Clyde Stanley Shields was just months short of cancer claiming his life when he penned a deathbed letter to his then-infant grandson, Scott. With carefully chosen words, the 59-year-old retired military man, who was the chief test pilot of the atomic bomb project, talked about knowing the ways of the world -- the ways of men and the ways of war.
What made his words especially poignant is that the much-decorated pilot honeymooned in Pearl Harbor at the start of the war and also played a role in ending the war. Among his 110 test flights, he tested the B-29 aircraft that delivered the bombs that led to Japan's surrender on Aug. 14, 1945.
The letter is proudly framed in the home of grandson Scott Shields, 38, who lives outside Rochester N.Y. with his wife and two children.
"I re-read it all the time," says Scott Shields of the letter. "It's one of those things that whenever I had questions in my own life, I could read it and find answers." He said he is saving the letter for his own children, now ages 5.5 and 1.5 years old.
"His words were meant for me, but they now live for my own kids."
Shields says "It's a long letter, but worth the read. Many have called it prophetic and a brilliant piece of literature. Judge for yourself."
Here are images of the letter, written on October 7, 1974 from a cancer treatment facility in Dallas, Texas. The letter is also reprinted below.
7 October, 1974
I doubt this letter will mean too much to you now - you can't even focus your eyes, yet, but maybe, years hence, it may mean something to you. So, I hope your father and mother will keep this for you until it does mean a little more to you.
You may or may not get to know me – your Grandfather – that is in someone else's hands. But just in case you do not – I'd like to leave a few ideas with you. Ideas, I may say, that I tried to germinate in your father's mind with varying degrees of success.
To begin with you are very welcome to this sad, tattered and abused old world. We really haven't done a very good job of preserving it for you. On the contrary we have plundered it of its wealth of minerals and oils, polluted its streams and even the very air we depend on for the very breath of our lives – and we've done this with our eyes wide open and with the knowledge that we were doing it! How we explain this, I really don't know except to say that I, for one, am sorry for it.
We have not learned, even, to live with our fellow men. Instead we have perfected more means to annihilate him – to wipe him (and ourselves) from the face of the Earth.
We produce record crops of grains and other foodstuffs, but still much of the world goes to bed on empty stomachs and thousands starve to death every day.
It's a strange and confusing world we leave to you. I only hope you can do a better job with it than we have done.
But, in spite of what I've said, there is much, in life to enjoy – to relish. There is also much that can be done to make life worth while and living worth the "candle." There is a rich heritage of literature and music that awaits your investigation – it's there for the taking – in the libraries of the country and in the archives of the museums. There is poetry and prose – enough to fill all the hours you can spare to listen to them and more knowledge, on every conceivable subject, than you can assimilate in a lifetime. It's all there just waiting for you to ask for it or to seek it out. Don't overlook it or pass it up for less important or less meaningful pastimes.
Most important of all is ability to savor life, to taste of it in as many variances as you can – while you can. Life never looks so short as when you look back on it. Unfortunately you cannot do this until it has passed you by. So, as you go through life, don't overlook the "Lily in the Field," the newborn puppy, the fledgling bird – for they are as much (or more) of life as the tall buildings, the shiny automobiles and the possessions we tend to place so much importance upon. If you can do just this much – life will be more meaningful for you.
When your Dad was born I was busy playing soldier, World War II was history – but recent history – and in which I had a small part. But then I lacked both the knowledge and the wisdom that comes from experience. Now, at 56, I think of what I might have done – and didn't. But all of us are blessed with "20/20" hindsight.
If I could package (with ribbon) those gifts that I would most like to give you, I would. But how do you package integrity, how do you wrap honesty, what kind of paper for a sense of humor, what ribbon for inquisitiveness?
But, since there is no way I can give you any of those things, I can in this year of your birth, wish that you will find some wisdom and some guidance from these words, and, perhaps my wish for a bright new life for you will, eventually, come to reality. At least I hope so – with all my heart.
[UPDATE]: Scott Shields noted in an email to the Huffington Post, "This letter has meant different things to me at different times of my life. When I was first presented it as a child and my father read it to me, it was an interesting piece of history from a man I never knew. In my teens, it made me realize that there is a lot out there to experience. It really hit home for me when I became a father. . . . I think the most important aspect of this letter is its timelessness. Almost 40 years ago this was written and today it is just as profound and to the point as it was then. This is my most cherished item. My son will have this one day."