Documentary on Seagoing Cowboys

One of the joys of my work is being able to share materials with families of seagoing cowboys. One such request came to me from Sarasota [FL] Christian School student Lauren Miller. She was working on a project for National History Day inspired by her grandfather Leslie Horner’s experience as a seagoing cowboy to Poland on the S. S. Morgantown Victory in December 1945.

Seagoing Cowboys of the S. S. Morgantown Victory docked in Nowy Port, Poland, December 1945. Photo courtesy of Hugh Ehrman.

“National History Day is a nationwide event which is dedicated to explore and share historic events which legacies are seen in the world today,” she said. “For my project, I have decided to put together a 7-8 minute documentary focusing on the voyage of the S. S. Morgantown Victory….I mainly want to focus on how ordinary people can make a difference in an extraordinary situation and impact history.”

Fortunately, I had interviewed several cowboys from her grandfather’s trip and was able to share with Lauren a number of documents and photos from my archive. Thank you Lauren for allowing me to share your wonderful creation with my readers.

In Memorium

This Fifth Friday, we again pay tribute to the seagoing cowboys who have recently passed from us.

Forney, G. Burnell, May 27, 2020, Manheim, Pennsylvania. S. S. Mexican to Poland, October 1, 1946.

Keeney, Mark Ray, April 12, 2020, Boulder, Colorado. S. S. Mount Whitney to Poland, January 24, 1947.

Nafziger, Glen William, May 27, 2020, Archbold, Ohio. S. S. Morgantown Victory to Poland, December 11, 1945; S. S. Norwalk Victory to Poland, January 9, 1947.

Reiste, Richard H., May 30, 2020, Minburn, Iowa. S. S. Lindenwood Victory to Yugoslavia (docking in Trieste, Italy), August 16, 1946; S. S. Lindenwood Victory to China and New Zealand, December 19, 1946.

Shike, Charles Wesley, circa June 23, 2020, Bronx, New York. S. S. Plymouth Victory to Poland, March 28, 1946; S. S. Pass Christian Victory to Poland, May 10, 1946; S. S. Gainsville Victory to Poland, July 24, 1946 (foreman).

Rest in peace, dear seagoing friends.

“Operation Stupendous” – a seagoing cowboy’s voyage to Korea

This post is based on Rev. Hugh D. Nelson’s delightful account of his trip to Korea with a load of Heifer Project animals in August 1954, published in Bill Beck and Mel West’s 1994 book Cowboy Memories.

After loading milk goats, sheep, heifers, and a few bulls in San Francisco, the S. S. Pacific Bear went to “a secluded spot” in the Bay to take on 174 tons of dynamite. (Another source says ten tons – but dynamite is dynamite!) “We had the makings of an interesting voyage!” Nelson says. And that, it would become.

A sister ship to the S. S. Pacific Bear that also transported Heifer Project animals gets a fresh coat of paint in San Francisco. (I have no photos from Nelson’s trip.) Photo courtesy of Joann Quinley.

Nelson shared the work with dairymen Ed Taylor and Newt Goodridge who took care of the milking while Nelson saw to the watering and feeding of the animals. “I learned that all the hay an animal eats does not produce milk, and it was my duty to help shovel manure over the side,” he says. “We fertilized a long swath of sea from San Francisco to Pusan – much to the disgust of the gooney birds who followed us expectantly all the way across.”

On nearing their destination, Nelson went up to a favorite viewing spot on the flying bridge. “The hills of South Korea were in view,” he says. “Pusan, the last point of retreat for the fugitives from the North, lay like an ugly scar down the face of the emaciated green slope. Even from a distance it was obvious that the plague of war had touched her – not with violence or explosives, but with a more subtle blow, the degenerating streams of displaced people – refugees coming south, alien youth in uniform going north.”

Arguments among the various military commands about jurisdiction over the unloading and distribution of the animals held up the process. Meanwhile, the animals suffered in the sweltering heat in their stalls. “Tempers mounted on the bridge and the stench arose aft of it,” Nelson said. “Finally the clearances came and the unloading commenced. The animals were driven into a great crate, seven sheep or goats at a time and the whole lot hoisted over the barns and lowered far down the side into native barges. Korean stevedores waited below to open the door, free the animals, and give a signal to the winch operator to remove the crate.”

Crates similar to those used on the S. S. Pacific Bear. Photo courtesy of Joann Quinley.

The process moved smoothly until it came time to unload the larger animals. “The small-statured Koreans retreated from the field,” Nelson says. “The winch became silent, the unloading came to a standstill. There was no one to handle the animals in the barges. The only stock handlers in the area were Ed and Newt, and they were needed on deck to load the crates.” Nelson’s hour had come!

“With trembling knees I crept down the rope ladder into the first barge, I who scarcely had known a cow’s fore from aft when we set sail from San Francisco. Almost at once the first load was upon me. The great box settled into the straw on the floor of the barge burdened by the weight of two huge bulls. The animals breathed heavily, their dignity disturbed by the treatment they had received. My hands shook and nervous fingers tugged at the knot of the halter. And then the first liberated animal broke from his prison.

“I experienced all of the excitement of the bull ring as we made two hurried, awkward revolutions. Fortunately the confused animal didn’t even know I existed – he was only hunting a haven. He came to rest in a coal-dust darkened corner, and my shaking hands passed the rope under a rib of the barge skeleton and improvised a hasty knot.

“As I went back to retrieve my hat I heard the cheers of the Korean stevedores who had come back to watch the fun. They saluted the blonde cowhand who seemed to know how to master the great beasts. I staggered over to take on the second bull, fear bolstered with a degree of pride.”

As if that wasn’t excitement enough to cap off Nelson’s trip, he about missed his ship home. He was to stay briefly in Korea to evaluate the effectiveness of the program and make recommendations for Heifer Project and then reunite with the Pacific Bear at its next stop in Inchon. He soon found, however, that his documents were insufficient – he lacked army approval to be there. A sympathetic military officer helped him through the red tape, eating up valuable time. Then, with the U. S. Army’s help, he was able to complete his mission. On trying to locate the Pacific Bear when he was ready to leave, however, he learned it had left shore from Inchon an hour earlier! “My only available transportation out of Korea had vanished,” he says.

Calls for a patrol boat to take him out to the ship went unanswered. The radio operator shifted tactics. “Operation Stupendous,” he called. “Operation Stupendous, report to landing pier. Acknowledge.” The radioman finally smiled and said, “Got ’em. They’re coming in.”

“As I stumbled up the slanting steps of the gang plank,” Nelson says, “the loud greetings of that wonderful, profane and salty crew were as dear as the welcome of a mother to her small son.”

On the voyage home, Nelson reflected on his experience. “Through my mind surged the indelible pictures of an heroic but tragically needy people,” he says. “Wherever one [of Heifer Project’s animals] had come into a family’s life, hope had come. And with hope there came gratitude and love. It was most surely Operation Stupendous.”

 

Interview about THE SEAGOING COWBOY

I recently had the delightful experience of being interviewed by “Sammy the Toucan” for the Indiana Center for the Book about my picture book THE SEAGOING COWBOY and my work on Heifer International history. The short interview premiered last week on the Indiana State Library’s “Toucan Tuesday” on their Facebook page and is now on YouTube. Watch it here if you dare!

A “flying cowboy” accompanies first Heifer Project shipment to Korea

As early as December 1947, requests started coming to the Heifer Project for animals for Korea, which had lost about half of its cattle in World War II. The need in Korea stayed on HP radar until finally in August 1951, Heifer Project Executive Secretary Thurl Metzger made a trip to Korea during the Korean War to investigate possibilities.

In cooperation with the United Nations Korean Reconstruction Agency (UNKRA), the first project turned out to be 216,000 hatching eggs. Divided into three air shipments a week apart, the eggs would help reconstruct the decimated Korean poultry industry. So the first cowboy to Korea turned out to be a “flying cowboy” rather than seagoing.

from The Indianapolis Star, May 25, 1942.

On April 1, 1952, Warsaw, Indiana, poultry breeder Hobart Creighton, on whose farm the eggs were produced, took off from Midway Airport in Chicago in a cargo plane carrying 200 boxes of Leghorn hatching eggs. He accompanied the shipment as a consultant for the United Nations to oversee proper transport, incubation, and distribution of the eggs.

L. to R. Thurl Metzger, Bill Reiche of the United Nations, and United Nations Ambassador at Large from South Korea Ben C. Limb at Midway Airport in Chicago, sending the hatching eggs on their way April 1, 1952. Photo courtesy of Heifer International.

After a stop to gas up in Minneapolis, Minnesota, the plane hit icy conditions on its leg to Seattle, Washington. “Ice over windshield and on wings,” Creighton notes, “but the pilot said the DC4 could carry a lot of ice, so we let him do the worrying.” The plane made further stops in Anchorage, Alaska; Shemya Island in the Aleutian Islands archipelago; and Tokyo, Japan, before landing safely in Pusan (now Buson), Korea.

This historic Heifer Project shipment made news in the U.S., as Richard “Dick” Simons of The Indianapolis Star traveled with Creighton and a reporter from Life magazine met up with them in Tokyo. “We were met by the ‘Big Brass’,” Creighton says, “General W. E. Crist, a host of Colonels, Lt. Colonels, Majors, the Korean Minister of Agriculture, and Representatives of UNKRA and UNCACK (United Nations Civil Assistance Corps Korea). There were four trucks and a host of Korean laborers who in no time flat had unloaded the plane and had the eggs on the way to hatcheries, to Taegu.”

A couple days after their arrival in Korea, Creighton was guest of honor at a dinner where he was well entertained by “Kieson gals”, with one assigned to each guest. “One fed me with the chopsticks and saw that I had plenty of sushi,” Creighton says. “They were good singers and dancers and very interesting companions.” Moderately dressed in velvet skirts, they exhibited “nothing bordering on vulgarity or sex that one finds in American performances.”

Creighton stayed in the area a good three weeks, meeting the next egg plane, walking the back roads to visit Korean poultry farms, and visiting the hatcheries. He was present at the hatchery in Kumhae when the last of 14,400 eggs delivered there were placed in the incubator.

The last of 14,400 eggs being placed in the incubator at Kumhae. Source: The Indianapolis Star, May 25, 1952.

At one hatchery, there was one egg case that Creighton hadn’t gotten instructions about in time, however. “It was an egg case full of cookies made by [my daughter] Jo,” Creighton says. “Dick reported later, the incubator workers said one case of eggs was especially tasty!”

Creighton had the opportunity to be taken to the front lines of fighting while there. “Shortly we were passing ruins of all kinds,” he says. “Seoul was shot up pretty badly. Bridges out. Some repaired, others still dangling, locomotives and trains burned out and left lying. In the country five miles south of the 38th parallel there has been, and still is, complete evacuation of civilian population. The rice paddies are idle for the third consecutive year.”

They drove on another 65 miles to the battle front. A Scotch 2nd Lieutenant took them up Hill 238. “Below were the red panels, marking the points of furthermost advance of UN line,” Creighton says, “and there was no man’s land about one mile in front of us. [The Lieutenant] had his crew fire two or three shots from the 82 mm guns mounted on top of the Centurian tank. We watched the projectile and saw the exploding 100 feet or less from the target. We wondered if our fire might bring a reply, but not this time.” Creighton’s party returned to their billet in Seoul in time to watch the American movie “Too Young to Kiss.” A day in contrasts.

Before leaving for his roundabout trip home with stops throughout southern Asia, Creighton had the opportunity to see some of the Creighton Brothers’ chicks at hatcheries and be present at their distribution. UNKRA’s agricultural reconstruction of Korea had begun.

 

Second UNRRA livestock ship departed the United States 75 years ago today

This is the second of two posts I made five years ago that I’m repeating in June to celebrate the 75th anniversary of the start of the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration and Brethren Service Committee’s seagoing cowboy program.

Five Elizabethtown College students make 2nd UNRRA ship out,
but arrive first in Greece.

This post will set the record straight for a friendly little rivalry that has taken place through the years between the Manchester College students and the Elizabethtown College students who were on the first two UNRRA livestock ships to depart the United States the end of June 1945.

When I first talked with Gordon Bucher about his trip on the F. J. Luckenbach to Greece  that left New Orleans June 24, 1945, he wanted to know, “Wasn’t ours the first ship to leave the U. S.?” Having found the UNRRA records, I was able to tell him, “Yes.” The Elizabethtown cowboys who departed from Baltimore on the S.S. Virginian June 26, 1945, had always said they were on the first ship out. But diary accounts from the two trips and the UNRRA records show otherwise.

Turns out, it was an honest mistake on the part of the E-town cowboys, as even the media thought this to be the first shipment. The Baltimore Sun newspaper said on June 25, 1945:

GREECE CATTLE SAILS TODAY
UNRRA Shipment To Be First Consignment
Laden with 704 head of dairy cattle and horses, the first consignment of such animals to be sent to a European country by the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration, the freighter Virginian will leave Baltimore today for Greece, where the livestock will be used in an agricultural rehabilitation program . . . .

The F. J. Luckenbach had already left New Orleans when this article went to press, and the Virginian didn’t leave port until a day after the article appeared, if the date typed under the article given to me is correct. Other media gave the same story, including the August 1945 Baltimore & Ohio Magazine:

First UNRRA Livestock Shipment for Europe Rides B&O

The article tells of the arrival to Baltimore of 335 Brown Swiss bred heifers and twelve bulls and 357 light draft mares on the B&O railway. It goes on to say:

This “first shipment” created a great deal of interest among the UNRRA people and various publicity agencies. The Coast Guard, Life, the Baltimore papers and the newsreel agencies all had photographers on the job . . . .

All of this while the Luckenbach was already on its way.

But alas, the Luckenbach was not to be the first to arrive in Greece. The Virginian, departing closer to Europe, arrived at its destination of Piraeus, Greece, the port for Athens, on Saturday, July 14.

First heifer to Greece.

A proud Greek poses with the first UNRRA heifer to put foot on European soil. Photo courtesy of Kate  Holderman.

The Luckenbach arrived in Patras, Greece, two days later on Monday, July 16. Both crews were able to visit the Acropolis, with a short $5.00 taxi ride for the Virginian crew and a hair-raising bus ride across the Peloponnese peninsula for the Luckenbach crew that almost made them miss their ship home.

Members of the S. S. Virginian crew at the Acropolis. Photo courtesy of Kate Holderman.

After unloading in Greece, both ships also stopped in Naples to pick up U. S. soldiers who had fought in Europe during the war to take them home – 140 for the Virginian and 150 for the Luckenbach. The Luckenbach, however, arrived home first. Their entire cargo was unloaded in Patras, after which they were ready to return home; whereas the Virginian unloaded only part of its cargo in Piraeus and then traveled further up around Greece to Salonika to unload the rest. Even with a stop in Béni Saf to pick up iron ore after picking up their soldiers in Naples, the Luckenbach had a considerable head start on the Virginian, arriving in New York City ten days ahead of them on August 10. They were met with a rousing welcome home for the soldiers on Staten Island complete with a WAC band playing the “Beer Barrel Polka” and a black band playing hot jazz, before finally docking in Jersey City. The Virginian delivered their soldiers to Newport News and finally docked in Brooklyn on August 20. No matter which ship they were on, the cowboys were glad to be back on U. S. soil.

Sources: Gordon Bucher’s unpublished journal and the report of the S.S. Virginian crew titled “Relief for Greece.”

Special Post: Korea brings the Heifer Project full circle

Today marks the 70th anniversary of the beginning of the Korean War, scars of which still remain today. In memory of that time, a major Korean media outlet has posted a series of three articles by reporter Hong Duk-hwa and a YouTube video this week about how Heifer Project, Inc., today’s Heifer International, stepped into the fray.

Korean Heifer supporter Haewon Lee tells me, “All three articles highlight how HPI and Heifer’s Seagoing Cowboys, undiscovered ‘heroes’ of the Korean War, helped to reconstruct the war-stricken Korean livestock industry and farmers.”

Google’s rough translation of the titles are: 1) “Operation ‘Noah’s Ark’ reviving the ruins of the Korean livestock industry,” 2) “The story of a cowboy driving a herd of cows across the Pacific Ocean,” 3) “When the gift of livestock is hopeful to us who have been dead…now it’s time to give.” If you’d like to take a look at the original articles with photos, the links are posted below. (You can ask Google to translate if you don’t read Korean. The translation is rough, but you can get the gist.)

HPI began its shipments to Korea in the midst of the war with approximately 210,000 hatching eggs sent by air in April 1952. Airlifts of goats and hogs followed in June with more in 1953 before the war’s end. Shipments by sea, including cattle, began in 1954, with the last shipments by air in 1976.

L. to R. Thurl Metzger, Bill Reiche of the United Nations, and United Nations Ambassador at Large from South Korea Ben C. Limb at Midway Airport in Chicago, sending the hatching eggs on their way April 1, 1952. Photo courtesy of Heifer International.

Thurl Metzger, Executive Secretary of HPI when these shipments began, traveled to Korea in the autumn of 1951 to survey the needs there. After the successful shipments of hatching eggs, he said in a news release: “My recent tour of Korea convinces me that the longer the conflict continues, the greater the need. Therefore, we must not relax our efforts because [truce] negotiations seem to be at a standstill.”

“The war has brought about wholesale destruction of livestock,” he said in background material sent with the release. “Shortage of work cattle has made it impossible to cultivate many of the rice paddies and fields. The rural economy has also suffered near bankruptcy due to the fact that farmers have been deprived of their chickens and hogs which heretofore had provided significant income.” He underscored the fact that “Lack of proper animal protein in the Korean diet has also become a serious threat to public health.”

A letter of gratitude sent to Metzger in July 1968 from the Union Christian Service Center in Taejon, Korea, quantifies the value of Heifer’s gifts to Korea. “The total value of this stock and supplies, according to prices in Korea today, we estimate to nearly reach half million dollars.” This does not “consider the value of the offspring from all the livestock imported. Therefore,” the four signees concluded, “within several years, we would estimate the total help to Korea originating from your contribution as high as a million dollars.”

And today, as seen in the third of the Korean articles this week, Koreans are bringing their gifts from Heifer full circle. The article tells the story of Heifer recipient Jae-bok Lee, now a successful dairy farmer at age 83. In 1988, Mr. Lee and eight fellow dairy farmers traveled to Heifer International headquarters in Little Rock, Arkansas, to share their experience. “After returning home,” the article says, “Mr. Lee collected $7,300 to buy 8 cows and donated them to farmhouses in Sichuan, China in 1989.”

Today Mr. Lee says, “I don’t know how long I will work (healthy), but I want to play a role in delivering the gift of hope to the developing countries (like us at that time).”

Heifer International’s core value of “Passing on the Gift” has come full circle in Korea, a demonstration of how giving to Heifer International is exponential.

Watch for stories here in July of seagoing cowboys to Korea.

P.S. I’m adding a link to a Yonhap News TV report with remarkable historical video footage: Not a Cup, But a Cow: Seagoing Cowboys crossed the sea to Korea

Seagoing Cowboy program began 75 years ago this month!

For my regular June posts, I’ll be repeating two that I made five years ago about the first two trips of the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration and Brethren Service Committee’s seagoing cowboy program.  Seventy-five years ago this month, those first crews were being put together and sent to sea.

How ten Manchester College students ended up
on the first UNRRA cattle boat to Europe.

When UNRRA contacted M. R. Zigler, the executive of the Brethren Service Committee, in late spring of 1945 to say they had a ship ready, M. R., with his vast network of contacts, got on the phone and put the Brethren grapevine in action. Among other things, word was sent to the Brethren colleges, which by that time had completed their academic years and were gearing up for their summer sessions. Manchester College in North Manchester, Indiana, was one of those schools.

MC grad Keith Horn recalls having seen a notice on a bulletin board at the college about a ship going overseas with animals. Others learned of the trip through the Church of the Brethren Annual Conference being held at Manchester that year. On its opening day, June 6, 1945, the Brethren Service Committee brought news to the Conference: “Relief soon may be possible from the church in America to the church in Europe,” including “heifers by freight shipment.” M. R. Zigler spoke the next day of “news of big shipments.” In just a short time from UNRRA’s first call to M. R. much had transpired – from one vessel to big shipments.

These reports created a buzz throughout the campus. People talked about it on the sidewalks, in their rooms, over dinner – and it was while waiting on tables in the old Oakwood dining hall that Manchester student Ken Frantz learned of the need for cattle attendants.

In all, ten Manchester College students signed up for this first cattle boat trip. The Gospel Messenger reported that there were 135 students enrolled in the Manchester summer session of 1945. Take ten of those students away, and the college lost over 7% of their student body that summer! But President Schwalm was supportive, as Richard Moomaw, a student leader on campus, relates. When he went to talk with the President to get permission to un-enroll, President Schwalm told him, “So many people are going, you should go, too!”

Because it was mostly a rural denomination, UNRRA had felt the Church of the Brethren would have enough men on farm deferment to provide the cattle attendants for their ships. But there was another deferment that figured into this story, as well – the ministerial deferment. Many of the MC students who went fell into this category. To maintain this status with the draft board, they had to be in school all year round – and that’s why so many of them were in summer school. But whatever the deferment, these students had to get permission from their draft boards to leave the country. Ken Frantz, who lived in North Manchester, recalls that he had no trouble with his Board in Wabash. But it was a different story for his brother Dean, who was living in Sydney, Indiana, at the time. The Kosciusko County Draft Board refused to let him go, or he would have been on the ship with Ken, too.

For many of these students, this was something positive they could do to help put a broken world back together again. Gordon Bucher recalls that his mother, in particular, wasn’t too keen on his going. He was just 19, the war was just over, and she was afraid for his safety. But Gordon stood firm. He said to her, “a lot of people have been endangered for the last four years. We hope to do something good, whether we’re in danger or not.” It was a form of service and ministry for many of the cowboys. And two of them – Floyd Bantz and Ken Frantz – even postponed their weddings from early summer to late summer to be able to go.

In a very short period of time, the ten Manchester students had made their applications, gotten their draft board permissions, and were on the train to New Orleans by June 13. They sailed on June 24, 1945, on the S.S. F. J. Luckenbach headed for Greece with 588 horses and 26 cattle attendants on board – the first of the 360 UNRRA livestock trips made between 1945 and 1947.

F. J. Luckenbach crew at the Acropolis.

The F. J. Luckenbach crew in Greece, July 1945. For whatever reason, the cowboys on this ship were not allowed to take cameras on board. This is the only known picture from this trip, likely taken by an unidentified professional Greek photographer at the Acropolis. Photo courtesy of Ken Frantz.

Special Post: 75th Anniversary of Heifer Project’s first collection farm

Seventy-five years ago today, the Heifer Project accepted the offer of Roger and Olive Roop of Union Bridge, Maryland, to use their farm for the collection of cattle to be shipped to Europe after World War II hostilities ceased there. Another milestone in the history of an extraordinary organization. Read the story here.

From an article in the Southeastern Herald of the Southeastern Region Church of the Brethren, 1946.