A Seagoing Cowboy meditation on war

I recently came across this September 13, 1947, Gospel Messenger editorial by Desmond W. Bittinger in my research and asked for permission to reprint it here. The image was not a part of the original editorial.

Why Do You Hate Us So?

The seagoing cowboy walked sadly through the rubble of a devastated European city. A child with dwarfed body and twisted limbs and with the lined features of an old man followed afar off. Every time the cowboy waited for him he hid behind the walls of debris which lined the street.

The ruins of Gdansk, Poland, April 1946. Photo courtesy of Paul M. Martin

Finally the cowboy sat down in the rubble and looked about him. Near by were the forsaken ruins of a church. Across the street from it were the foundations of homes, but they were fire-scarred and heaped full of fallen bricks and timber. Here and there appeared broken fire hydrants and the evidences of exploded gas mains. As he rested the child sidled up nearer. It was evident that he was examining the American with unusual curiosity.

Finally, very much to the surprise of the American, he asked in English, “Why do you hate us so?”

“We don’t hate you,” the American replied quickly. “I just came over from America to bring cattle to you so that you could have milk to drink. On other ships we have sent you shoes and clothing. Little children in America save their pennies to send them to you. You are mistaken,” he said almost pleadingly. “We don’t hate you. We want you to grow up to be big and strong.”

The lad listened carefully as if trying to understand every word. Then waving his hand inclusively over the broken city he said, “I used to live here. This is my home. Didn’t you do this?”

And the cowboy hung his head. In imagination he saw this boy’s family. Half a dozen of them were here then. This was their church; over there was their home. Around the corner was their school. These streets were clean then. The walks leading up to the houses were always scrubbed; flowers bloomed in their yard. And inside the house there was always sunlight.

But all of that was changed now. Sunlight could not reach even the basement, for it was filled with rubble. Father was dead; mother was gone; perhaps she was a slave somewhere. Where were the other children? Some were dead; some were D.P.’s whom even America would not receive. The choir no longer sang in the church; there would be no more midnight Christmas celebrations. The American concluded his meditation, “This is worse than a graveyard; it is the inside of a tomb. Death is still here.”

Bombs from overhead had done this. They had done it to free a people, the cowboy had been told. When he looked up the lad had disappeared in the shadows. The little wizened face and the dwarfed body were gone.

To free a people? Can war ever free a people? he wondered. Though the lad was gone his questions filled all the crevices which had been homes. “Why do you hate us so? Didn’t you do this?”

We must share and give, praying God to help us live so unselfishly both now and hereafter that no little children ever again need ask, “Why do you hate us so?”

Love can cast out fear; it is the only thing which can. D.W.B.

Used by permission of Messenger magazine, Church of the Brethren.

 

Heifers and Havoc on the S. S. Humanitas, Part III

This series of posts brings to light the incongruity of Heifer Project animals being donated and shipped to Italy in the spirit of Christian goodwill to help destitute Italians recover from World War II on the one hand and cigarettes for the black market being smuggled into Italy on the same ship on the other. This post picks up the story on the fourth Heifer Project trip of the S. S. Humanitas that departed Baltimore on June 9, 1948.

Loading the S. S. Humanitas in Baltimore. June 1948. Photo courtesy of David Harner.

Like Charles Cutting and Byron Frantz on previous shipments, David Harner felt the ship reducing its speed as it approached the Naples harbor. “No one gave any explanation,” he says. “When I asked Señor Cortali [the radio man], he just shrugged and walked away–standard behavior when he didn’t want to answer a question. By nightfall, the ship was proceeding at a crawl, and finally, when it was completely dark, the ship came to a full stop. Crew members went around the ship making sure that no light escaped from the portholes or companionways. Still no explanation from the officers or crew. Suddenly, out of the dark roared several large, very fast speed boats.”

Harner’s crewmate Jim Moffet picks up the story. “A Jacob’s ladder was thrown over the side of our ship and a man came aboard. The crew of our ship began carrying boxes out of the hold and lowering them over the side into the boat. When it was loaded, another boat came out of the darkness and tied onto the side of us.”

Harner says, “After an hour or so, all of the speed boats had been loaded and they sped away into the darkness. Señor Cortali appeared. ‘You see? Cigarettes. You no tell anybody!’ We had witnessed a major cigarette smuggling operation. Cattle and cigarettes–strange cargo!”

After docking in Naples, Harner traveled up to Carrara, Italy, where the Brethren Service Committee had a project which was often visited by the cowboys on the Italian trips. Harner spent the rest of his summer there helping with the project’s children’s camps.

The cowboys on the next trip of the Humanitas once again experienced the smuggling operation. The outcome of their trip, however, was different from all the rest. Having heard the story from some of the cowboys who visited the project at Carrara, Harner writes it as his own:

“Soon after docking,” he says, “four or five men in suits, accompanied by several carabinieri with automatic weapons slung over their shoulders boarded the ship. They all looked grim. What they wanted was even grimmer. We were all under arrest: cowboys, crew, officers, and civilians…. We were escorted down through a gate and into the city. It wasn’t far before we came to a building with ‘Questura,’ carved into the stonework above the door. This was the Italian [police headquarters]. In a short time, the passengers were all released. In a few minutes more, thanks to the efforts of Señor Cortali, the cowboys were released. The officers and crew were all detained. As it turned out, all the officers and crew, except for Señor Cortali, were imprisoned for smuggling.”

A little embellishment here? Perhaps. But Jim Moffet’s brother Bob was on that shipment that had left Baltimore July 30, 1948. He wrote home on September 2, “The police really did give this ship a going over on the 22nd. They even went through some of our stuff. The captain, 1st mate, 3rd mate, chief engineer, and crew boss are all in jail. From what I hear I guess the police really did beat up the 1st mate. There is a fine of $35,000 that has to be paid by someone….”

A few days later, the Humanitas set sail once again for the US. The Heifer Project made one last shipment to Italy on October 12, 1948. The ship now had a different captain, and the cowboys on that crew reported no nefarious happenings.

The new captain of the the S. S. Humanitas, October 1948. Photo courtesy of Chester Bowman.

Heifers on their way to Italy, October 1948. Photo courtesy of Chester Bowman.

The S. S. Humanitas appears to finally have lived fully up to its name, a Latin word indicating kindness and benevolence.

Heifers and Havoc on the S. S. Humanitas, Part II

In my last post, I shared the havoc storms caused on the Italian ship S. S. Humanitas as it transported Heifer Project cattle and coal from Baltimore, Maryland, to Italy in 1947 and 1948. This week we learn about a different type of havoc the Humanitas seagoing cowboys witnessed.

Loading heifers onto the S. S. Humanitas in Baltimore, 1948. Photo courtesy of Kenneth West.

The slowing down of the ship on its first trip in December 1947, reported in our last post by cowboy Charles Cutting, did indeed involve “something unusual.” Timed to arrive offshore from Naples around 10:00 p.m., the ship crawled to a stop with all lights turned off. The cowboys were asked to stay in their quarters until further notice from the captain. Curiosity prompted Cutting and a friend named Burk, however, to hide in the cattle stall area. There they saw someone on the flying bridge swing a lantern.

“Out of the darkness,” Cutting says, “we could hear the splash of oars as a rowboat came alongside.” Cutting and Burk watched as crew members proceeded to transfer large boxes of cigarettes to the rowboat. A search light in the distance cut off the process for a second rowboat. “We started a slow forward motion without running lights,” Cutting said. When out of sight behind an island, the lantern signal resumed and the unloading process began again, with boxes lowered into the small boats and gunny sacks pulled up on board the Humanitas. Cutting now understood why so many rooms had been locked on the way over.

Noticing a flashlight moving across a dining table in the captain’s mess, Cutting and Burk left their hiding spot to look in the porthole. There, they observed the dumping of the gunnysacks and the counting of stacks of Italian lire. So engrossed in this operation were Cutting and Burk that they didn’t notice the two figures behind them. “The first realization came when I felt an arm around my throat and the slight coldness of a knifepoint in the small of my back,” Cutting says. After a shouting match between crew members, the captain told the boys they could watch from the radio room. With hearts racing, they needed no further convincing to head directly there.

Before daybreak, a patrol boat caught the ship’s crew in the act of smuggling. The officials removed the remaining boxes for which Cutting learned the next day they paid 50% of the black market price. “I was amazed to learn how business was conducted in this foreign land,” he says. He learned that each box, which cost $100 in Baltimore, had the value of $1,000 in Italian lire. “We also learned that this entire operation was under the auspices of Lucky Luciano,” Cutting says.

Officials gather on the S. S. Humanitas to see the Heifer Project animals off to Italy. Photo courtesy of Kenneth West.

Might any of the officials known what other cargo was on board? Photo courtesy of Kenneth West.

The smuggling operation repeated itself on Byron Frantz’s trip in February. Frantz charted the ship’s progress daily on a wall map. “After we passed the Straits of Gibralter,” he says, “I remarked that it looked like we would get to Naples at noon four days later.” He was told, “No it will be evening.” This conversation replayed the next day. On the fourth day, he discovered they were still at sea. “When I went to the engine room I found that the ship was at half speed!”

Out on deck after supper, Frantz saw the lights of Naples. He went to the cabin and asked his bunkmates to follow him “for a great sight. Can you imagine my surprise,” he says, “to find only total darkness. We were running parallel to the coast for thirty minutes and then back again for thirty minutes in order to stay beyond the three mile limit in International water. Naples was now on the other side of the ship! The Italian police had no authority beyond the three mile limit.”

After several hours of this, the smuggling operation commenced. Unlike Cutting’s experience, the cowboys on this second trip were not ordered inside. “Our crew told us to lock everything and trust no one” as men from the row boats came on board.

“By daylight all was tidy,” Frantz says. “Our ship made contact with the port, the police boats met us and escorted us into the dock in such a way that we could not bring things into the port. Of course at that time, we had gotten rid of all of it in international waters.”

The smuggling saga continues in our next post.

(The full story of Charles Cutting’s trip to Europe can be found in his book 1947 Europe from a Duffle Bag.)

 

Heifers and Havoc on the S. S. Humanitas, Part I

The Heifer Project, today’s Heifer International, made six shipments of dairy cattle to Italy between December 1947 and October 1948 on the S. S. Humanitas. The vessel was a renamed Liberty ship sold to Italy after World War II and put into service transporting coal to Italy in its lower holds and dairy cattle quartered on the top deck. The livestock trips of the Humanitas had two major havoc-causing events in common. Today, we’ll look at the havoc caused by the weather on three of the trips.

Photo courtesy of Willard Rush.

On the Humanitas’ first trip, 17-year-old seagoing cowboy Charles Cutting set out from California for an adventurous time in Europe. He writes a delightful account of his experience in his book 1947 Europe from a Duffel Bag, available for purchase online for anyone interested in reading his full story.

The Humanitas departed from Baltimore December 3, 1947, with six seagoing cowboys, 160 head of cattle, and 10,000 tons of coal, causing the vessel to ride low in the water. “Our hope for fair weather was soon just a memory,” Cutting says. Under a heavy cloud cover, the wind whipped up waves that swamped the deck on the third day out and flooded the cowboys’ sleeping quarters through the air supply vents.

“Three a.m.!”, Cutter says. “There was a terrible shudder and crash….A pyramid wave had crashed down on the ship.” The cowboys were sent out to help rescue the cattle from the havoc and debris surrounding them until the ship’s officers ordered them back inside. They were entering a hurricane. The ship emitted frightening sounds as it slapped down into the waves’ troughs and back out again. Then came the calm of the hurricane’s eye, only to be bashed again on the other side of it. When deemed safe, the captain sent the cowboys back out to free the cattle. Only two had been injured, with broken legs. They were shot and became a bonus for the cooks.

The next trip left Baltimore January 30, 1948, with 18-year-old Byron Frantz on board. The Humanitas had to cut through six inches of ice in the Chesapeake Bay to get into open waters. Once it hit the warmer Gulf Stream, the ship again ran into a storm. With the weight of the coal, Frantz says, “mid-ship was only 10 feet above water. The storm caused a wave of water to come over the mid-ship and collapse a part of the ‘heifers’ home.” These cowboys, too, had a rescue job on their hands once it was safe to do so.

The Humanitas’ fourth trip left Baltimore June 9 and didn’t hit foul weather until it reached the Mediterranean Sea. “Once we were through the Straits of Gibralter, the weather drastically changed,” says cowboy David Harner. “The seas began to get rougher, and suddenly we were in a full blown storm. I was a little concerned because as a child my parents took me on a trip that included a visit to Puget Sound near Seattle. Lying at anchor in the Sound was a Liberty ship, actually half a Liberty ship, the forward half missing. When we asked a local sailor, he explained that these ships were so hurriedly made for the war effort that they often broke in two.”

“The blur on the right was seawater blowing up on the bridge’s windshield,” says Harner. Photo courtesy of David Harner.

“At the height of the storm, the deck plates between the No. 2 hold and the superstructure began to buckle, making a horrible screeching sound, then a dull BOOM as the bow dropped back into a wave trough. Señor Cortali, the radio officer, explained how and why this was happening. When I asked him if we were in danger of breaking up, he just shrugged his shoulders and walked away. The next morning the sea was calm. A check of all the cattle revealed that they were all OK, unfazed by the storm. We put dry bedding over the soggy mess and completed our chores.”

Charles Cutting’s voyage also hit foul weather again in the Mediterranean Sea until nearing its destination of Naples, Italy. The ship unexpectedly reduced its speed “to a gentle crawl.” Cutting says, “We inquired, but the captain was evasive and would not tell us why. We sensed something unusual was involved.”

(to be continued)

A Guest Post: Another Amish seagoing cowboy story

Today, I’m sharing a story sent by Eugene Souder to the comments section of my Amish seagoing cowboy post of two weeks ago. It’s just too good to get buried there. I’m illustrating it with photos Souder has shared with me in the past. He writes:

I too had a great time with Harvey Schrock, an Amish youth of near Waynesboro, VA. We were on the S. S. Boulder Victory that went to Chinwangtao in North China and were there in April, 1947. I got better acquainted with him when most of our cowboys were at the train station waiting for the northbound train to take us to the Great Wall located only 10 miles north. But we were informed that the train would not arrive on schedule because the Communists had attacked the train track. Four of us cowboys stayed at the station and found out a southbound train would arrive in about an hour. We decided to take that train to Tientsin, about 100 miles south to see more of the China countryside from the view of the train. Harvey Schrock was one of the four.

On the train to Tientsin. (Harvey Schrock is not in photo.) Photo by Eugene Souder.

Soldier seen from train guarding the tracks. Photo by Eugene Souder.

We stayed at a YMCA overnight and decided in the morning we needed to get back to our ship since we did not know when it would return to America. But on the trip back we also knew we would never get closer to the Great Wall and decided to chance it. We stayed on the train to the Great Wall. Mission Accomplished!

Approaching the Great Wall of China, April 1947. Photo by Eugene Souder.

We walked on the wall for about 15 minutes and again decided we better get back to the Boulder Victory. So we walked the 10 miles using the train tracks as our guide. We were warned not to walk on the tracks since we might be taken as enemy and potentially shot. We finally arrived to where our ship had been docked and a Swedish liner was in its place. We didn’t know what to do. That ship thought our ship headed back to America. We found a customs house and asked there. After a long telephone conversation he said, “You boys are lucky. The ship is in harbor and the coolies are unloading manure. You can get on the Fu Ping, a tug boat that will pick up the coolies at 5 a.m.”

It was now about 11 p.m. After a restless sleep on the benches of the tug boat we arrived back on the Boulder Victory and were soon resting in our cots. But that didn’t last long. The other cowboys who didn’t get to the Great Wall were ticked off that we got to do something they did not and soon had us up working, washing down the decks. Thankfully we were bound for America.

Passing by Japan on the way home. Photo by Eugene Souder.

Harvey Schrock and I decided to hitchhike from San Francisco to Virginia, but decided not to travel together since we figured we would be picked up better if we were alone. We did, however, in Salt Lake City. I was about a half day ahead of him, and I said to be sure to pick me up if he got a good ride. That day in the desert it was hard traveling and sure enough he did spot me and stopped. The driver was heading to Detroit, and he took me to Goshen, Indiana, where I wanted to make a visit.

Hitchhiking home. Photo by Eugene Souder.

Amishman Harvey Schrock later became Mennonite and became business manager of Eastern Mennonite College. He later became a pastor in Pennsylvania and some years ago went to his heavenly home. What a great journey with a dear Amish young man.

~Eugene Souder, reporting on his 3rd cattle boat trip. First to Poland, next to Greece, and last to China.

Thanks, Eugene!

 

An Amish Seagoing Cowboy’s Story: Clarence Stutzman

Clarence Stutzman grew up in an Amish community in Hutchinson, Kansas. When I interviewed him in 2015, he said, “It’s still a mystery to me how my mother let me go.” When he read of the need for seagoing cowboys in the Mennonite Weekly, he thought, I can do that.

“I was a light-weight guy at the time—17 and 120 pounds. I remember my mom saying, ‘Aw, you’re too small, they wouldn’t take a child like you.’ I went ahead and sent in a letter. The first thing I knew, I get a telegram to report to New Windsor, Maryland. No questions asked. No physical, no interview, no nothing.”

It was a big thing in those days to get a telegram. “I guess my folks were so shocked they didn’t know what to do.” He said they didn’t want to go against MCC, so they agreed and bought him a train ticket.

On arrival at the Brethren Service Center in New Windsor, Maryland, where the seagoing cowboy office was located, he sorted clothing and did other relief jobs for a couple of weeks the end of December 1945 until his ship was ready to go.

On the campus of the Brethren Service Center, former Blue Ridge College. The old gym on the right housed much of the relief activity. Photo credit: Howard Lord.

There he learned that he had to be 18 to get a seaman’s card at that time. Fortunately for him, his birthday was December 31, as his orders were to report to his ship January 1st. He made it on board the S. S. Virginian when it departed from Baltimore for Poland January 4, 1946.

The cowboy crew on Clarence Stutzman’s ship, the S. S. Virginian, January 1946. Photo courtesy of Alpheus Rohrer.

“The trip was life-changing for me,” Stutzman says. His experiences mirrored those of other cowboys who went to Poland. Floating mines in European waters, a tour by UNRRA in the back of an army truck that took them to former concentration camps and battlefields, acquiring souvenirs. He bought a songbook from an old peddler scavenged from the abandoned Danzig Mennonite Church .

The Danzig Mennonite Church destroyed in World War II. Photo credit: Stutzman’s shipmate Richard Rush.

Title page of a songbook retrieved from the Danzig Mennonite Church by seagoing cowboy Levi Miller, summer 1946. The title means “The Day Begins.” Photo by Peggy Reiff Miller.

One souvenir in particular initiated the change in Stutzman’s life—a belt buckle that he cut off a dead German soldier’s uniform. Being Amish, he knew the German language. The buckle bore the words “Gott mit uns,” meaning “God is with us.” Having been taught all his life by his Amish and Christian upbringing not to fight, this hit him hard. 

Belt buckle of a German soldier. Peggy Reiff Miller collection, from the
family of cowboy Milton Lohr.

“We were thinking of the Germans as very heathen for what they were doing—not that there might be Christians on the other end of the fighting. When I saw that this was a Christian fellow and he was killed on the battlefield, how Christians were fighting each other, it put me into a real paradox theologically.”

Unlike Amish cowboys Cletus Schrock and Lores Steury who were excommunicated for taking their trips, Stutzman was welcomed home and treated well. His theological questioning had begun, however. About four years later, he left the Amish church and joined a Mennonite congregation. His obituary says he lived an “incredibly full life….He was full of ideas, grand plans, ingenuity, wonderlust [sic], and eternal optimism.” He traveled the world and had two patents.

“My experiences were real wide,” he told me. And it all started with a cattle boat trip to Poland.

In Memorium

It’s time on this Fifth Friday to remember the seagoing cowboys who have recently passed from this life.

Bradshaw, Melvin Joel, Sr., March 19, 2021, Lynchburg, Virginia. S. S. Carroll Victory to Poland, May 28, 1946.

Brant, John S., Jr., January 22, 2021, Dallastown, Pennsylvania. S. S. Gainesville Victory to Czechoslovakia (docking in Bremen, Germany), February 15, 1946.

Guyer, Paul, December 10, 2020, Altoona, Pennsylvania. S. S. Plymouth Victory to Poland, March 28, 1946; S. S. Lindenwood Victory to Yugoslavia (docking in Trieste, Italy), June 19, 1946; S. S. Lindenwood Victory to Yugoslavia (docking in Trieste, Italy), August 16, 1946; S. S. Santiago Iglesias to Poland, November 16, 1946.

Koerner, Orie M., April 19, 2021, Goshen, Indiana. S. S. Earlham Victory to Poland, November 2, 1946.

Kropf, Wilbur David, April 23, 2021, Halsey, Oregon. S. S. Bucknell Victory to Greece, September 30, 1946.

Rest in peace dear seagoing friends.

An Amish Seagoing Cowboy’s Story: Lores Steury

Seagoing cowboys signed on to the job for a variety of reasons. Some were simply looking for adventure. Some wanted to see for themselves what the war had done. Others wanted to do something worthwhile to help those suffering from the war. For Amishman Lores Steury, the motivation was far more personal.

Steury had served over three years in Civilian Public Service camps during the war. Dissatisfaction hit him hard when he came home from CPS to his family farm. He and his family belonged to an independent Amish group, the Reformed Amish Christian, under an authoritarian leader. “They had no connection with anybody,” Steury said. “And that became very disappointing. That’s the one reason I decided to take a seagoing cowboy trip—to get away and decide what I really want to do with my life.”

Unlike Cletus Schrock who didn’t find out he would be excommunicated until he got home from his livestock trip, Steury decided to go knowing full well what would happen on his return. So he kept his plans to himself and rented a post office box for his correspondence with the seagoing cowboy office. “And then I made a mistake,” he said. “I gave them my home address at the farm, and my mother got the mail the day I got a card to report to Newport News. It was very difficult for my parents to know that I couldn’t be part of the church anymore. But they helped me out as much as they could. They took me to the train station.”

Seagoing Cowboys signed onto their ships at the Brethren Service Committee office at Pier X in Newport News, Virginia. Photo by Elmer Bowers.

When Steury arrived in Newport News, he met three young Mennonite men he knew from Indiana. The guys had to wait in port a few days before signing onto their ship, and there Steury experienced several “firsts”: seeing his first movies (Westerns), having a date with a girl he didn’t already know (from the nearby Mennonite community his three shipmates had contact with), and seeing separate drinking fountains and places on a bus for black people. On Sunday, December 15, the foursome departed on the S. S. Queens Victory to take a load of 770 mules to Greece.

Seagoing cowboys on the S. S. Queens Victory headed for Greece, December 1946. Photo courtesy of Earl Rohrer.

Steury found mules easy to take care of. “Just feed and water ’em and let ’em do as they please,” he said. He had heard others talk of having a much harder time with horses that needed to be kept standing the whole way across the ocean and would often bite. The easier work with mules left time for playing chess and checkers and other games.

A seagoing cowboy waters mules on the sister ship S. S. Attleboro Victory, December 1946. Photo courtesy of Harold Cullar.

“At night, I liked to be on the fantail and watch the propellers stir up the water making the phosphorus light up in the dark,” Steury said. “And I’d think, now what am I going to do with my life? Would I be a seagoing sailor that would enjoy the sea, maybe as a ship carpenter? Am I gonna go back home and be a prodigal son and say I did all wrong what I’d done? I just never felt I could do that.”

A worship service for Steury’s crew on the S. S. Queens Victory, December 1946. Photo courtesy of Earl Rohrer.

Steury’s ship docked in Piraeus, the port for Athens. “We did some sightseeing but the natives were very uneasy as Greece was in a Civil War at the time,” he said. He talked with people who had been on the brink of starvation during the German occupation. And he was approached by a man who wanted Steury and his friend to help him hide on the ship and help feed him. They told him, “We can’t do that. You’d get in trouble and we would, too.”

The man found another way. By the time the Queens Victory reached the Atlantic Ocean, he and six other Greeks desperate to get to the United States had made their presence known. “He was so happy!” Steury said. But his happiness was short lived. When the ship arrived in New York, the stowaways were put off at Ellis Island; and according to Steury, the shipping company had to pay $1,000 apiece to send them back to Greece.

On arriving home after some sightseeing in New York City, Steury said, laughing, “They didn’t butcher a fatted calf.” He was soon excommunicated and took up farming outside Berne with his Uncle Dan who belonged to the Evangelical Mennonite Church. He met his wife-to-be at a Rural Youth social. “I feel greatly blessed when I review my life with my lovely wife and family,” he told me. They ended up living in Goshen, Indiana, where he worked for Goshen College. “Thank the good Lord I did move to my cousin’s house and farm for Uncle Dan.”

An Amish Seagoing Cowboy’s Story: Cletus Schrock

UNRRA’s seagoing cowboys came from all denominations, religions, and non-religions. The stakes were the highest for some of the Amish cowboys whose Bishops did not allow such worldly activity. One of those cowboys was Cletus Schrock, a young Old Order Amish farmer from Topeka, Indiana.

As a conscientious objector to war, Cletus served in Civilian Public Service during World War II from September 1942 through the end of March 1946. In February 1946, the US Selective Service System agreed to allow CPSers to apply for “detached service” in the CPS Reserve to serve on livestock ships delivering animals to Europe until discharged.

Peggy Reiff Miller interviews Cletus Schrock, July 7, 2008.

“I was working in a mental hospital in Staunton, Virginia,” he told me, “and I tried to get into the detached service.” The hospital superintendent, however, said, “I can’t let you go. I don’t have a replacement. So I was stuck ’til I got my Selective Service discharge.” That day arrived on March 31.

CPS release form for Cletus Schrock.

“I just packed a suitcase and went to the Brethren Service office in Newport News, and they said I’m on the next ship out.” That ship was the S. S. Carroll Victory headed for Poland with a load of horses April 11, 1946.

“I was brought up with horses,” he said, “so I was in charge of one hold of 154 of them. I had three men helping me that they hired off the street to be cowboys.”

Cletus Schrock is the cowboy with a mark over his head. Photo courtesy of Cletus Schrock.

In Poland, Cletus recalls the devastation: “Alles kaputt!” he said. Everything’s ruined! “That’s what a lot of them would say. There was only two buildings in the big city of Danzig that I remember were not damaged. The rest of ’em were just pretty well dilapidated.”

Cletus, center cowboy, with the Roth brothers befriended a Polish boy in the ruins of Danzig/Gdansk, Poland, April 1946. Photo courtesy of Cletus Schrock.

Women at work cleaning up the debris in Gdansk, Poland, April 1946. Photo courtesy of Cletus Schrock.

The cowboys found remnants of the war not far from the ship.

Photo courtesy of Cletus Schrock.

And like many of the cowboys, Cletus met people who wanted desperately to go to America. One couple who befriended him said, “If there’s any way we could be stowaways and hide on the ship….” He had to turn them down. As he did the woman by his side in this photo.

Photo courtesy of Cletus Schrock.

On the return trip, Cletus got a break. “See, the boys were supposed to wash down all the stalls,” he said. “I didn’t have to do any of that, because I had my hair cutting tools in my locker, and one of the boys seen I had ’em. The guys were wanting hair cuts and the word got around to the captain. The first guy I cut hair was the captain, and that was quite interesting. I got to be right up there where all the controls were. So I cut hair. And that’s all I did coming back. I got to know men from all over the country, and some of ’em paid me a dollar.”

When Cletus arrived home, his Amish community found out about his trip. “That wasn’t good news for me,” he said. His first Sunday back, his Amish bishops cornered him and said, “We heard about what you did. We don’t believe in that.”

Cletus had come to appreciate the Mennonites who ran the CPS camps in which he had served, so he decided to leave the Amish and join a Mennonite congregation near him. “I knew I had helped people,” he said, “and so I didn’t feel like one of the Amish anymore.”

His decision to leave came at a greater cost than just being cut off from his church family. “My dad had bought a farm for me of 120 acres with buildings on it that I was to get if I stayed Amish. Since I didn’t stay Amish, I didn’t get anything. It didn’t bother me that much, because it wasn’t my main goal. I just learned a lot about helping people, especially when I worked in the hospital, and then going on over across.”