Benjamin G. Bushong’s deep friendship with Dan West would have unforeseen consequences for this Pennsylvania dairy farmer and Guernsey breeder. When West came home in 1938 from relief work in Spain during the Spanish Civil War with the idea of sending cows to Spain to help provide starving children with the milk they needed, he shared his idea with Bushong around the Bushong’s kitchen table. From that point on, Bushong became a confidante and advisor for West on getting the program adopted and started.
The Heifer Project, started in northern Indiana in 1942, came into being as a program of the Brethren Service Committee of the Church of the Brethren in January 1943. That same year, the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration [UNRRA] was formed by 44 of the allied nations to be ready to assist devastated countries at war’s end.
Soon after VE-Day in Europe in May 1945, UNRRA made its first test-run in shipping live cargo – six purebred bulls to Greece, supplied by the Heifer Project. Bushong proved his organizational and red-tape cutting abilities engineering this shipment.
Of this experience, Bushong’s granddaughter Rebecca Bushong notes, “The work was tiring and frustrating, but in these early dealings with UNRRA and world governments, Ben Bushong was learning valuable lessons in diplomacy that would serve him and his denomination well in the coming years.”*
With this successful shipment, UNRRA decided to include live animals in their shipments to Europe. But they had a problem: where would they find the handlers for their livestock? Heifer Project also had a problem: where would they find ships for theirs? An agreement was made: UNRRA would ship Heifer Project animals free of charge, and the Brethren Service Committee [BSC] would recruit all the cattle tenders UNRRA needed.
Having proved his value to both organizations with the bull shipment, the Brethren Service Committee drafted Bushong to be their “man on the spot” on the east coast for working with UNRRA. Bushong’s and his family’s life would never be the same. Starting on a volunteer basis from home, he served double duty as recruiting agent for UNRRA’s livestock handlers and coordinator of Heifer Project shipments for BSC – and on top of that, also managing his farm in Pennsylvania. The first shipments of UNRRA cattle and BSC “seagoing cowboys” departed from US shores the end of June 1945.
UNRRA’s program soon mushroomed, with an estimated need of 8,000 cattle tenders to see the program through. The heavy responsibilities pulled Bushong off the farm, which his son Mark ran by then. Headquarters for the seagoing cowboy office were established at the Brethren Service Center in New Windsor, Maryland. By March 1946, BSC put Bushong on salary as the executive director of the Heifer Project and head of the seagoing cowboy program, a position he held until 1951. Throughout UNRRA’s two years of shipping livestock, they employed nearly 7,000 seagoing cowboys.
Bushong’s office recruited and handled payroll for them all. It boggles the mind to think of all the juggling acts this one man and his small staff had to perform to see that the right number of cattle tenders, with proper papers in hand, were in place at the right time for the right ship – and in the case of UNRRA shipments which included Heifer Project cattle, the right number of animals with the proper papers. Not to mention Bushong’s numerous committee meetings, negotiations with US and foreign government officials, dealing with longshoremen strikes, and handling problem cases or injuries of seagoing cowboys.
Bushong was definitely a man on the go!
* Bushong, Rebecca, “Ben Bushong – Apostle of Mercy,” Brethren Life and Thought, Spring 1979, p. 73