Civilian Public Service Unit for Seagoing Cowboys

Sunday, May 15, is International Conscientious Objectors Day, so this is a fitting time to write about the special CPS Reserve Unit put together for the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration’s seagoing cowboy program.

Civilian Public Service was an alternative service set up at the onset of World War II for men who could not conscientiously serve in the military. CPS camps were set up in which these men could do “work of national importance,” such as fighting forest fires, working in mental institutions, doing dairy testing, etc. These camps were administered by the Historic Peace Churches – the Church of the Brethren, Mennonites, and Society of Friends (Quakers).

CPSers Lowell Short, Emil Ropp, and Alfred Gross at work on the S. S. Queens Victory to Poland, June 1946.

CPSers Lowell Short, Emil Ropp, and Alfred Gross at work on the S. S. Queens Victory to Poland, June 1946. Photo courtesy of Emil Ropp.

As UNRRA’s livestock shipments increased at the end of 1945, the need for qualified cattle attendants also expanded. An agreement was reached with the Selective Service System of the U. S. Government to allow CPS men to leave their camps to join a CPS Reserve Unit and sign up to be seagoing cowboys under the direction of the Brethren Service Committee.

Over the course of the program, 366 CPSers took this option. Some made more than one trip before being discharged from CPS. While waiting for their next ship, they were offered employment in the relief work taking place at the Brethren Service Center in New Windsor, Maryland, at the rate of $.50 per hour plus maintenance. For their UNRRA service, the CPSers received the regular rate of $150 per trip.

Seagoing cowboys at the Kalona (IA) Mennonite Church, May 3, 2016. Left to right, seated: Emil Ropp, Henry Mullett; standing: Levi Miller, Charles Silliman, Weldon Beach, Peggy Reiff Miller, Paul Walther, Wallace Fisher. Photo credit: Mary Lou Farmer.

Seagoing cowboys join me at the Kalona (IA) Mennonite Church, May 3, 2016. Left to right, seated: Emil Ropp, Henry Mullett; standing: Levi Miller, Charles Silliman, Weldon Beach, Peggy Reiff Miller, Paul Walther, Wallace Fisher. Photo credit: Mary Lou Farmer.

Last week, when I spoke at the Mennonite Historical Society of Iowa spring meeting in Kalona, Iowa, I had the opportunity to meet up with two of the CPS Reserve cowboys I had interviewed several years ago – Levi Miller and Emil Ropp. What a great night reconnecting with them and other cowboys I knew and meeting some for the first time! Their stories always add a special note to my programs.

Levi Miller's permission to leave his CPS camp to become a seagoing cowboy. Courtesy of Levi Miller.

Levi Miller’s permission to leave his CPS camp to become a seagoing cowboy. Courtesy of Levi Miller.

Levi Miller receives his orders to report for his CPS Reserve assignment. Courtesy of Levi Miller.

Levi Miller receives his orders to report for his CPS Reserve assignment. Courtesy of Levi Miller.

 

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