About Peggy Reiff Miller

I grew up on a small dairy farm in northwestern Illinois, went to a small country church, attended a small high school, then a small church-related college before venturing out into the big, wide world. I applied my liberal arts education to a number of jobs and careers for 35 years before hitting my stride as the writer and caretaker of the seagoing cowboy history. This calling has kept me well occupied since 2002.

The Seagoing Cowboy story alive in Finland!

The Christmas Eve sinking of the S. S. Park Victory as told in my December 22 post is a famous shipwreck in Finland and popular among divers. This former livestock carrier went down with a load of coal that stormy night.

Diving the S. S. Park Victory. Photo copyright: Erik Saanila.

Diving the S. S. Park Victory. Photo copyright Erik Saanila.

One has only to search the term “Park Victory” on youtube to find multiple underwater videos of dives to what remains of the vessel. Jouko Moisala, diving instructor and editor of a Finnish diving magazine, has written a book about the history of the Park Victory that was released this past October.

Jouko Moisala celebrates with his publisher, Anne Pentti, at the launch of his book. Photo courtesy of Jouko Moisala.

The book includes a section on its livestock carrier history for which I served as a resource. This part of the ship’s history was not widely known in Finland before the book came out.

Listing in Jouko’s book of the livestock trips made by the Park Victory.

Seagoing cowboy crews in Jouko’s book.

It remains to be seen whether the book will be translated into English. I’ll let you know if it is! It is currently being translated into Swedish.

Jouko has put together a series of large posters on the Park Victory‘s history for an exhibit and has been making appearances around Finland sharing the story.

Poster #3 of Jouko’s exhibit on the S. S. Park Victory.

My upcoming posts will include stories of some of the Park Victory’s livestock trips. Its demise off the shores of Finland was not its only accident.

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In Memorium

It’s time for my regular Fifth Friday post to honor the seagoing cowboys who have passed away. These are the ones I’ve learned of, some from previous years of whom I’m just becoming aware:

Anders, Paul Henry, July 16, 2017, Alemeda, CA. S. S. Morgantown Victory to Poland, December 10, 1945.

Armstrong, Byron Harold, July 17, 2017, Bridgewater, VA. Heifer Project trips to Austria, Turkey, Egypt, Sardinia, Mexico, beginning in 1954.

Brenneman, John Henry, October 16, 2017, Newport News, VA. S. S. Bucknell Victory to Poland, February 15, 1946.

Brown, H. Merle, October 12, 2017, Elgin, IL. S. S. Queens Victory to Czechoslovakia, June 9, 1946; S. S. Cedar Rapids Victory to Yugoslavia, July 10, 1946.

Burkholder, Lewis A., December 13, 2013, Powhatan, VA. S. S. Pass Christian Victory to Israel, November 1949 (Levinson Brothers shipment).

Damon, Richard Alva, January 24, 2008, Walnut Creek, CA. S. S. Alcee Fortier to Yugoslavia, April 18, 1946.

Day, Kelly M., April 6, 2013, Lafayette, IN. Heifer Project shipment to Greece, December 10  1956.

Detrra, Jr., Norman E., April 27, 2011, West Reading, PA. S. S. Stephen R. Mallory to Poland, June 20, 1946.

Dickey, John, October 25, 2017, New Castle, IN. S. S. Virginia City Victory to Poland, May 26, 1946; S. S. Yugoslavia Victory to Poland, July 19, 1946.

Eller, Harlan H., January 20, 2017, Crimora, VA. S. S. Earlham Victory to Yugoslavia, January 6, 1947.

Groff, Eugene A., January 5, 2017, Lititz, PA. S. S. Beloit Victory to Poland, November 27, 1946.

Harner, David, July 25, 2015, Chino Valley, AZ.  S. S. Humanitas (Heifer Project) to Italy, March 23, 1948.

Harsh, Norman Luther, November 29, 2017, Salem, VA. S. S. Mexican to Yugoslavia, June 28, 1945.

Hess, Paul C., November 19, 2016, Mount Joy, PA. S. S. Mount Whitney to Poland, November 30, 1946.

Hilty, Calvin Albert, March 29, 2014, Strathmore, CA. S. S. Morgantown Victory to Poland, December 4, 1945.

Hochstetler, Carl, September 13, 2013, Killbuck, OH. S. S. Mexican to Yugoslavia, June 28, 1945.

Kanagy, Paul C., December 20, 2011, Chesterville, OH. S. S. Blue Island Victory to Poland, August 10, 1946.

Kaufman, Paul J., September 18, 2017, Plain City, OH. S. S. Santiago Iglesias to Poland, November 10, 1945; S. S. Gainesville Victory to Poland, April 17, 1946.

Keeney, Paul, November 3, 2017, York, PA. S. S. Pierre Victory to Poland, March 29, 1946.

Kuhns, Levi M., March 6, 2011, N. Lawrence, OH. S. S. Park Victory to Poland, December 23, 1945.

Lehman, Adin Leroy, April 20, 2017, Chambersburg, PA. S. S. Queens Victory to Greece, December 15, 1946.

Long, James DeChant, October 26, 2017, Carmel-by-the-Sea, CA. S. S. Villanova Victory to Greece, July 22, 1946.

Martin, Aldine D., November 17, 2017, Greencastle, PA. S. S. Bucknell Victory to Poland, February 16, 1946.

McFadden, William Robert (Bob), December 8, 2017, Bridgewater, VA. Heifer Project shipment to Germany, May 19, 1953.

Mullet, Henry A., June 3, 2017, Kalona, IA. S. S. Samuel H. Walker to Greece, December 15, 1945.

Nafziger, Robert W., February 8, 2011, Archbold, OH. S. S. Park Victory to Poland, December 23, 1945; S. S. Plymouth Victory  to Greece, February 13, 1947.

Newsom, Robert “Bo”, March 28, 2017, Columbus, IN. S. S. Rockland Victory to Poland, June 15, 1946.

Nolt, Richard B. “Dick”, February 28, 2014, Lititz, PA. S. S. Cyrus W. Fields to Italy, June 14, 1946.

Prouty, Estel, May 21, 2017, Ogden, IA. S. S. Lindenwood Victory to China, December 19, 1946.

Renalds, Robert Stanley, March 1, 2013, Nashville, TN. S. S. John J. Crittenden to Czechoslovakia, August 15, 1946.

Shenk, Joseph Donald “Don”, September 14, 2015, Newport News, VA. S. S. Pass Christian Victory to Israel, December 1949 (Levinson Brothers shipment).

Siemens, Melvin Roy, October 13, 2017, Leoti, KS. S. S. Charles W. Wooster to Greece, April 21, 1946.

Summy, Robert G., May 1, 2017, Manheim, PA. S. S. Virginian to Yugoslavia, June 26, 1945.

Torkelson, Norman, December 9, 2012, Tilley, Alberta, Canada. S. S. Mount Whitney to Poland, July 29, 1946.

Unruh, Earl R., June 6, 2017, Kansas City, MO. S. S. Morgantown Victory to Yugoslavia, December 2, 1946.

Voran, Willis R., January 16, 2017, New Holland, PA. S. S. John J. Crittenden to Yugoslavia, November 23, 1946.

Weber, Norman, October 2, 2016, Elmira, Ontario, Canada. S. S. Occidental Victory to Poland, September 29, 1946.

White, David H., September 27, 2017, Lititz, PA. S. S. John L. McCarley to Poland, July 2, 1946.

Willms, Alfred J., October 22, 2016, Leamington, Ontario, Canada. S. S. Frederic C. Howe to Yugoslavia, November 15, 1946; S. S. Woodstock Victory to Greece, January 18, 1947.

Rest in peace, dear seagoing friends.

 

The Christmas Eve fate of the S. S. Park Victory: not to be forgotten

In Finland there is a national reading of the Christmas Peace at noon every Christmas Eve. On the island of Utö at the farthest edge of Finland’s southwest archipelago, this reading will be followed at 1:00 p.m. by the lighting of ten candles in the island’s chapel. These candles represent the ten seamen who lost their lives in the sinking of the S. S. Park Victory on Christmas Eve 70 years ago.

Photo courtesy of Jouko Moisala.

The S. S. Park Victory delivers horses and heifers to Poland, December 1945. Photo by Will Keller, Peggy Reiff Miller collection.

The Park Victory will be remembered by many seagoing cowboys for the six trips she made as an UNRRA livestock carrier, October 1945 through December 1946. She is remembered quite differently in Finland, however. In December 1947, she was delivering a load of coal to Finland, possibly for the Marshall Plan. She anchored in good weather near the lighthouse off the island of Utö  before dark on Christmas Eve, awaiting orders as to whether to proceed to Turku or Helsinki the next day. During the night, a wicked snow storm descended on the ship. The gale-force winds dislodged the anchor, and the ship fought for her life. The rocky coastline won, however, breaking into and flooding the engine room.

The distress signal was sent out and lifeboats lowered. At risk to their own lives, help was dispatched from the fishing community of Utö. A small military craft captained by Thorvald Sjöberg found a group of seamen huddled on a low reef. Between the winds and underwater rocks, there wasn’t a safe way to reach the men. Captain Sjöberg kept his craft nearby until daylight when they were able to get a rope to the men. One had died of hypothermia and the rest were in bad condition, some having survived the night in little more than their underwear. In all, thirty-eight of the seamen were found, rescued, and compassionately tended to by the brave Utö islanders.

Rescuing Captain Thorvald Sjoberg, the widow of Park Victory Captain Allen Zepp, and Hanna Kovanen, who was ten years old at the time of the sinking, reunite on Uto, summer 2017. Mrs. Kovanen will light the ten candles on Christmas Eve in commemoration of the seamen who lost their lives. Photo courtesy of Jouko Moisala.

In memory of those who perished:
Mose Andersson, F.W.T., 19
Augustine Bebrant, Messman, 50
Eric Cain, Assistant Electrician, 36
Herbert Deglow, Oiler, 23
Michael Duffy, Chief Electrician, 50
Henry Holste, Junior Third Mate, 65
Rex Jackson, Wiper, 40
Juan Lopez, Chief Cook, 50
Daris Mitchell, Junior Engineer, 51
La Verne Woods, Junior Engineer, 19

A Blessed Holiday Season to my readers.
~Peggy

Sources for this post: correspondence with Jouko Moisala, and the article “The Gloomy Christmas Eve at Sea” by Martin Latimeri.

This is a famous shipwreck in Finland and popular among divers. More on that in my next regular post in January.

Heifer Project and Seagoing Cowboy Exhibit returns in Germany

The Heifer Project and the Seagoing Cowboys once again take the stage at the Oberschlesiches Landesmuseum in Ratingen, Germany.

New exhibit. Photo courtesy of Melanie Mehring, Oberschlesiches Landesmuseum.

A piece of the 2016 exhibit is now on display through February 18, 2018, in conjunction with a larger exhibition at the Haus des Deutschen Ostens museum in Munich. Titled “Kann Spuren von Heimat enthalten,” the exhibition focuses on historically traditional German food and drink and its role in the identity and integration of Eastern European Germans as they settled back into Germany after their expulsion from their Eastern European homes at the end of World War II, as well as during the Cold War. The title is a wonderful play on words described to me by museum curator Melanie Mehring, meaning literally, “May contain traces of home.” It references “the typical phrase used on lots of food for people with allergies.” For example, “May contain traces of nuts.”

Photo courtesy of Melanie Mehring, Oberschlesiches Landesmuseum.

If you’re in Germany in the next couple of months, drop in and take a look!

Seagoing Cowboy meets German relatives, December 1946

His father’s protests nearly kept 17-year-old Gerald Liepert from the experience of a lifetime. When Gerald asked his parents to sign the form permitting him to accompany livestock to post-World War II Europe, his mother tipped the scales with her quiet response, “Let him learn how other people have to live.”

Gerald was accepted into UNRRA’s seagoing cowboy program and hoped to be able to travel to Germany where two of his mother’s sisters lived. The ship destined for Germany to which he was assigned, however, blew a boiler. With his money running short from sitting out a maritime strike in Newport News, Virginia, Gerald signed on to the next available ship. Late September 1946 found him on his way across the Atlantic on the S.S. Pierre Victory with a load of horses headed for Poland.

Leftover ammunition on Poland battlefield, 1946. Photo credit: Cletus Schrock.

The trip left a vivid imprint on this 17-year-old mind. Gerald tells of being taken to a battlefield by a 12-year-old guide and recalls “partial skeletons in bunkers, a skull inside a helmet, foot bones in rotting socks in fox holes, mortars with ammunition still stacked nearby, etc. . . . heavy stuff for a 17-year-old’s first time away from home.”

On return to Newport News in late October, Gerald learned the next ship to Germany would leave in mid-November. This allowed time for him to travel home to Wisconsin to regroup and gave his mother time to write to her sisters to let them know of Gerald’s pending arrival in Bremen, scheduled for December 2. Gerald had no idea whether he would be able to see his aunts, whom he had never met, as they lived a significant distance from Bremen in Schlangenbad in the American Zone of Germany.

The aftermath of the storm that hit the S. S. Zona Gale, November 1946. Photo credit: Jeff Shoff, courtesy of Heifer International.

Gerald’s ship, the S. S. Zona Gale, met with a fierce storm that washed many of the horses over board and seriously injured two of the cattlemen. This necessitatied a medical emergency stop in England, delaying arrival in Bremen by three days. In the meantime, Gerald’s Aunt Elsa Dauer and Aunt Hanni Graupner were making the arduous trip by train through the American, French, and British Zones at a time when the trains that were still running were cold and overcrowded, food was scarce and available only through ration cards or the Black Market, and lodging was hard to find. They went first to Bremerhaven where they learned the ship was delayed. After much difficulty in obtaining information, they traveled on by boat up the Weser River to Bremen. There, a kind man at the river pilot station named Mr. Kassel helped them, even to the extent of providing the address and phone number to call his wife should they need a place to sleep.

The two women found their way through the rubble of Bremen to a makeshift “hotel” where they found a “room” within a room divided by bed sheets where they could stay and wait, cold and hungry, until they had news of Gerald, calling Mrs. Kassel every day to see if the ship had arrived.

Back on the Zona Gale, Gerald was working the night watchman shift when the ship took on a German pilot and headed up the Weser River to Bremen. The Second Mate asked him, “Do you know if there is a cattleman named Lippert or Leippert on board?” Gerald said, “I think you are talking about me, Sir!” The Second Mate directed him to the pilot, who handed Gerald an envelope containing the message, “We are here in Bremen expecting you. Contact Lykes Brothers Steamship Agency to find out how you can reach us. Tante Else.” Exciting news, to be sure!

When the ship docked at 7 a.m., Gerald and his friend Delmar headed immediately for the Lykes Brothers office, only to find it didn’t open until 9. They returned to the ship, where Mr. Kassel was looking for Gerald. “I have a Frau Dauer and a Fräulein Graupner waiting at my home to see you,” he said. After obtaining their shore passes, Gerald and Delmar accompanied Mr. Kassel via tram in below zero weather to the apartment complex where he lived. Gerald was grateful for the turtleneck sweater he had bought from the ship’s store on his first trip and his fur-lined gloves.

After their first meeting, the Aunts asked Gerald to go back to Schlangenbad with them to meet the rest of the family. Gerald got the Captain’s permission to leave for a week, but the permission required of the U. S. Army was denied: Gerald had no passport or military ID, only a seaman’s card issued by the U. S. Coast Guard. “While disappointed, at the same time I was relieved,” Gerald says, “because I was anxious about the return trip from Schlangenbad to Bremen alone.”

“After chow the next morning,” says Gerald, “Delmar and I energized the galley crew, who gladly packaged most of the edible leftovers. We also had cigarettes in our socks and every pocket (a valuable Black Market commodity for the Germans). I’m sure that Kassel’s were aware they might receive some of the largess by opening their home to us. Even so, we were grateful, and they easily became our way station.”

Bremen, Germany, 1946. Photo credit: Ivan Meck album, Peggy Reiff Miller collection.

Aunts Elsa and Hanni stayed on for a few days. “On a sightseeing tour of the city of Bremen,” says Gerald, “I do not recall seeing one building intact. We did visit the cathedral and catacombs, (but) sightseeing is not really exciting when it is cold, both indoors and out!”

The day before Aunt Elsa and Aunt Hanni planned to leave, “Delmar and I pulled out all the stops in bringing as much largess off the ship as we could,” says Gerald. “There were nine raw eggs in Delmar’s field jacket pocket, a number 10 can of pineapple, and other assorted goodies contributed by the galley crew. We had already given up most of our warm clothes, keeping only our work clothes and something for the train ride home. How did we get all this stuff off the ship? On an earlier day, the Army gate guard was very cold and I gave him my good set of fur-lined gloves. After that we were never checked. My wool turtleneck sweater went back to Schlangenbad and was still being worn by my cousin Erika when I came back to Germany in 1952 with the U. S. Army.”

And how did Elsa and Hanni get all those goodies through customs when all the passengers were taken off the train to be checked at the French Zone? It seems the customs officials were taking too long to suit the train personnel. Inspections stopped a few persons ahead of the two women. They had lost their seats by the time they got back on the train, but they still had their treasures.

Thanks to Gerald Liepert and his cousin Philip Graupner for their accounts of this story.

Gratitude from Silesian Heifer Project recipients

During this Thanksgiving weekend, it is fitting to share expressions of gratitude from early recipients of heifers delivered by the seagoing cowboys. This post takes us to war-devastated Czechoslovakian Silesia in 1946 and comes from a bundle of thank you letters sent to the Brethren Service Committee and the Heifer Project.

A December 23, 1946, letter from the Czech Child Welfare Foundation Vojtechov in Brno gives us an overview:
“The cows donated by the Church of the Brethren are rendering excellent service and are helping by their precious product to restore great numbers of our citizens who contracted tuberculosis and other diseases during the war, either in concentration camps, prisons or through deprivations and malnutrition. Your assistance shall never be forgotten. Thousands and thousands of people are helped by your gifts and are sincerely grateful to you.”

Frank Vojkuvka: “I didn’t have any milk for the children and the entire family suffered from under nourishment. Heartiest thanks for the donated cow.” Photo courtesy of Heifer International.

From the Evangelical Parish orphanage in Trinec near Tesinsko, June 19, 1946:
“Toward the end of the war our orphanage invaded by the German armada was completely damaged. They left us merely empty iron beds and even those were damaged. Many orphans whose parents were killed in Concentration camps of Germany came to us. . . . We had a big holiday when we brought the cow home. No one could believe that it was given to us free.”

Kosarova Frantiska: Your fine cow means for us and especially for our 2 girls 5-1/2 and 1-1/2 y. so much easing our food supply. Since we have enough milk again we are all healthier.” Photo courtesy of Heifer International.

From Elizabeth Moravcova, Bolatice, June 20, 1046:
“My house was so damaged by bombing that it couldn’t be lived in. It was shot at by artillery from three sides. And you can imagine the crumbling and shattering caused by explosions in town. The furniture which I bought just before the war with money I painstakingly gathered was all gone. Our clothes and shoes were confiscated by the occupying army. And that was the way with kitchen equipment and other things in the home. So, after the war we are starting anew. I am beginning alone because until now my husband has not been reported. I am alone with two children – a 5 year old and a three year old boy, also an elderly mother. So I must work hard all week and have the children help me.
“If you can imagine the situation you will know how grateful I am for this gift. It means for me the greatest means of livelihood. It has become a member of our family. I thank you once again dear friends most heartily for this precious gift and believe me that we will think of you the rest of our lives and be grateful. May you live there over the sea happily and may God bless you.”

Kosarova Frantiska: “The wounds of warfare are healing gradually for us, especially as we are so fortunate to have such generous friends.” Photo courtesy of Heifer International.

From Anna Dostalova in Stepankovice, April 14, 1946:
“The war was bad and brought much evil to us. It razed our buildings, killed livestock and nothing was left except our ravaged home and six hungry children. The youngest became ill and died. He was longing for milk at that time to which the children have been accustomed. So when the cow arrived there was much happiness. Five eager children jumped about me and the cow. When I brought the first milk they stood around with their little pots each one eager to taste the milk from America. It has a wonderful flavor. The cow is now well settled and feeds well. For your goodness, I thank you again!

A note from Family Kysuconova: “Grandmother, parents and 3 children are thanking most heartily for the generous gift of a fine cow given to them. This cow is their saviour from starvation.” Photo courtesy of Heifer International.

And lastly, from Frantisek Martinik of Poruba, undated:
“The help given me by this gift [of a cow] is immense. . . . The friendly and sacrificial attitude of the selfless Americans in help to the Silesian people is proving that there are still good people in the World despite of the hatred in Warfare and that Love didn’t die and never will in human hearts.
“This truth and by deeds proved Love is warming and strengthening our spirit and gives us courage to rebuild our homes and reconstruct our beloved but war torn country of Silesia.
“The Lords providence may reward your magnificent deeds, we shall never forget what you have done for us.”

Heifer International continues this great work. Giving Tuesday is coming up! Consider a gift to Heifer in gratitude for all we have been given.

Seagoing Cowboys before World War II – Part III

Today, we look at how the experiences of the cowboys to Germany after World War I contrasted with those of the UNRRA seagoing cowboys after World War II.

The trip across the Atlantic was much the same in 1921 as in 1946 – seasickness, smelly holds, ocean vistas and all. The animals demanded the same attention for feed and water. However, the 1921 shipments contained a greater percentage of cows needing to be milked, with some cowboys responsible for as many as 60 head. Must have been some sore hands on those ships! The milk was dumped overboard.

The differences in the two eras manifested when the ships docked in Bremen. With little damage to structures by World War I artillery, the cowboys of 1921 found an exciting city still intact, with one crew heading into town for beer and to refresh their work-encrusted bodies in a public bath house. The cowboys after World War II could only step into the rubble left from saturation bombing and had no such pleasures.

Roger Ingold experiences war-torn Bremen, Germany, July 1946. Photo courtesy of Roger Ingold.

Being of German-speaking heritage and delivering dairy animals sent by ethnic Germans, the 1921 cowboys were met on board in Bremen by a welcoming committee and taken on tours through Bremen and around the country. They visited poet Goethe’s home in Weimar, banqueted with city council members in Leipzig, visited an orphanage in Halle where some of the cows were sent, and marveled at palaces and museums in Berlin. The UNRRA cowboys had no welcoming committees. The livestock they delivered were sent via rail on to Czechoslovakia, as Germany was not a receiving country for UNRRA goods. These cowboys made their way around the ruins of Bremen on their own, and that was as far as most of them got.

Devastation as far as the eye could see met the UNRRA seagoing cowboys in Bremen, Germany, in July 1946. Photo by Roger Ingold.

Living like kings ceased for the 1921 cowboys when they returned to their ship, however. “If the Germans looked on with warm hearts,” writes La Vern J. Rippley, “the West Arrow’s Captain Forward cast a less friendly eye.” At his command, the cowboys spent 13 days of their return voyage “pitching manure, scraping stalls and washing down the interior of the ship.” No matter that the work wasn’t in their contract.

Even though the cowboys of 1921 had not seen the brutal devastation witnessed by the UNRRA cowboys of later years, like the UNRRA cowboys, they came home realizing the reality of war. Cowboy Peter Andres commented in a New York Times article of February 25, 1921, “There is too much misery here.” Others noted, “We have had plenty to eat and have been banqueted everywhere but everywhere we have seen hungry children and tubercular adults who need milk.”

The human face of war is timeless.

 

Sources for this post were two articles by La Vern J. Rippley: “Gift Cows for Germany,” North Dakota History: Journal of the Northern Plains, Summer 1973 and “American Milk Cows for Germany: A Sequel,” North Dakota History: Journal of the Northern Plains, Summer, 1977.