A Seagoing Cowboy Romance

Valentine’s Day is the perfect time to relate a seagoing cowboy romance story. In June 1945, two programs of the Brethren Service Committee pulled together a farm boy from Indiana and a college girl from California.

As World War II came to an end in Europe, the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration (UNRRA) laid plans for shipping livestock that June to help Europe’s farmers rebuild. When the Brethren Service Committee (BSC) agreed to recruit the cattle tenders UNRRA would need, a call went out through the church and to its college campuses for men to serve. Manchester College freshman Earl Holderman responded and found himself on the way to the Brethren Service Center in New Windsor, Maryland, arriving June 13.

The Brethren Service Center, a former college campus purchased by the Brethren Service Committee the previous September, was humming away as a collection center for clothing and other war relief activities. LaVerne [CA] College juniors Kathryn Root and Bernice Brandt responded to a call for short-term volunteers to work at the center on their summer vacation. After a three-and-a-half day cross-country train ride, Katy and Bernie arrived at the Brethren Service Center Saturday, June 9.

Windsor Hall at the Brethren Service Center served as the girls’ dormitory. Photo: Ken West.

“Our part of the work is carried on in a huge room on the 1st floor of the Girl’s Dorm,” says Katy in her journal Monday, June 11. “There are boxes stacked clear to the ceiling to be opened. It is interesting work – sorting, mending, labeling, baling, stenciling, cutting out new materials, receiving made up garments. We feel happy about each bale that is finished.”

Bernie and Katy outside their dormitory. Photo courtesy of Kate Holderman.

Her happiness scale perked up a little more that Wednesday. She notes, “The fellas who are to tend the shipload of cattle going overseas are beginning to arrive….When we came down at 5:00 to eat supper, the guys from Indiana were sitting on the steps. They looked at us & we sorta looked at them – that was all there was to it. After supper, we had a good time getting acquainted with them….Earl Holderman and Gordon Keever were the two most interesting.”

The next day, Katy notes, “Well —- I got better acquainted with one of the cattle fellas this evening. After supper, Earl Holderman suggested that Bernie and I show him around – so we did….He asked me to go to the skating party with him the next night.”

Earl Holderman at the Brethren Service Center. Photo courtesy of Kate Holderman.

After the skating party, “Earl and I sat on the gym steps for quite a while and talked. He’s surely nice. He will be 21 in July. He is about 5’9″ tall – has a good build – nice brown eyes, brown hair, a nice big grin and a wonderful personality. He is very well mannered. He stayed out of school for 2 years between High School and College and farmed with his Dad. I surely wish he wasn’t leaving here so soon. We’ll hardly have time to get acquainted before they leave.”

It was time enough, however, for Earl to know Katy was the girl he wanted. After only four days, Katy notes on Sunday, “He wanted me to take his class ring – I didn’t know whether to or not. It’s all happened so quickly that I’ve hardly had time to catch my breath. I wish I knew more about him – Indiana is such a long way from California.”

Earl was not to be daunted by her refusal. His attentions continued up to the night before he was to leave to report to his ship. Eight days after they met, Katie says, “I hated like fury to have tonight end….I’m so afraid he might not get back from overseas before we go home. He gave me his ring and this time I took it. Hope I’m not making a mistake!”

Earl was able to get back to the Center for a night before his ship left. “He wants me to be his girl for always,” Katy says. “I just didn’t know what to say.”

Pursued by one of the Civilian Public Service guys stationed at the Center while Earl was gone, Katy stayed true to her commitment to Earl, even with doubts along the way. Letters flowed both directions. Katy told of the goings on at the Center and a whirlwind weekend with the girls to New York City, full of Broadway shows, automat food, and shopping; and being awakened Saturday morning by an “awful crash,” later seeing the Empire State Building on fire “way up towards the top” where a plane had crashed into it.

Earl wrote of being seasick the second day out, “feeding the fish” more than 21 times. But he got his sea legs and wrote about seeing the ancient ruins around Athens, then Salonica; of the dangerous waters around Greece they were in where ships were sunk by mines the week before; and of seeing a volcano erupt off the coast of Naples.

Some of Earl’s crew at the Acropolis. Photo courtesy of Kate Holderman.

Earl’s ship got back the beginning of Katy’s last week at the Center. Before he left, he had asked her to join his family at their cabin on Lake Syracuse for a week if he got back in time. He asked her again on his return, and Katy did. She had a grand time meeting his family.

Katy and Earl at his home in Nappanee, Indiana, August 1945. Photo courtesy of Kate Holderman.

Katy returned to LaVerne to finish her degree. Earl returned to Manchester for a semester and then moved to California where Katy’s uncle gave him a job. They married December 29, 1946, and celebrated 59 anniversaries before Earl died in 2006.

In Memorium

On this 5th Friday, it’s time to once again remember seagoing cowboys who have departed from us.

Bender, Byron W., January 4, 2020, Honolulu, Hawaii. S. S. Stephen R. Mallory to Poland, June 20, 1946.

Graham, Charles R., October 2019, Aurora, Colorado. S. S. Rock Springs Victory to Ethiopia, March 12, 1947.

Longenecker, William W. “Bill”, December 9, 2019, Mount Joy, Pennsylvania. S. S. South Bend Victory to Greece, December 4, 1946.

Rhodes, Luke C., May 23, 2016, Dalton, Ohio. S. S. Carroll Victory to Greece, November 5, 1946.

Rumble, Paul, September 28, 2019, Modesto, California. S. S. Michael James Monohan to Czechoslovakia (docking in Bremen, Germany), January 4, 1946.

Smucker, Leonard Leroy, November 28, 2019, Ashland, Oregon. S. S. Stephen R. Mallory to Poland, June 20, 1946.

Zimmerman, William A., July 16, 2017, Sunbury, Pennsylvania. S. S. Virginian to Poland, June 27, 1946.

Rest in peace, dear seagoing friends.

Information for Livestock Attendants – Part II

Today we continue our look at what the seagoing cowboy experience entailed as spelled out in a document titled “Information for Livestock Attendants.”

Seasickness

  1. If shots and vaccinations can be taken several weeks before sailing, fewer cases of disability would be experienced.

    Two seasick cowboys on the S. S. Norwalk Victory, February 1946. Photo: Elmer Bowers.

  2. Seasickness is largely imagination. Fresh air, physical occupation, keeping feed in the stomach will do much to aid in preventing it.
  3. Eat moderately of simple foods. Keeping crackers and ginger in pockets to munch between meals may help.
  4. Spend much time in the open air near the middle of the ship. Keep away from the smell of cooking if possible.
  5. Seasick tablets are helpful for some, but cannot be depended on for everyone.

Supplies to Take Along

  1. Livestock attendants should take warm washable clothing. Laundry facilities are provided on most ships. Soap is furnished by the ship in most cases.

    Laundry time on the S. S. Queens Victory, July 1946. Photo: Peggy Reiff Miller collection.

  2. Money should be carried in the form of travelers checks. A sufficient amount should be taken to cover transportation to the port city in the U.S. and return plus whatever incidentals are desired by the individual.
  3. Clothing items like socks, underwear, shirts, etc., can be purchased aboard ship from the ship’s store.
  4. Reading and recreation items, books, magazines, games, hobby materials.

    Cowboys on the S. S. Morgantown Victory came prepared in Dec. 1945. Photo: Glen Nafziger.

  5. Bible, daily devotion books, Testaments, etc.
  6. Stationary, fountain pen, stamps, diary, maps and guides of countries to be visited and, if you are a photo addict, a camera with plenty of film, binoculars.
  7. Specific clothing items; a good warm windbreaker to withstand the weather of the North Atlantic, one dress suit (not too good), two coat hangers, pair of sport pants, two sport shirts, jacket, sweater, two flannel work shirts, two pairs of work pants, four tee shirts, six undershirts and shorts, six pairs work socks, two pairs of dress socks, heavy work shoes, boots or overshoes, raincoat, wool cap.
  8. Handkerchiefs, razor, toothbrush, paste, comb, extra soap, needles, thread and buttons, money belt.
  9. Towels and soap are furnished by the ship.
  10. It is best to leave jewelry and watches at home.

Leisure-time Activities Aboard Ship

  1. The amount of leisure time on the way over varies with the number of cattle, the weather and other factors. Since there are no duties on the return trip, livestock men have plenty of time to themselves. This provides an excellent opportunity for self-improvement. Some suggestions:
  2. Plenty of good reading material should be taken along.
  3. Map of the world on which to mark the places visited.
  4. Model building (ships, airplanes, etc.) has provided excellent recreation for some men.
  5. Discussion groups, planned to include members of the crew, have proved stimulating and interesting.

    Discussion group on S. S. Creighton Victory, July 1946. Photo: Ben Kaneda.

  6. Evening singing sessions help spread good cheer.

    Christmas Eve on the S. S. Attleboro Victory, December 1946. Photo: Harold Cullar.

  7. Amateur stunt nights, etc., provide lots of fun.
  8. Religious services should be carefully planned and held at regular times. (both on way over and return trip)

    Sunday service on the S. S. Queens Victory, July 1946. Photo: Peggy Reiff Miller collection.

Some Places To Visit (Mediterranean area)

  1. One should plan well his tours to interesting places in the towns he visits so as to make the most of time spent there.
  2. In Trieste: Cathedral, Via Cathedral, the Square of Blaza, hillside residences and gardens, Esplanade, stores and open air markets.
  3. In Naples: Mt. Vesuvius, Pompeii, Herculaneum, Cathedral of Pompeii, Castle of St. Elmo, Governor’s Palace, Cathedral King’s palace with moat and drawbridge, San Carlo Opera House, Torre del Greco and Cameo factories, Sorrento.

    The crew of the S. S. Virginian visited the ruins of Pompeii, July 1945. Orville Hersch scrapbook.

  4. In Rome: Ancient Forum and ruins of the old city; St. Peters and Vatican City, Coliseum, cathedrals, Tiber River, Appian Way, aqueducts, Via 20 September.
  5. In Salonika: St. George’s and St. Sophia’s churches, old Venetian wall and tower, Turkish baths, market places.

    Touring the old city wall of Thessaloniki, Greece, July 1945. Orville Hersch scrapbook.

  6. In Athens: Parthenon and ruins of ancient city.

    Seagoing cowboy Charlie Lord captured this view of the Acropolis on his five-month trip on the S. S. Carroll Victory in early 1947.

(“Information for Livestock Attendants” document prepared by seagoing cowboys Russell Helstern and Ed Grater – February 28, 1946)

Seagoing Cowboy Program Turns 75 this year!

Happy New Year to my faithful readers!

This year will mark the 75th anniversary of many significant events surrounding the end of World War II. Besides the end of fighting, the event that excites me most is the beginning of UNRRA’s seagoing cowboy program, initiated with UNRRA’s first shipment of June 24, 1945. I look forward to sharing bits of this history with you throughout the year – a history of helping a war-torn world rebuild.

For starters, let’s look at what the seagoing cowboy experience entailed as spelled out in a document titled “Information for Livestock Attendants.”

The following information comes from men who have already been to Europe as livestock attendants and is backed by their experience.

Handling of Animals

  1. Attendants should have and should exhibit a natural love for animals – a calm voice, with gentle treatment and manners, with no evidence of fear, is most effective.

    Cowboys on the S. S. Adrian Victory tend the horses on way to Greece, Oct. 1946. Photo: Elmer Bowers.

  2. Attendants should check carefully the eating habits and bodily functions of animals under their care and should report irregularities to the veterinarian at once.
  3. Each attendant will feed, water and care for 25 to 35 animals (cows, heifers, horses, mules, bulls) under the supervision of the veterinarian and the supervisor.
  4. Each man should assume his duties willingly and discharge them faithfully. This is not a pleasure ship.
  5. Cleaning should be done daily, as per instructions.

    Luke Bomberger cleans cattle stalls on the S. S. Boulder Victory to China, Feb. 1947. Photo: Eugene Souder.

  6. Be diligent in keeping watch – sometimes a delay of 15 minutes may mean the life of an animal under your charge.

Customs Aboard Ship

  1. It is well to have a talk with the ship’s captain or one of the mates before putting out to sea to learn the practices aboard ship, to discover what suggestions he may have regarding conduct of the crew aboard ship, privileges, responsibilities and general conduct. Remember the captain is the absolute master of all aboard his ship.

    Cowboys on the S. S. Carroll Victory watch chief engineer and mate cut chain. 1947. Photo: Charles Lord.

  2. Be friendly at all times with the ship’s regular crew. Let nothing disturb that relationship. Crew members respect character in others and expect to be treated as gentlemen.

    Luke Bomberger gets a tour of the engine room on the S. S. Boulder Victory to China, Feb. 1947. Photo: Eugene Souder.

  3. Ignore the caste system aboard ship and don’t let it disturb you.
  4. Do not abuse dining hall privileges. Snacks at night are for men who are on duty. When using this privilege when on duty, men must assume their part in cleaning up.
  5. Danger of fire at sea is terrific. Refrain from smoking.
  6. Men should be sure their mailing address is understood and forwarded to their homes before leaving. There are many uncertainties and do not be too much disturbed if mail does not reach you.

    Seagoing cowboy Bob Richards made sure his crew on the S. S. Virginian knew their mailing address. Orville Hersch scrapbook.

Conduct in Foreign Ports

  1. One can reflect credit or discredit upon the organization and the people he represents by the way he conducts himself among strangers. Be sensible – act discreetly and with an open, frank friendliness toward the people in the foreign ports. Act like Christians at all times.

    Shopping at the open air market in Trieste, Italy, Feb. 1946. Photo: Elmer Bowers.

  2. Never try to violate port rules or to evade port inspector’s regulations.
  3. Plan your own shore tours with competent guides. Ignore “gate offers”. Consult the UNRRA representative who boards the ship, the U.S. consul, and if available representatives of private relief agencies, cooperatives, Red Cross, church men, FOR members, et al.
  4. Crew members and livestock attendants are faced with the temptation to trade with black market operators in foreign ports. Cigarette sales, as well as sales of clothing at exorbitant prices are temptations to many of our men. Faced with such a situation one must keep in mind his purpose in coming to Europe. He has come to the people with help – not to help exploit them.

To be continued…

Nanorta Goes to Greece – Part II

Today’s post continues the trip of “Nanorta” from farm to Greece and the seagoing cowboys who delivered her, as told through diary accounts of Jim Long and photos from his father’s movie footage and slides taken on the trip.

Seagoing cowboys of the S. S. Villanova Victory, July 1946. L to R, Rev. George Kimsey, Richard Lambert, Darwin Overholt, Arthur Houk, Frank Melick (back), Rev. Wilmer H. Long (front), Jim Long, Harry Herbert.

Most of the Victory ships used by UNRRA carried around 800 animals, requiring 32 seagoing cowboys for their care. The Villanova Victory, however, was one of a few ships that carried livestock on the top deck only, requiring only 8 cowboys.

Rev. Long takes care of “Nanorta,” a heifer sent by his church.

On the two-week trip from Newport News, Virginia, to Kavalla, Greece, the 198 Heifer Project cattle on board kept the cowboys busy with the usual tasks: feeding and watering the animals, tending to newborn calves, and pulling up hay and grain when supplies on deck ran low. And with two ministers in the crew, the cowboys had Sunday morning church services.

Getting hay ready to pull up top on the S. S. Villanova Victory, July 1946.

After a week at sea, Jim noted in his diary, “A freak wave hit the port side, breaking loose the gang way. Deck crew retrieved it. Soon after that a boiler broke down and the ship proceeded at half speed.” Within 24 hours, the boiler was fixed. “Everything else normal,” Jim notes. “The routine is starting to get on my nerves.”

Things became more interesting the next day, however, with the sighting of land and passing the Rock of Gibralter on the way into the Mediterranean Sea. Passing Algiers the next evening, Jim writes, “It was very beautiful with lights stretching for several miles.” On reaching Greece, he notes, “We saw many islands and a beautiful sunset.” And fifteen days after departing Newport News, the destination about 250 miles north of Athens came into sight. The small city of Kavalla (Neapolis of the Bible), on the northern end of the Aegean Sea, stretched out in front of them with the ancient world awaiting their exploration.

Kavalla, Greece, August 6, 1946.

Among the many sights the cowboys took in were the ancient part of Kavalla, the ruins of Phillipi, St. Paul’s jail cell, and the river where St. Paul baptized Lydia.

St. Paul’s jail cell near Philippi, Greece.

The ruins at Philippi.

After ten days in Kavalla, the Villanova Victory made a six-day stop in Piraeus, the port for Athens, to unload the rest of her cargo. This afforded the cowboys the opportunity to tour the Acropolis in Athens and the old and new city of Corinth. “Ancient Corinth has the finest ruins I saw yet,” Jim notes.

Touring the Acropolis.

The trip home included the finding of seven stowaways while sailing through the Mediterranean and an argument with the captain once the ship reached the Atlantic about cleaning the stalls. “We lost,” says Jim. “So we cleaned them up all day.”

The trip also included a rare death at sea. The ship’s Purser died of a heart attack while alone in his cabin and was “put on ice” in the “fish box,” Jim says. After receiving instructions from the Purser’s elderly mother, Jim’s father Rev. Long and the other minister in the crew were told the Purser would be buried at sea and they were to conduct the service. “The Purser’s body was slid down a board and slipped into the sea,” Jim notes. “He was sewed into a canvas bag with two 5″ shell cases and 100 pounds of cement.” A sad, but memorable, event, to be sure.

With the Heifer Project animals being sent to quarantine in Greece before going to their new owners, Jim and his father were unable to go with Nanorta to her new home. But a year after the trip, they received their thanks in a letter from Nanorta’s new owner, a war widow whose husband, along with 300 more Greeks, was killed by the Bulgarians on September 29, 1941.

“I write to thank you and express the joy of all of us,” she said. “Nanorta gives about 10 quarts of milk a day.” The Norristown Times Herald carried the story along with a photo Widow Kallipoi Kl. Karyanni sent with the letter.

Norristow Times Herald, July 31, 1947.

A fitting end to Nanorta’s journey.

Nanorta Goes to Greece – Part I

Not many seagoing cowboys got to accompany their heifer from farm to recipient. The summer of 1946, Jim Long, just out of high school, did. His father, Rev. Wilmer Henry Long, pastor of Trinity Evangelical and Reformed Church in Norristown, Pennsylvania, hatched the idea of documenting the journey of one heifer. He named the heifer “Nanorta.” The children of Trinity and Ascension E&R churches sponsored Nanorta. Slides and still shots captured from Rev. Long’s 16 mm film and Jim’s diary tell the story.

The church school children purchased Nanorta for the Heifer Project from Silver Lake Farm, Center Square, Pennsylvania.

Nanorta stopped by Trinity Church Wednesday, July 10, 1946. for a visit with the children on her way to the Roger Roop Collection Farm in Union Bridge, Maryland, with other heifers and a bull from Silver Lake Farm.

Jim and his father lodged at the Brethren Service Center in New Windsor, Maryland, for the night, where Jim’s supper cost 40 cents.

While Nanorta rested at the Roop Farm the next day, Jim and his father took the train to Baltimore to get their seaman’s papers. “The process was easy,” notes Jim. The process for getting the livestock to the ship is quite another story.

Jim and his father arrived back in New Windsor in time for the loading of Nanorta and 197 additional animals into railroad cars on a sidetrack in Union Bridge.

Jim had a little trouble getting on the train. “Had to hop the train while it was moving,” he notes. “I used the wrong arm to swing on and fell off because of my back pack. But I got back on unhurt…. We made it to Baltimore at 8:30 PM after a very bumpy ride in the caboose.”

At 2:30 AM Friday, Nanorta’s train was shifted to the west side. “We slept in a vacant caboose,” Jim says. “We left Baltimore at 11 AM on the Baltimore and Ohio RR. We made Potomac Yard at 4 PM. We slept at the Bunkhouse from 10 PM. While in the Potomac Yard we watched RR cars being ‘humped’ – pushing cars up a hill and then letting them coast down the other side and being individually switched to the proper track to remake up the new trains for the continuing trip. This also required the use of automatic air compressor rail brakes to slow up the cars so the ‘hook up impact’ could be controlled and hopefully the goods inside the car not damaged.” Dinner at Potomac Yard cost $1.01.

Watering the heifers along the way. Wilmer Long photographer.

Saturday morning, “Left Potomac Yard at 3:20 AM on Chesapeake and Ohio RR and arrived in Richmond at 10:10 AM. We left Richmond yard at 12:30 PM on way to Newport News. At about 3:30 the train stopped along side Levinson’s stock yard to get the animals off the train in preparation for the trip to the ship.”

Jim and his father walked about one-and-a-half miles along 160 RR cars to the stockyards. “We saw cattle herded across the road and into the barn,” Jim notes. The first leg of Nanorta’s journey was over.

One of the Levinson brothers drove Jim and his father to Newport News where they checked into the Warwick Hotel at $2.75 per day. There they met up with two of Jim’s high school teachers who would accompany them on the trip. And there they stayed for the next week, waiting for their ship, the S. S. Villanova Victory, to come in, checking in frequently at the Brethren Service Committee’s seagoing cowboy office near the docks, and playing lots of pinnocle.

A week after arriving in Newport News, Jim, his father, his two teachers, and four additional cowboys finally boarded the Villanova Victory and got ready for their trip. Nanorta would be loaded with the other livestock the following day.

“The VV is a nice ship,” says Jim, “and our quarters were great, by ourselves at the back of the ship in one big bunkroom. The meals are good.”

Ready to sail!

[to be continued in the next post — in the meantime, Merry Christmas!]

In Memorium

On this Fifth Friday, the day after Thanksgiving, I pause to give thanks for these seagoing cowboys who have recently departed from us.

Arnold, Bill, November 5, 2019, Auburn, IN. S. S. Pierre Victory to Poland, September 30, 1946.

Donohoe, John Coughlin, September 17, 2019, Altamonte Spring, FL. S. S. Virginian to Poland, June 27, 1946.

Epp, Robert O., August 27, 2019, Henderson, NE. S. S. Clarksville Victory to Poland, December 12, 1945.

Gingrich, Walter C., September 21, 2019, Wilmington, DE. Queens Victory to Czechoslovakia (docking in Bremen, Germany), June 9, 1946; S. S. Cedar Rapids Victory to Yugoslavia (docking in Trieste, Italy, July 10, 1946.

Horst, John Landis, November 25, 2019, Ephrata, PA. Four trips in CPS Reserve, all for Czechoslovakia, docking in Bremen, Germany. S. S. Samuel H. Walker, May 25, 1946; S. S. Frederic C. Howe, July 11, 1946; S. S. Zona Gale, August 30, 1946; S. S. John J. Crittenden, November 22, 1946.

Miller, George Wayne “Mose,” August 16, 2019, Martinsburg, PA. S. S. Santiago Iglesias to Poland, November 16, 1946.

Overholt, Darwin, October 24, 2019, Doylestown, PA. S. S. Villanova Victory to Greece, July 22, 1946.

Petersheim, LeRoy Kurtz, September 2, 2019, Lititz, PA. S. S. Clarksville Victory to Greece, February 24, 1946.

Rohrer, Earl W., October 9, 2019, Manheim, PA. S. S. Queens Victory to Greece, December 15, 1946.

Shively, Ralph Leland, September 19, 2019, Bridgewater, VA. S. S. Park Victory to Greece, March 8, 1946.

Witmer, Ralph A., August 20, 2019, Salem, OH. S. S. Beloit Victory to Poland, November 27, 1946.

Rest in peace, dear seagoing friends.