I have always been captivated by John Nunemaker’s story of finding his family’s work horse Queen on his ship when he reported to the S.S. Queen’s Victory in September 1946. John’s father had sold Queen that January, and there she was, on her way to Poland just like John. His story found its way into my picture book, The Seagoing Cowboy, that was released the end of March.
The real Queen (Queenie in the book) was a four-year-old bay when she was sold at the Goshen (IN) Community Sale to an Eastern horse buyer. John recognized Queen because her right shoulder had been injured while clearing ground, resulting in permanent loss in the right shoulder muscle. “No doubt about it,” he says, “Queen knew John N. and John Nunemaker knew Queen.” He was able to take care of her all the way to Poland.
John identified with the story in the book and sent me a delightful letter of comments and additions to his story. He traveled to port from Elkhart, Indiana, by train with a friend, Robert Stichter, and recalls the excitement and adventure he felt at age 18 as he carried his duffel up the gang plank. He notes the four shots he got before going on board were his first shots ever.
John was one of the cowboys who succumbed to seasickness, “puking my last meal over the rail,” he says, “with the wind from bow of ship blowing the puke back into my face.” He recalls riding out a storm in the three-tier bunks in the cowboys’ quarters at the back of the ship. “The propeller, right below us, came out of the water over a wave, and the whole ship shuddered and vibrated until the propeller got in the water again.”
John says he went barefoot on the ship across the Atlantic. One afternoon, he was sleeping in his middle bunk thirty inches off the floor with his feet over the edge of the bunk. “Other cowboys wanted to see me wake up,” he says. “They had book matches they lit and put flame on my calloused sole.” They went through two books of matches, one at a time, and didn’t wake him until they laughed loudly. John says, “I could walk through a Canada thistle patch barefooted on our farm and not flinch.”
“We sure got excited when we saw Lands End in England from the ship,” John says. In Poland, he watched the unloading of the horses and says while they were still in the “flying stall” on dock they were branded by the left front leg with the name “UNRRA.”
Instead of children following them, John recalls the “adults begging us to help them out of Poland.” He notes, “The destruction (from bombs) we saw was terrible. We saw very few men (all killed), with women with wheelbarrows cleaning up the debris.”
“Queen and 20-plus horses were driven, untied, through the city streets of Danzig from the port to the farms and barns of Poland. We told our horses ‘Woha’ to stop. The Poles said ‘Grrrrer’ to stop. Of course, the horses of the ship did not know what ‘Grrrrer’ meant.”
Of his trip, John says, like the cowboy in the book, he would never forget the people of Poland and the terrible things war can do. “I was looking out for adventure (which I had) but wound up serving my fellow man and God, upholding my conviction and telling people that war is wrong.”