Life on the S. S. Virginian: From the letters of O. R. Hersch, Part II

This continues the reflections of Orville Hersch in his letters home about his time on the S.S. Virginian, the second UNRRA livestock ship to leave the United States, the end of June 1945.

Fire and Life Boat Drills

“We have fire drill once a week, also life boat drill at the same [time] or immediately following. Each person on the ship is required to go to his station for fire drill – and the fire hose is/hoses are turned on to check on their working alright [sic]. Then the whistle is as follows –
1 long blast – go to your fire station.
3 short blasts – turn off the water.
6 short blasts & 1 long blast – go to your life boat.
3 short blasts – dismissal – return to our work.

“In this life boat drill we all put on our life belts to which are attached a whistle to blow, a knife to cut or defend ourselves when in the water, a flashlight to attract attention in the darkness etc. The flashlights are all new batteries & shine brightly. The rafts on which 20 men can ride look like this:

From letters of O. R. Hersch, courtesy of Heifer International.

From letters of O. R. Hersch, courtesy of Heifer International.

slats on top – also on the bottom – The bottom is like the top – so the raft cannot fall upside down. Between two [vertical] air tanks is a compartment containing fire signals, fishing tackles, chocolate bars, canned fresh water, hatchets, gigs, oars, spears, food etc.

Life boat drill on the S. S. Creighton Victory, July 1946. Photo courtesy of Ben Kaneda.

Life boat drill on the S. S. Creighton Victory, July 1946. Photo courtesy of Ben Kaneda.

“In case the ship strikes a floating mine – a ‘SOS’ will call other ships to our aid – so these boats & rafts will help us out until the other ships arrive. The raft slides off the ship when a small ring is slid away from an open link and the raft held to the side of the ship so a man can climb down a knotted rope over the side of the ship to the waters edge and then swim to the raft. Our life preservers are well able to keep us afloat even tho we don’t know how to swim – most of us in case of danger would leap from the ship feet first & hold one hand between our chin on the top of our life preserver and the other hand over our nose to keep the water out. These life preservers give us a feeling of security in the midst of this boundless deep – the depth of which makes the deep azure blue of a deep blue sky.”

Bill of Lading

Besides the official cargo on the Virginian, the cowboys had brought along items like soap, needles, thread, buttons, etc., which Orville is distributing here to Greeks in Salonika. Photo courtesy of Heifer International.

Besides the official cargo on the Virginian, the cowboys had brought along items like soap, needles, thread, buttons, etc., which Orville is distributing here to grateful Greeks in Salonika. Photo courtesy of Heifer International.

The livestock ships usually carried additional cargo in the bottom holds, of which Orville wrote, “Perhaps you will be interested in the bill of lading of our ship. We have –
2000 sewing machines
1548 bales of straw
13 steel chains weighing 14000#
30 bundles of steel weighing 93490#
41 steel bars weighing 149900#
12000 bags of 16% dairy feed
5557 bales of mixed hay (timothy & clover) – 293 ton
40 bags bran – 2 ton
702 bags oats – 40 ton
2735 ton superphosphate – fertilizer
260 large crated boxes of tractors & parts – 2 ton each
270 bundles of parts
325 heifers
12 bulls
375 mares
(also have 11 fresh cows – 10 living calves – so we milk & have plenty of milk & the calves are doing fine)
5028 net tonnage of our ship
7985 gross tonnage of our ship
48 men in the ships crew, seamen etc.
26 cattle men

To power this vessel, Orville reported it carried 13637 barrels (bbl) of oil with 42 gallons per barrel, or 2091 ton. It used 325 bbl of oil each day at sea and 70 bbl when in port. The ship carried 1230 tons of fresh water of which 35 tons were used per day with livestock on board and 15 tons without livestock.

Quite an undertaking! Imagine the details UNRRA had to work out for each of their 360 shipments.

Orvillel Hersch at the old wall of Salonika, Greece, July 1945. Photo courtesy of Heifer International.

Orville Hersch at the old wall of Salonika, Greece, July 1945. Photo courtesy of Heifer International.

Good Will and Gratitude

In this year’s political climate, it’s easy to be overcome with the vitriol that’s been spewing all around us. Thanksgiving is a great time to stop and take stock of how a little good will can go a long way in healing wounds and generating gratitude. On September 19, 1957, Rosa Welti received a heifer sent to her in Germany by the Trinity Evangelical & Reformed Church of Allentown, Pennsylvania, through the Heifer Project. I share some excerpts from her letter of thanks sent to the congregation, translated by John R. Lovell.

To my dear, honored benefactor:

Today I want to thank you most sincerely for the great joy you gave me. For thirteen long years I could only wish that I might own my own cow. Today this wish was fulfilled. The children can again drink as much milk as they wish. God has not forgotten the homeless, for there are people who still recognize Christian charity. . . .

I want to give you a brief report about myself. It is not pleasant. Thirteen years ago the Russians dragged my husband away and he died of starvation in the coal pits of Tchistakova. I had to leave our home with three children and was sent to a Refugee Camp. We did not know what it was to have enough to eat for a long, long time, we hungered and starved. It was work day and night, and troubles were always present. Now after long, hard years God has helped us. I have been able to create a home in our new surrounding by hard work and many privations. I myself have built the house that you see in the photograph. And now I have received once more my own cow. I again thank you sincerely for it and I pray that God shall reward you for it.

With heart-felt greetings, I remain,
Thankfully yours
Mrs. Rosa Welti and children
Altshausen, Germany

Rosa Welti and her beloved heifer. Photo courtesy of Joanna Hall.

Rosa Welti and her beloved heifer. Photo courtesy of Joanna Hall.

I give my gratitude to blog reader Joanna Hall, daughter of the Trinity E&R Church pastor, Clarence Moatz, for her good will in sharing this letter and photos with me after reading a previous post about shipments to Germany. The Trinity congregation donated several heifers to the Heifer Project. Pastor Moatz also served as a seagoing cowboy to Germany in 1955 and later served as Vice Chairman of the Heifer Project Board of Directors.

What good will can you spread today?

Seagoing cowboys Nicholas Rahn, Clarence Moatz, Harry Colver, and Lloyd Sandt with a heifer for their ship, the S. S. American Importer, September 29, 1955. Photo courtesy of Joanna Hall.

Seagoing cowboys Elder Nicholas Rahn, Rev. Clarence Moatz, Rev. Harry Colver, and Rev. Lloyd Sandt with a heifer for their ship, the S. S. American Importer, September 29, 1955. Photo courtesy of Joanna Hall.

Life on the S. S. Virginian: From the letters of O. R. Hersch, Part I

For a recent presentation for the Manassas (VA) Church of the Brethren, I reviewed the letters of one of their former members, 49-year-old seagoing cowboy supervisor O. R. Hersch. I’ll share some of his observations written to his family with you. Sometimes he signed his seagoing cowboy documents as Orville Robert, sometimes as Robert O., and sometimes as O. R. I’ll call him Orville. He served on the second UNRRA ship to leave the United States, the S. S. Virginian, which left from Baltimore for Greece June 26, 1945.

O. R. Hersch aboard the S. S. Virginian, July 1945. O. R. Hersch album, courtesy of Heifer International.

O. R. Hersch aboard the S. S. Virginian, July 1945. From the O. R. Hersch album, courtesy of Heifer International.

Uncertainties of a fledgling program

While waiting to leave Baltimore, Orville wrote a letter to his son Harold giving instructions for the farm work at home and says, “. . .as the moments pass, there are almost too many things to write and new emotions stir one’s breast. I feel that this venture is going to be a big one –bigger than we think. . . . In a sense I feel that [I] am out of the picture for some time and perhaps my feelings might prompt words I should not say.” He had had conversations with cowboys of the S. S. Mexican loading at the same time and writes, “on it’s last trip out [it] went as far as Calcutta, India. One can never tell for certain just ‘where do we go from here.’ I talked with our Capt. of the ship (Coughlin) this morning and he said his ship orders were to see to it that we were assured of passage back.” This program was so new, that the cowboys, and I’m sure their families, didn’t know what to expect.

Care of the livestock

Horses aboard the S. S. Virginian. Courtesy of Earl Holderman.

Horses aboard the S. S. Virginian. Photo courtesy of Earl Holderman.

The Virginian carried 375 horses and 347 cattle. Orville described the work of the cowboys. “Right after breakfast [the horses] are to have all the water they can drink – there is a bucket in front of each horse and the bucket is filled with a hose of running water. After the water they are fed about 2 qt. of oats or oats and bran or bran alone if they need a more laxative kind of feed.” Orville noted elsewhere that for the cattle it was two pounds of 16% dairy feed once a day.  All of the animals were given as much water and hay as they could consume twice a day and salt once a day.

Newspaper clipping from O. R. Hersch album. Courtesy of Heifer International.

Newspaper clipping from O. R. Hersch album. Courtesy of Heifer International.

 

Mucking out the stalls was another daily task. Orville wrote that after feeding the horses, “the manure is cleaned from behind them and the alley way or walk way is swept clean. The manure is thrown out thru a little hole. The urine goes down thru the floor the horses stand on and runs off thru holes in the ship & out into the sea or ocean. We do not bed the horses much because they are made to stand up all the time – all the way over. [This was due to their sensitive digestive systems. Horses knees lock, and they can sleep standing up.] The cattle may lay down when they wish to. All the horses & cattle will be kept tied – else in a storm at sea when the ship rolls the cattle would all push to one corner & so be hurt.”

Not all animals survived. Orville noted eleven days into the trip, “So far we have lost about 12 horses and 6 heifers and a bull. The cattle all (except one) died of pneumonia. The horses which we opened [autopsied] were also pneumonia victims – or they call it shipping fever.” UNRRA reported an overall loss of 3.8% for the horses, cattle, and mules they shipped. The losses ranged from zero per cent to 35.2%, the latter on the trip of the S. S. Beloit Victory that hit severe winter weather en route to Poland in February of 1947. A sad outcome for recipients waiting on the arrival of their animals.

To be continued with Part II December 9.

Seagoing Cowboy Supervisor Herb Pownall tells his story

I recently came across a delightful 20-minute interview with Herb Pownall by Caroline Ballard on the HumaNature podcast of Wyoming Public Media. Herb served as an UNRRA seagoing cowboy supervisor on the S. S. Edwin D. Howard to Germany that left Newport News, Virginia, April 29, 1946, with a load of 833 bred heifers for Czechoslovakia. Herb has some great photos that also appear on the HumaNature website. Click here for the podcast and photos. Enjoy!

Seagoing Cowboy Crew Reunions

Edgar Metzler, Ron Graber, Don White, Owen Gingerich, and Al Meyer reunite this week in Goshen, Indiana.

S. S. Stephen R. Mallory crewmates Edgar Metzler, Ron Graber, Don White, Owen Gingerich, and Al Meyer reunited this week in Goshen, Indiana. Photo credit: Mary Ellen Meyer.

Several seagoing cowboy crews became close-knit units who didn’t want their friendships to end when they walked off their ships. Earlier this week, I had the good fortune to participate in the 70th anniversary reunion of the S. S. Stephen R Mallory crew of Mennonite high school and college students who went to Poland. What a joy to hear them reminisce about their experiences that summer of 1946 which I highlighted in my June 24 post!

Second reunion of the S. S. Stephen R. Mallory crew, 2001. Photo courtesy of Bill Beck.

Second reunion of the S. S. Stephen R. Mallory crew on their 55th anniversary, 2001. Photo courtesy of Bill Beck.

Many of the Mallory cowboys stayed in touch individually through the years, but I learned that it wasn’t until their 50th anniversary that they gathered for their first reunion. Held at Camp Friedenswald in Michigan, their time there brought them together in a bond that has grown stronger through the years. They have met regularly since that first time.

 

 

Crew members of the S. S. Rock Springs Victory, 1997. Photo courtesy of Lowell Hoover.

Crew members of the S. S. Rock Springs Victory, 1997. Photo courtesy of Lowell Hoover.

The S. S. Rock Springs Victory crew of March 12, 1947, to Ethiopia also reunited for the first time for their 50th anniversary, meeting at the Heifer Ranch in Perryville, Arkansas, as theirs was a Heifer Project shipment through UNRRA.

 

 

 

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Plans laid on the ship come to fruition. Courtesy of Hugh Ehrman.

Members of the Clarksville Victory crew gather in Kokomo, Indiana, for a five-year reunion.

Morgantown Victory five-year reunion. Photo courtesy of Hugh Ehrman.

For the S. S. Morgantown Victory crew of December 11, 1945, the bond was so strong on their return from Poland that they planned for a five-year reunion which was held in Kokomo, Indiana. They continued to meet through the years, with their last reunion, to my knowlege, in 2007.

Families joined in the reunions, making friends of many cowboy chidlren. Photo courtesy of J. O. Yoder.

Families joined in the reunions, making friends of many cowboy children. Photo courtesy of J. O. Yoder.

Clarksville Victory crew, 2007. Photo courtesy of J. O. Yoder.

Clarksville Victory crew, 2005, at Camp Alexander Mack. Photo courtesy of J. O. Yoder.

 

 

The Clarksville Victory crew left the U.S. a day after the Morgantown Victory, and the two ships were in port in Poland at the same time. This crew also has gathered frequently through the years, most recently, I believe, in 2005.

It’s been a privilege to be part of some of these later reunions. Thank you, seagoing cowboys, for your many stories!

In Memorium

On this Fifth Friday, it’s time once again to remember seagoing cowboys who have passed from this world. This one will be longer than usual, as I’ve done an internet search on my seagoing cowboy mailing list and found many I wasn’t aware of.

Bahr, Charles G., June 3, 2015. S. S. Frederic C. Howe to Yugoslavia, November 15, 1946.

Beachy, Levi, May 23, 2016. S. S. Norwalk Victory to Poland, January 9, 1947.

Beam, C. H., Jr., October 21, 2014. S. S. Henry Dearborn to Albania, February 1, 1947.

Blanchard, Chester, October 3, 2014. S. S. Mexican to Poland, February 9, 1946.

Bomberger, Roy L., Sr., December 4, 2010. S. S. Mount Whitney to Poland, July 29, 1946.

Detweiler, Russell M., October 29, 2011. S. S. DePauw Victory to Greece, December 10, 1946.

Gingerich, Elmer M., May 10, 2014. S. S. Wesley W. Barrett to Poland, April 14, 1946.

Goering, Victor R., August 23, 2016. S. S. Charles W. Wooster to Greece, April 21, 1946.

Hertzler, Alvin S., March 7, 2012. S. S. Michael James Monohan to Poland, July 1, 1946; S. S. Edwin D. Howard to Poland, August 17, 1946.

Hoover, Daniel Andrew, February 17, 2016. S. S. Plymouth Victory to Greece, February 13, 1947.

Hughes, Hugh R., October 16, 2013. S. S. William S. Halsted to Poland, August 11, 1946.

Kauffman, Elmo Mast, November 16, 2015.  S. S. William S. Halsted to Greece, January 11, 1946.

Keath, Frank W., January 6, 2016. S. S. Queens Victory to Czechoslovakia, June 9, 1946; S. S. Cedar Rapids Victory to Yugoslavia, July 10, 1946.

Kortemeier, Kenneth W., May 11, 2016. S. S. Virginian to Poland, September 14, 1945.

Krabill, Murray, July 16, 2016. S. S. Stephen R. Mallory to Poland, June 20, 1946.

Kreider, Wilbur W., October 27, 2010. S. S. Adrian Victory to Greece, December 23, 1946.

Martin, Paul Eby, August 4, 2015. S. S. Mexican to Poland, November 8, 1945.

Mason, Frank, d. August 5, 2016. S. S. Mount Whitney to Poland, July 29, 1946.

McVey, William, October 4, 2015. S. S. Rockland Victory to Yugoslavia, August 18, 1946.

Miller, Vernon Doyle, April 19, 2016. S. S. Santiago Iglesias to Poland, November 10, 1945.

Myers, Franklin M., Sr., July 4, 2012. S. S. Carroll Victory to Poland, February 16, 1946.

Nafzier, Andrew J., April 19, 2012. S. S. Mexican to Poland, November 8, 1945.

Nafziger, Maurice, August 13, 2009. S. S. DePauw Victory to Greece, December 10, 1946.

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

Nisly, Alvin L., January 16, 2016. S. S. Clarksville Victory to Poland, December 14, 1945; S. S. Boulder Victory to China, February 22, 1947.

Petersheim, Elmer M., February 26, 2015. S. S. Park Victory to Poland, December 23, 1945; S. S. Queen’s Victory to Greece, December 15, 1946.

Redcay, William A., April 6, 2013. S. S. Virginian to Poland January 4, 1946; S. S. Beloit Victory to Poland, November 27, 1946.

Sauder, Edwin H., April 13, 2013. S. S. Morgantown Victory to Yugoslavia, December 2, 1946.

Sider, Harold K., March 16, 2013. S. S. Frederic C. Howe to Poland, May 16, 1946.

Slagell, Harold Joseph, d. August 21, 2016. S. S. Adrian Victory to Greece, December 23, 1946.

Stoltzfus, Robert, July 7, 2015. S. S. Santiago Iglesias to Poland, November 18, 1945.

Summers, Allen C., November 16, 2010. S. S. Park Victory to Yugoslavia, October 26, 1945; S. S. Clarksville Victory to Greece, February 24, 1946.

Voth, Stanley E., February 6, 2016. S. S. Plymouth Victory to Poland, March 28, 1946; S. S. Plymouth Victory to Poland, May 11, 1946.

Weinhold, D. Ernest, March 25, 2015. S. S. Blue Island Victory to Poland, August 10, 1946.

Wicks, Dale F., July 17, 2016. S. S. Henry Dearborn to Albania, February 1, 1947.

Wingert, Laban Monroe, August 3, 2010. S. S. Rock Springs Victory to Ethiopia, March 12, 1947.

Zuck, Dr. Lowell H., July 30, 2014. S. S. Virginian to Greece, June 26, 1945; S. S. Cedar Rapids Victory to Poland, August 30, 1946.

Thank you for your service, dear friends. Rest in peace.

A seagoing cowboy encounters Russian soldiers

 

The F. J. Luckenbach docked in Nowyport, Poland, end of March 1946.

The F. J. Luckenbach docked in Nowyport, Poland, end of March 1946. Photo courtesy of Daniel Miller.

A year after Russian soldiers had “liberated” Gdansk from the Germans in March 1945, CPS Reserve member James M. Martin found himself in Poland by way of the livestock ship F. J. Luckenbach. The ship docked in Nowyport, which Jim recalls as “a small port town of obviously old and dilapidated houses that had mostly escaped destruction from the war.” The first afternoon, groups of cowboys strolled into town, finding few people on the streets and occasional Soviet soldiers. Jim writes:

Jim Martin talks with a Polish woman near the port. Photo courtesy of Jim Martin.

Jim Martin talks with a Polish woman near the port. Photo courtesy of Jim Martin.

To our surprise we found at the door of one of the houses a middle-aged man who spoke to us in English and invited us into his house. It developed that he had grown up in the U.S. and had somehow come to live in Poland as a young man. He had a Polish wife and two or three children. They were obviously incredibly poor and rather reluctantly admitted that they’d be glad for anything we didn’t need that we could give them. The man had a rather dejected manner and spoke freely but not joyfully.

Late in the afternoon of either the first or second day of our stay in Nowyport, we decided to take some of our cast-off clothing to the family we had met. We were leisurely strolling with the clothing in our arms when we were suddenly accosted by three Soviet soldiers (armed, of course). We couldn’t understand each other but it became apparent that we were to follow them.

They took us a short distance to an old wooden barn, completely empty except upstairs — I’d call it the hayloft — where there was a desk and several chairs and an unshaded light bulb suspended over the desk. At the desk sat another soldier who was obviously in command. There were also several other soldiers standing or sitting there.
The officer spoke toward us in Russian. We said we’re Americans. We couldn’t understand each other, except he probably understood ‘American.’

For a minute or two there was an awkward stalemate. Then it occurred to me to ask whether anyone speaks German. One soldier said he did a little. Well, ‘a little’ was the same for me.

So there began a cumbersome conversation. “Where were we going and why?” “To visit the family we had met and give them our cast-off clothes.” “This is not permissible for you to sell anything to anyone here.” “Oh, no, these are not for sale. Sie sint geschenke fur unserer Freunde. These are gifts for our friends.” “No, that’s not permitted. Nehmen sie zurick und gieben sie zum Rote Kreuz. Take them back and give them to the Red Cross.” That turned out to be the gist of our limited conversation, but we went around several times, I insisting that they are gifts and the officer insisting that we can’t do that and we should take them back home to the Red Cross. Eventually the same soldiers who had brought us there took us back to the ship.

Thinking of it afterwards I realized when we were first accosted it was dusk, and by the time we were taken back to the ship it was dark, so we probably were taking a greater risk than it seemed to me. Surely the area was under martial law and a curfew must have been in effect. Years afterward, one of the fellows in our group insisted that ‘you saved our lives.’ I don’t think it would have come to that, but I’m content to let him think so!!

I must add that the morning after we had been taken to the barn and questioned, we donned the extra clothing, several layers of it, strolled down to the home of the impoverished family, disrobed everything surplus, and left it there!

 

F. J. Luckenbach cowboys on a tour through Gdansk, early April 1946. Photo courtesy of Arnold Dietzel family.

F. J. Luckenbach cowboys on a tour through Gdansk, early April 1946. Photo courtesy of Arnold Dietzel family.

Of a tour through Gdansk that followed Jim recalls “block after block of skeletons of bombed-out buildings or piles of rubble that had once been buildings. Nothing in the newspapers back home could have brought to us the realities of war like this visit to Danzig. What must have been the terror in the hearts of the people who once called this home!”

Jim and his friends could leave Poland knowing they had at least helped the plight of one family, as well as the farmers who received the horses their ship delivered.

Find James M. Martin’s full account of his trip on the Cowboy Stories page of my website.