Looking back 75 years: UNRRA’s first livestock shipment to Poland, Part II—Impressions of Gdansk

According to seagoing cowboy supervisor John Steele, the S. S. Virginian was the first merchant ship to enter Gdansk, Poland, after World War II. Whether this is true or not, I cannot confirm. At any rate, the cowboys were warmly welcomed by the Polish people—and sorely dismayed by the destruction around them.

“We were all day getting through Danzig Bay,” notes Lloyd Pepple in his journal. “These waters are still very dangerous. There is just a narrow lane through them. There are many sunken ships here, some with their upper parts above the water and some below the surface and only an experienced pilot can take a ship through.

“Danzig (Gdansk) is certainly dead and forlorn looking,” Pepple says, “and it certainly does arouse some strong feeling against the Hitler gang who would do and cause such destruction and murder. I have already found several persons with whom I could talk German and two with whom I could talk real well. And from one and all I heard the sad, tragic story of first German and then Russian looting, murder, and worse things. It is hard to suppress one’s emotions.”

Nowy Port, Poland, dock area where livestock were unloaded. October 1945. Still shot from film footage of Ken Kortemeier.

The ship docked in Nowy Port, the port city for Gdansk, around 5:00 p.m. that Monday, October 1. Everett Petry writes of Russian officers and soldiers everywhere and choosing to stay on board that night in the safety and warmth of the ship. He speaks of Russians in their long, heavy coats and barefooted children in shorts with their legs blue from the cold.

Ken Kortemeier notes, however, that most of the children wore a smile. “They tell us 9/10 of Danzig is destroyed,” Kortemeier says. Bub Erbaugh adds, “The buildings have big holes in them, and a lot of buildings just aren’t.” A foretaste of what’s to come.

Horse lifted off the S. S. Virginian in Nowy Port, Poland, October 2, 1945. Still shot from film footage of Ken Kortemeier.

Bright and early the next morning, the Polish stevedores got to work unloading the horses and heifers. “They unloaded with a flying stall,” says Pepple. “It is a big box, big enough to hold a horse. They pull it out of the bottom of the ship with winches and set it out on the street. Then they lead the horse away. Sometimes it takes 4 or 5 men to hold them.”

Corralling a horse on the docks of Nowy Port, Poland, October 2, 1945. Still shot from film footage of Ken Kortemeier.

The 16-year-old S. S. Virginian captain’s son, who served as one of the cowboys, likened the unloading of the cattle to the streets of downtown Cheyenne. “They went whacko, jumping and bucking,” he said, “after being confined so long at sea.”

First heifers shipped into Poland by UNRRA after World War II, October 2, 1945. Photo courtesy of Bub Erbaugh.

That afternoon, a group of cowboys took a crowded, shot-up tram into Gdansk and witnessed more of the realities of war. “We didn’t see one building that was not hit with bombs or machine gun fire,” Pepple says. “It is a terrible sight.”

First seagoing cowboys to witness the destruction of Gdansk, Poland, after World War II. October 1945. Photo courtesy of Harry Kauffman.

We saw street cars still on the tracks all shot full of holes,” says Pepple. “They said the conductor and all the passengers were killed in these cars. We saw an old prison that had 800 Polish prisoners of war in it. The Germans set it afire and burned them up alive. You could see human bones all over it. There was nothing left of it but the walls.”

Everett Petry writes of the odors of bodies still buried in the rubble, the remarkable ability of the Polish people to push on amidst such destruction, and how the mention of “UNRRA,” in which they put their hope, would bring smiles to people’s faces.

Harry Kauffman stayed in the port that afternoon and the next day, talking with people who could speak German. And he heard the stories of the cowboys who had gone into Gdansk. “Tonight I write these lines with a heavy heart,” he notes in his journal, “unashamed that my eyes are swimming with tears at the things I have seen and heard. Tomorrow the Commissioner of Agriculture for Poland which is working for the UNRRA has arranged to take us on an all day tour.” He would see some of World War II’s horrors for himself.

To be continued

Looking back 75 years: UNRRA’s first livestock shipment to Poland, Part I—The Voyage

On September 1, 1945, John Steele, of Goshen, Indiana, left his feed, coal, and building supply business in the hands of his employees to oversee a crew of seagoing cowboys on the first UNRRA shipment to Poland after World War II. What had been billed to him as a six-week trip kept him away from home for three months. Even so, he considers the trip the highlight of his life.

S. S. Virginian crew, September 1945. Photo courtesy of Lowell Erbaugh.

Steele arrived at the docks in Jersey City only to find his ship, the S. S. Virginian, in dry dock for repairs. On September 10, his 30 cow hands joined him aboard the massive merchant vessel built in 1903, which had seen service in two world wars and still bore some of its guns. The gun decks offered a prime view of New York City across the Hudson River. “The sight is marvelous,” writes cowboy Ken Kortemeier in his diary. The Empire State Building stood conspicuous on the skyline “with a small section near the top darkened as a result of the tragic B-25 crash.”

Kortemeier notes that the Queen Mary pulled in that morning with 14,000 troops aboard. “It fills one with emotion to see them line the deck, peering out of portholes eager to see and set foot on the land they love.”

On the night of September 13, two tug boats nudged the ship on its way. Kortemeier says, “It was a great sensation going down the harbor seeing the majestic New York City skyline light up as usual and fading slowly in the background. The Statue of Liberty was an inspirational sight as she stood there. Flood lights were on her and her torch was really burning. One of the last landmarks of New York that could be seen was Coney Island all lit up with the old Ferris wheel of the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair well in the foreground. One could see automobiles as they sped along the boulevards bordering the River. Lights faded out and we ventured forth on the dark Atlantic with lighthouses winking at us as if it were now our turn.”

The S. S. Virginian. Photo by Elwood Geiger.

After their first day of work, the cowboys bonded at the stern of the ship with the first of many song fests, singing gospel and secular numbers after a short business meeting. “It was great,” says Kortemeier, “and the moon helped us by giving a silvery effect to the sea. Oh yes, sea, moon, and stars were there, but that is not all. God was there. Let the tempests rage, and the sea roar — remember still that the small voice speaketh and the men aboard this ship tonight are in His care.”

Despite smooth sailing the first five days, many of the cowboys got seasick. One cowboy upchucked 12 times the first day out. He remembers hanging over the toilet and pushing the flush button with his head. “We managed to get our work done even if we were sick,” says his partner. “We had canned corn quite often, and we’d say we kind of liked it because it tasted the same coming up as it did going down.”

The fifth day out, “the sea was extra rough,” notes Kortemeier, “and preparations were made for stormy weather. Several tons of straw piled high on the hatch were thrown overboard in the hope of making the ship less top-heavy.” But the real tests came as the Virginian neared the Orkney Islands off northern Scotland. After missing a collision with a small Danish ship by only about ten feet in a dense fog, the Virginian entered the dangerous waters of the North Sea. “Life boats were hung over side today so they can be released by merely slashing the rope,” Kortemeier notes. “Also, a watch (constant) is being maintained for mines. Thank God that we now have peace and we do not need to worry about subs. The fact of having a safe night is now brought up every morning in devotions.”

Even though mapped, mines at times broke off from their moorings. The Virginian missed one by about 40 yards off the coast of Norway on September 28. The next morning, Kortemeier notes, “we got a radio report from a ship sinking because it hit a mine in the area where we were yesterday.” Another close call.

The Virginian finally reached the harbor at Danzig on October 1. Kortemeier says, “I was moved to tears for the first time on this voyage as we came up the canal at Danzig. Oh, what ruin and devastation. The people were waiting for us, and the big sign says — heartily welcome in Gdansk. What a scene! Nearly every building gutted. We expect to go ashore tomorrow.”

Nowy Port, Poland, October 1945. Photo by Harry Kauffman.

Horses in Helsingborg, 1947

When the S. S. Virginia City Victory left Savannah, Georgia, January 29, 1947, her 30 seagoing cowboys had no idea what was in store for them. No doubt they had heard of other cowboys’ trips taking care of horses, heifers, or mules sent by the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration to help rebuild Europe after World War II. They expected to take care of the 774 horses on board as they crossed the Atlantic to Poland, to get to spend a few days exploring the recipient country, and to return home when their ship was unloaded. The extremely harsh northern European winter of 1947 scuttled those expectations. They never made it to Poland.

The intended route of the Virginia City Victory took the ship through the Skagerrak and Kattegat straits dividing Denmark from Norway and Sweden. While anchored off Sweden in the Kattegat, the Master of the ship received diversion orders from UNRRA via the shipping company on February 12. Ice in the Baltic Sea made it impossible to travel on to Poland. UNRRA ordered the ship to turn around and proceed to Rotterdam for further orders. The Master awaited confirmation orders from UNRRA’s London office.

Still in place two days later, 50 horses had already died on the trip. UNRRA representatives in Copenhagen, Denmark, suggested the horses should be discharged immediately. Suitable accommodations and agreement of local authorities made Helsingborg, Sweden, the port of choice. UNRRA canceled the orders to proceed to Rotterdam and instructed “master discharge forthwith and return [to the US].” The London office also suggested to the US office that the ship’s veterinarians and livestock attendants remain in Helsingborg so they could tend the animals when the weather allows the horses to be transported on to Poland. The veterinarians and cowboys would then return to the USA on another livestock ship.

This evidently did not sit well with the cowboys, the majority of whom came from the warm clime of the state of Georgia. Less than 15 minutes after the first cablegram from London, the US office received another: “Vessels attendants all wish return with vessel. Swedish authorities state they can provide attendants [to Poland] and all inclusive cost will be 3 Swedish kronen per horse per day.”

The Virginia City Victory docked in Helsingborg February 15, expecting to complete unloading and set sail, with cowboys on board, for New York City around February 20.

Watering horses on the Virginia City Victory in Helsingborg harbor before unloading. Photo from Kulturmagasinet/The Museum of Helsingborg, photographer Olle Lindberg.

Swedish historian Pelle Johansson, of the Kulturmagasinet/Museum of Helsingborg, alerted me to this story. According to newspaper accounts, Johansson says, “The main concern was finding stables and the fear of contagious diseases. The veterinarian at the local cavalry regiment seems to have been very careful. On the 15th, a delegation from UNRRA arrived in Helsingborg from Copenhagen to make an inspection and give their okay to an unloading. They are also awaiting an okay from Swedish authorities. Through the local newspapers, the veterinarian calls out for finding stables amongst the local farmers.

Unloading UNRRA horses in Helsingborg, Sweden, February, 1947. Note the ice in the harbor. Photo from Kulturmagasinet/The Museum of Helsingborg, photographer Olle Lindberg.

“The call was heard,” Johannson said, “so between February and May the [nearly 700] American horses were placed in farms and stables around the region. At the end of May two Danish ships came to collect the horses and took them to Gdansk.”

UNRRA horses on one of the farms where they were stabled near Helsingborg. Taken May 5, 1947. Photo from Kulturmagasinet/The Museum of Helsingborg, photographer Olle Lindberg.

UNRRA horses being loaded onto Danish ship for transport to Poland, May 13, 1947. Note the different type of vessel that allows the horses to simply walk down a ramp onto the ship. Photo from Kulturmagasinet/The Museum of Helsingborg, photographer Olle Lindberg.

Mr. Johansson is attempting to find some of those farm families who housed the horses to capture their stories. “One of the men I’ve interviewed,” he says, “remembers that the horse his father took to the farm was in a bad condition and was a ‘shy and worried one and probably didn’t do any work’.” Another lucky mare, however, gave birth to a foal, and the two animals were purchased and got to stay in Sweden.

My thanks to Mr. Johansson for sharing photos with me from the museum’s archives. The basic information for this post comes from my UNRRA research at the United Nations Archives in New York City and Mr. Johansson.

 

Documentary on Seagoing Cowboys

One of the joys of my work is being able to share materials with families of seagoing cowboys. One such request came to me from Sarasota [FL] Christian School student Lauren Miller. She was working on a project for National History Day inspired by her grandfather Leslie Horner’s experience as a seagoing cowboy to Poland on the S. S. Morgantown Victory in December 1945.

Seagoing Cowboys of the S. S. Morgantown Victory docked in Nowy Port, Poland, December 1945. Photo courtesy of Hugh Ehrman.

“National History Day is a nationwide event which is dedicated to explore and share historic events which legacies are seen in the world today,” she said. “For my project, I have decided to put together a 7-8 minute documentary focusing on the voyage of the S. S. Morgantown Victory….I mainly want to focus on how ordinary people can make a difference in an extraordinary situation and impact history.”

Fortunately, I had interviewed several cowboys from her grandfather’s trip and was able to share with Lauren a number of documents and photos from my archive. Thank you Lauren for allowing me to share your wonderful creation with my readers.

“Operation Stupendous” – a seagoing cowboy’s voyage to Korea

This post is based on Rev. Hugh D. Nelson’s delightful account of his trip to Korea with a load of Heifer Project animals in August 1954, published in Bill Beck and Mel West’s 1994 book Cowboy Memories.

After loading milk goats, sheep, heifers, and a few bulls in San Francisco, the S. S. Pacific Bear went to “a secluded spot” in the Bay to take on 174 tons of dynamite. (Another source says ten tons – but dynamite is dynamite!) “We had the makings of an interesting voyage!” Nelson says. And that, it would become.

A sister ship to the S. S. Pacific Bear that also transported Heifer Project animals gets a fresh coat of paint in San Francisco. (I have no photos from Nelson’s trip.) Photo courtesy of Joann Quinley.

Nelson shared the work with dairymen Ed Taylor and Newt Goodridge who took care of the milking while Nelson saw to the watering and feeding of the animals. “I learned that all the hay an animal eats does not produce milk, and it was my duty to help shovel manure over the side,” he says. “We fertilized a long swath of sea from San Francisco to Pusan – much to the disgust of the gooney birds who followed us expectantly all the way across.”

On nearing their destination, Nelson went up to a favorite viewing spot on the flying bridge. “The hills of South Korea were in view,” he says. “Pusan, the last point of retreat for the fugitives from the North, lay like an ugly scar down the face of the emaciated green slope. Even from a distance it was obvious that the plague of war had touched her – not with violence or explosives, but with a more subtle blow, the degenerating streams of displaced people – refugees coming south, alien youth in uniform going north.”

Arguments among the various military commands about jurisdiction over the unloading and distribution of the animals held up the process. Meanwhile, the animals suffered in the sweltering heat in their stalls. “Tempers mounted on the bridge and the stench arose aft of it,” Nelson said. “Finally the clearances came and the unloading commenced. The animals were driven into a great crate, seven sheep or goats at a time and the whole lot hoisted over the barns and lowered far down the side into native barges. Korean stevedores waited below to open the door, free the animals, and give a signal to the winch operator to remove the crate.”

Crates similar to those used on the S. S. Pacific Bear. Photo courtesy of Joann Quinley.

The process moved smoothly until it came time to unload the larger animals. “The small-statured Koreans retreated from the field,” Nelson says. “The winch became silent, the unloading came to a standstill. There was no one to handle the animals in the barges. The only stock handlers in the area were Ed and Newt, and they were needed on deck to load the crates.” Nelson’s hour had come!

“With trembling knees I crept down the rope ladder into the first barge, I who scarcely had known a cow’s fore from aft when we set sail from San Francisco. Almost at once the first load was upon me. The great box settled into the straw on the floor of the barge burdened by the weight of two huge bulls. The animals breathed heavily, their dignity disturbed by the treatment they had received. My hands shook and nervous fingers tugged at the knot of the halter. And then the first liberated animal broke from his prison.

“I experienced all of the excitement of the bull ring as we made two hurried, awkward revolutions. Fortunately the confused animal didn’t even know I existed – he was only hunting a haven. He came to rest in a coal-dust darkened corner, and my shaking hands passed the rope under a rib of the barge skeleton and improvised a hasty knot.

“As I went back to retrieve my hat I heard the cheers of the Korean stevedores who had come back to watch the fun. They saluted the blonde cowhand who seemed to know how to master the great beasts. I staggered over to take on the second bull, fear bolstered with a degree of pride.”

As if that wasn’t excitement enough to cap off Nelson’s trip, he about missed his ship home. He was to stay briefly in Korea to evaluate the effectiveness of the program and make recommendations for Heifer Project and then reunite with the Pacific Bear at its next stop in Inchon. He soon found, however, that his documents were insufficient – he lacked army approval to be there. A sympathetic military officer helped him through the red tape, eating up valuable time. Then, with the U. S. Army’s help, he was able to complete his mission. On trying to locate the Pacific Bear when he was ready to leave, however, he learned it had left shore from Inchon an hour earlier! “My only available transportation out of Korea had vanished,” he says.

Calls for a patrol boat to take him out to the ship went unanswered. The radio operator shifted tactics. “Operation Stupendous,” he called. “Operation Stupendous, report to landing pier. Acknowledge.” The radioman finally smiled and said, “Got ’em. They’re coming in.”

“As I stumbled up the slanting steps of the gang plank,” Nelson says, “the loud greetings of that wonderful, profane and salty crew were as dear as the welcome of a mother to her small son.”

On the voyage home, Nelson reflected on his experience. “Through my mind surged the indelible pictures of an heroic but tragically needy people,” he says. “Wherever one [of Heifer Project’s animals] had come into a family’s life, hope had come. And with hope there came gratitude and love. It was most surely Operation Stupendous.”

 

Second UNRRA livestock ship departed the United States 75 years ago today

This is the second of two posts I made five years ago that I’m repeating in June to celebrate the 75th anniversary of the start of the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration and Brethren Service Committee’s seagoing cowboy program.

Five Elizabethtown College students make 2nd UNRRA ship out,
but arrive first in Greece.

This post will set the record straight for a friendly little rivalry that has taken place through the years between the Manchester College students and the Elizabethtown College students who were on the first two UNRRA livestock ships to depart the United States the end of June 1945.

When I first talked with Gordon Bucher about his trip on the F. J. Luckenbach to Greece  that left New Orleans June 24, 1945, he wanted to know, “Wasn’t ours the first ship to leave the U. S.?” Having found the UNRRA records, I was able to tell him, “Yes.” The Elizabethtown cowboys who departed from Baltimore on the S.S. Virginian June 26, 1945, had always said they were on the first ship out. But diary accounts from the two trips and the UNRRA records show otherwise.

Turns out, it was an honest mistake on the part of the E-town cowboys, as even the media thought this to be the first shipment. The Baltimore Sun newspaper said on June 25, 1945:

GREECE CATTLE SAILS TODAY
UNRRA Shipment To Be First Consignment
Laden with 704 head of dairy cattle and horses, the first consignment of such animals to be sent to a European country by the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration, the freighter Virginian will leave Baltimore today for Greece, where the livestock will be used in an agricultural rehabilitation program . . . .

The F. J. Luckenbach had already left New Orleans when this article went to press, and the Virginian didn’t leave port until a day after the article appeared, if the date typed under the article given to me is correct. Other media gave the same story, including the August 1945 Baltimore & Ohio Magazine:

First UNRRA Livestock Shipment for Europe Rides B&O

The article tells of the arrival to Baltimore of 335 Brown Swiss bred heifers and twelve bulls and 357 light draft mares on the B&O railway. It goes on to say:

This “first shipment” created a great deal of interest among the UNRRA people and various publicity agencies. The Coast Guard, Life, the Baltimore papers and the newsreel agencies all had photographers on the job . . . .

All of this while the Luckenbach was already on its way.

But alas, the Luckenbach was not to be the first to arrive in Greece. The Virginian, departing closer to Europe, arrived at its destination of Piraeus, Greece, the port for Athens, on Saturday, July 14.

First heifer to Greece.

A proud Greek poses with the first UNRRA heifer to put foot on European soil. Photo courtesy of Kate  Holderman.

The Luckenbach arrived in Patras, Greece, two days later on Monday, July 16. Both crews were able to visit the Acropolis, with a short $5.00 taxi ride for the Virginian crew and a hair-raising bus ride across the Peloponnese peninsula for the Luckenbach crew that almost made them miss their ship home.

Members of the S. S. Virginian crew at the Acropolis. Photo courtesy of Kate Holderman.

After unloading in Greece, both ships also stopped in Naples to pick up U. S. soldiers who had fought in Europe during the war to take them home – 140 for the Virginian and 150 for the Luckenbach. The Luckenbach, however, arrived home first. Their entire cargo was unloaded in Patras, after which they were ready to return home; whereas the Virginian unloaded only part of its cargo in Piraeus and then traveled further up around Greece to Salonika to unload the rest. Even with a stop in Béni Saf to pick up iron ore after picking up their soldiers in Naples, the Luckenbach had a considerable head start on the Virginian, arriving in New York City ten days ahead of them on August 10. They were met with a rousing welcome home for the soldiers on Staten Island complete with a WAC band playing the “Beer Barrel Polka” and a black band playing hot jazz, before finally docking in Jersey City. The Virginian delivered their soldiers to Newport News and finally docked in Brooklyn on August 20. No matter which ship they were on, the cowboys were glad to be back on U. S. soil.

Sources: Gordon Bucher’s unpublished journal and the report of the S.S. Virginian crew titled “Relief for Greece.”

Special Post: Korea brings the Heifer Project full circle

Today marks the 70th anniversary of the beginning of the Korean War, scars of which still remain today. In memory of that time, a major Korean media outlet has posted a series of three articles by reporter Hong Duk-hwa and a YouTube video this week about how Heifer Project, Inc., today’s Heifer International, stepped into the fray.

Korean Heifer supporter Haewon Lee tells me, “All three articles highlight how HPI and Heifer’s Seagoing Cowboys, undiscovered ‘heroes’ of the Korean War, helped to reconstruct the war-stricken Korean livestock industry and farmers.”

Google’s rough translation of the titles are: 1) “Operation ‘Noah’s Ark’ reviving the ruins of the Korean livestock industry,” 2) “The story of a cowboy driving a herd of cows across the Pacific Ocean,” 3) “When the gift of livestock is hopeful to us who have been dead…now it’s time to give.” If you’d like to take a look at the original articles with photos, the links are posted below. (You can ask Google to translate if you don’t read Korean. The translation is rough, but you can get the gist.)

HPI began its shipments to Korea in the midst of the war with approximately 210,000 hatching eggs sent by air in April 1952. Airlifts of goats and hogs followed in June with more in 1953 before the war’s end. Shipments by sea, including cattle, began in 1954, with the last shipments by air in 1976.

L. to R. Thurl Metzger, Bill Reiche of the United Nations, and United Nations Ambassador at Large from South Korea Ben C. Limb at Midway Airport in Chicago, sending the hatching eggs on their way April 1, 1952. Photo courtesy of Heifer International.

Thurl Metzger, Executive Secretary of HPI when these shipments began, traveled to Korea in the autumn of 1951 to survey the needs there. After the successful shipments of hatching eggs, he said in a news release: “My recent tour of Korea convinces me that the longer the conflict continues, the greater the need. Therefore, we must not relax our efforts because [truce] negotiations seem to be at a standstill.”

“The war has brought about wholesale destruction of livestock,” he said in background material sent with the release. “Shortage of work cattle has made it impossible to cultivate many of the rice paddies and fields. The rural economy has also suffered near bankruptcy due to the fact that farmers have been deprived of their chickens and hogs which heretofore had provided significant income.” He underscored the fact that “Lack of proper animal protein in the Korean diet has also become a serious threat to public health.”

A letter of gratitude sent to Metzger in July 1968 from the Union Christian Service Center in Taejon, Korea, quantifies the value of Heifer’s gifts to Korea. “The total value of this stock and supplies, according to prices in Korea today, we estimate to nearly reach half million dollars.” This does not “consider the value of the offspring from all the livestock imported. Therefore,” the four signees concluded, “within several years, we would estimate the total help to Korea originating from your contribution as high as a million dollars.”

And today, as seen in the third of the Korean articles this week, Koreans are bringing their gifts from Heifer full circle. The article tells the story of Heifer recipient Jae-bok Lee, now a successful dairy farmer at age 83. In 1988, Mr. Lee and eight fellow dairy farmers traveled to Heifer International headquarters in Little Rock, Arkansas, to share their experience. “After returning home,” the article says, “Mr. Lee collected $7,300 to buy 8 cows and donated them to farmhouses in Sichuan, China in 1989.”

Today Mr. Lee says, “I don’t know how long I will work (healthy), but I want to play a role in delivering the gift of hope to the developing countries (like us at that time).”

Heifer International’s core value of “Passing on the Gift” has come full circle in Korea, a demonstration of how giving to Heifer International is exponential.

Watch for stories here in July of seagoing cowboys to Korea.

P.S. I’m adding a link to a Yonhap News TV report with remarkable historical video footage: Not a Cup, But a Cow: Seagoing Cowboys crossed the sea to Korea

Seagoing Cowboy program began 75 years ago this month!

For my regular June posts, I’ll be repeating two that I made five years ago about the first two trips of the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration and Brethren Service Committee’s seagoing cowboy program.  Seventy-five years ago this month, those first crews were being put together and sent to sea.

How ten Manchester College students ended up
on the first UNRRA cattle boat to Europe.

When UNRRA contacted M. R. Zigler, the executive of the Brethren Service Committee, in late spring of 1945 to say they had a ship ready, M. R., with his vast network of contacts, got on the phone and put the Brethren grapevine in action. Among other things, word was sent to the Brethren colleges, which by that time had completed their academic years and were gearing up for their summer sessions. Manchester College in North Manchester, Indiana, was one of those schools.

MC grad Keith Horn recalls having seen a notice on a bulletin board at the college about a ship going overseas with animals. Others learned of the trip through the Church of the Brethren Annual Conference being held at Manchester that year. On its opening day, June 6, 1945, the Brethren Service Committee brought news to the Conference: “Relief soon may be possible from the church in America to the church in Europe,” including “heifers by freight shipment.” M. R. Zigler spoke the next day of “news of big shipments.” In just a short time from UNRRA’s first call to M. R. much had transpired – from one vessel to big shipments.

These reports created a buzz throughout the campus. People talked about it on the sidewalks, in their rooms, over dinner – and it was while waiting on tables in the old Oakwood dining hall that Manchester student Ken Frantz learned of the need for cattle attendants.

In all, ten Manchester College students signed up for this first cattle boat trip. The Gospel Messenger reported that there were 135 students enrolled in the Manchester summer session of 1945. Take ten of those students away, and the college lost over 7% of their student body that summer! But President Schwalm was supportive, as Richard Moomaw, a student leader on campus, relates. When he went to talk with the President to get permission to un-enroll, President Schwalm told him, “So many people are going, you should go, too!”

Because it was mostly a rural denomination, UNRRA had felt the Church of the Brethren would have enough men on farm deferment to provide the cattle attendants for their ships. But there was another deferment that figured into this story, as well – the ministerial deferment. Many of the MC students who went fell into this category. To maintain this status with the draft board, they had to be in school all year round – and that’s why so many of them were in summer school. But whatever the deferment, these students had to get permission from their draft boards to leave the country. Ken Frantz, who lived in North Manchester, recalls that he had no trouble with his Board in Wabash. But it was a different story for his brother Dean, who was living in Sydney, Indiana, at the time. The Kosciusko County Draft Board refused to let him go, or he would have been on the ship with Ken, too.

For many of these students, this was something positive they could do to help put a broken world back together again. Gordon Bucher recalls that his mother, in particular, wasn’t too keen on his going. He was just 19, the war was just over, and she was afraid for his safety. But Gordon stood firm. He said to her, “a lot of people have been endangered for the last four years. We hope to do something good, whether we’re in danger or not.” It was a form of service and ministry for many of the cowboys. And two of them – Floyd Bantz and Ken Frantz – even postponed their weddings from early summer to late summer to be able to go.

In a very short period of time, the ten Manchester students had made their applications, gotten their draft board permissions, and were on the train to New Orleans by June 13. They sailed on June 24, 1945, on the S.S. F. J. Luckenbach headed for Greece with 588 horses and 26 cattle attendants on board – the first of the 360 UNRRA livestock trips made between 1945 and 1947.

F. J. Luckenbach crew at the Acropolis.

The F. J. Luckenbach crew in Greece, July 1945. For whatever reason, the cowboys on this ship were not allowed to take cameras on board. This is the only known picture from this trip, likely taken by an unidentified professional Greek photographer at the Acropolis. Photo courtesy of Ken Frantz.

In Memorium

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

Bantz, Floyd Eugene, May 12, 2020, Lititz, Pennsylvania. S. S. F. J. Luckenbach to Greece, June 24, 1945.

Enns, Siegfried John, January 25, 2020, Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. S. S. Norwalk Victory to Poland, January 9, 1947; S. S. Boulder Victory to China, February 22, 1947.

Gallup, Walter P., March 19, 2020, Rutland, Vermont. S. S. Gainesville Victory to Poland, July 24, 1946.

Groff, Harold K., March 31, 2020, Lititz, Pennsylvania. S. S. Henry Dearborn to Czechoslovakia (docking in Bremen, Germany), December 12, 1945.

Heatwole, Nelson Jacob, May 6, 2020, Aroda, West Virginia. S. S. John Barton Payne to Poland, May 4, 1946.

Kettering, Stanley R., March 7, 2020, McLean, Virginia. S. S. Joshua Hendy to Greece, June 28, 1945; S. S. Gainesville Victory to Poland, June 4, 1946.

Nisly, Fred, March 21, 2020, Hutchinson, Kansas. S. S. Norwalk Victory to Yugoslavia (docking in Trieste, Italy), February 13, 1946.

Ropp, Emil, January 2, 2020, Kalona, Iowa. S. S. Queens Victory to Poland, July 13, 1946.

Weaver, Irwin M., April 21, 2020, Ephrata, Pennsylvania. S. S. Norwalk Victory to Poland, January 9, 1947.

Wenger, Sheldon ‘Shelly’ L., May 15, 2020, Harrisonburg, Virginia. S. S. Clarksville Victory to Poland, August 11, 1946.

Zimmerman, Loren J., April 14, 2020, Ephrata, Pennsylvania. S. S. Stephen R. Mallory to Poland, June 20, 1946.

Rest in peace, dear seagoing friends.