Seventy-five years ago today, the Heifer Project accepted the offer of Roger and Olive Roop of Union Bridge, Maryland, to use their farm for the collection of cattle to be shipped to Europe after World War II hostilities ceased there. Another milestone in the history of an extraordinary organization. Read the story here.
The story of the S. S. Park Victory, including its years after World War II as the transporter of livestock and seagoing cowboys to Europe, is now on display in Kotka, Finland. The Maritime Museum of Finland, located in the Maritime Centre Vellamo, opened a Park Victory exhibition on November 7, 2018. Posters and artifacts of diver, historian, and author Jouko Moisala hold a prominent place as one approaches the ultramodern building completed in 2008.
The Centre is named after the Finnish mythological goddess of water, lakes, and the seas. The massive structure shimmers like the sea and evokes the power of the ocean with its wave-like shape. The exhibition runs through January 25, 2019.
From the seagoing cowboy perspective, Kotka is a fitting place for this exhibition. It was the last port visited by the ill-fated S. S. Occidental Victory before it encountered a rock in the Gulf of Finland on its way home, preventing the cowboys from being with their families that Thanksgiving of 1946. This ship, however, unlike the Park Victory, did make its way back to the USA.
As for the rescued Park Victory lifeboat, Jouko Moisala informs me that it “is at last safe inside a place to clean it with sand. I can get an old ‘Champion’ to do it and I am only an assistant.” Kudos to Jouko for preserving and sharing all of this Park Victory history!
For any of my readers who live near Dayton, Ohio, I will be doing a book signing for my children’s picture book The Seagoing Cowboy on Saturday, November 17, from 1:00-5:00 p.m. Location: New & Olde Pages Book Shoppe, 856 Union Blvd. (across from Kroger) in Englewood, Ohio. At least six other local authors will be participating in the store’s annual Holiday Open House. Hope to see some of you there!
I’m always interested to see what seagoing cowboys went on to do in their lives after their livestock delivery journeys. For many of the younger cowboys, the experience was a formative one. Especially during the UNRRA years of 1945-1947. After UNRRA disbanded, however, and the Heifer Project was on its own, the cowboys, now volunteers without pay, often used these trips as passage to Europe or elsewhere for further service work of some sort. One such cowboy was 52-year-old Floyd Schmoe.
Raised in a Quaker home on the Kansas prairies, Schmoe became a lifelong peace activist. As a young man, he studied forestry, but his studies were interrupted by World War I during which he built prefab homes for war refugees in France through the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC). After returning home, he married Ruth Pickering and resumed his forestry studies. He spent the next two decades focused on natural history education in Washington State, serving as the first park naturalist for Mount Rainier National Park and then the first director of the Puget Sound Academy of Science.
With the outbreak of World War II, Floyd’s passion for peace and justice led him in new directions. Concerned for the welfare of Japanese Americans who were being forcibly interned, he tirelessly worked full time on their behalf through AFSC and his own efforts. After the war, appalled by the atomic bombings in Japan, Floyd set out to start a project of building homes in Hiroshima for bomb survivors. In the meantime, the Heifer Project had begun shipments of bulls, and then goats, to Japan. So Floyd took the opportunity to travel to Japan on the S. S. Contest with 227 goats and three other seagoing cowboys in July 1948.
Floyd stayed on in Japan to make contacts for setting up a volunteer home-building work camp the next year. Over the next four years, Floyd’s project “Houses for Hiroshima” built dwellings in Hiroshima and Nagasaki that provided homes for nearly 100 families.
Japan Public Television’s NHK World has created a documentary about Floyd Schmoe and his work in Japan. The English version will air here today August 10 at 18:10 (PST) and tomorrow August 11 at 00:10, 06:10 and 12:10 (PST). To find your local time for the airing, go to this website and scroll down to the NHK World Prime program. The documentary will continue to be available for an additional two weeks beginning August 13 at this site. A shorter 9-minute news clip of the documentary is available here.
You can also read an essay about Floyd Schmoe’s life here.
Floyd Schmoe lived to be 105, leaving a long legacy of service for a just and peaceful world.
With thanks and appreciation for this story to my contact at NHK World, Jun Yotsumoto.
The next leg of the Park Victory‘s journey began to expose the seagoing cowboys to the realities of war. The ship left Downs, England, at noon January 7 (1946) for the Kiel Canal, “twenty hours away thru the minefields,” notes the ship’s radioman, Will Keller. Early the next morning, “in thick fog we missed a buoy,” he writes. “EMERGENCY STOP! Reversed engine, drug anchor.”
When the fog lifted around noon, the ship proceeded past the German town of Cuxhaven and took on an Elbe River pilot to guide the ship through the canal. “Nice shore line,” assistant cowboy supervisor Harold Hoffman says in his diary. “Buildings look like any American town.” Soon the locks of the canal came into sight.
“Saw masts of several sunken vessels,” Hoffman notes. Entering the lock “was exciting. No one worked, even ship’s crew. Except to tie up ship. Gate closed. There probably 1 hr. or longer. Most men typical German. Some weather beaten. Some English around.” Then the interactions began. Cowboys and crewmen threw gum and candy to the children. “Bartering was fun,” says Hoffman. “Had ships made in a bottle for 5 pks. cigarettes. I got a pin for 2 pks.”
“Soon we moved on. Light fading,” Hoffman says . “Moved slowly through gates and into canal. Did not use motors, let the current carry us for some distance.” Then it was back to work, with the unpleasant task of raising a dead mare to the top deck from which she would be buried at sea when the ship reached open waters.
The next morning, “At arising found ourselves anchored in Kiel harbor,” says Hoffman, where the ship would stay all day. That night, seagoing cowboy Fred Ramseyer notes a contrast in his diary. “See sunken ships all around in the bay. It’s a nice eve out. The moon is shining on the bay, the stars etc. on the ripples.”
The Park Victory had to wait until 7 a.m. the next morning to leave, “because [through] the next twelve hours’ run the water is filled with 137 sunken ships,” notes Hoffman, “so we must have day light to dodge them.” Not to mention the mines that still littered the Baltic Sea.
“Departed Kiel with pilot thru maze of sunken vessels,” notes Keller, “big ones and little ones. Some with masts sticking out of water; others resting on the bottom with superstructures above water. Water sloshing in and out of open doorways and portholes. Six knife-edged minesweepers at work.”
After a cold, damp, and windy but safe passage through the Baltic Sea, on Friday afternoon, January 11, the Park Victory slowly moved towards the harbor at Danzig (Gdansk), Poland. Radioman Keller says, “Pilot sends word suggesting lock up all radio equipment and ‘disappear’ as we approach docking area, otherwise I might be impressed to serve as port’s radio station by local ‘authorities.’ As suggested, I locked up – and disappeared.
“As we proceeded up the channel into New Port (serving Danzig),” says Keller, “we saw ruins, and more ruins. And we heard gunfire, and more gunfire.” Hoffman elaborates in his diary: “Ships on banks taken out of harbor. German plane, large warehouse, steel structures damaged. All buildings of brick, some completely flat. Others just walls, others down in parts. Some with roofs out. Some looked as if hit directly. Railroads & tracks, cars, trucks crumbled & twisted. Passed Samuel Ingram [Liberty ship] docked with load of K rations. Plenty guards with rifles, machine guns & pistols. All seemed most curious. So was the boat personnel.”
Once docked, Hoffman notes, “Guys hanging all over ship. First on board Military and Customs. Can’t tell who is who or what. Poles, Germans or Russians. Notice posted to stay away from American Bar, as the day before one American seaman died, three critical as result of Vodka…. Time taken to make trip: 14 days, 3 hrs., 31 min.”
Everett Byer, in “A Cowboy Goes Abroad,” his unpublished report of this trip which he shared with his fellow cowboys, gives an account of the gravity of the situation the seagoing cowboys to Poland faced. He writes, “And so next morning we are permitted to go ashore, with final words of warning from our supervisor, handed down from the Captain:
This is a wide open city, without law. No permits or passes are needed but if you get in jail, you will probably stay here. We have no Counsul yet and cannot do much for you. Do not go ashore alone and the larger the group the better. Be sure to make it known that you are Americans, because a splendid feeling of good will is given toward Americans due to the tremendous aid in food and clothing that we have sent. Especially you ‘guys’ who talk a little German, be sure they know you are Americans, and don’t talk politics: they (Russians) have secret police and it may be just too bad.
“So, fifteen timid American farmers go ashore in a body,” writes Byer, ” to explore for the first time in a foreign land and in a town as wide open as any western town in our country’s early days.”
To be continued. . .
I’ll be taking a break during the month of October, as my husband and I in the process of moving from Indiana to Ohio. Regular posts should resume sometime in November once my new office gets settled. I share with you here one of my favorite seagoing cowboy photos to tide you over.