I decided that I would, and I didn't even have to she was thinking the same thing."

So, if they won't wait until Easter, I wouldn't feel too badly about it. It is one of those loves, that with any other two young folks rather than Dorothy and Bill, they would have been married at once. I believe that Bill is going to take over right where Frank left off.


With the help from our beloved "Duena" and the Coast Guard's giving me 30 days leave, we sweet-talked Mother Jean into letting us have a December candle-light Wedding. See Chapter Six of the Biography.

As I write this Back Story of Perfect Love, watching the light sparkle on the fourth finger of the left hand caressing the computer keys, I think of the lovely girl that gently placed the Ring of Eternal Love there so very many years ago.

Thank YOU Gentle Reader for your interest in Our Story,

C. William Bailey , Captain, United States Coast Guard, retired -- Unlimited Master, United States Merchant Marine


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