Dr. Martin M. Kaplan: Heifer International’s second seagoing cowboy delivers bulls to Greece, Part II

Today, we resume the adventures of seagoing cowboy and veterinarian Dr. Martin M. Kaplan as he oversees the transport of six pedigreed Brown Swiss bulls to Greece aboard the Swedish M/S Boolongena, meaning “kangaroo” in Australian dialect.

“Molly’s John of Lee Hill,” renamed Parnassus by the Greeks, being led to the consecration service in Greece for the six bulls donated by the Heifer Project, August 1945. UNRRA Photograph.

The ship departed St. John, New Brunswick, Canada, on schedule May 14, 1945. The next morning, Kaplan was introduced to the “experienced assistant who could understand English” which he had been assured he would have. “He was a good soul, about 55 years old,” Kaplan says, “whose extensive livestock experience was gained on a farm for a short time when he was a child.” Kaplan soon came to realize that “hi” was the extent of the man’s English. “We misunderstood each other beautifully with the immediate consequence that he fed the bulls twice as much concentrated feed as I had indicated. The lately arrived package of drugs [for the bulls] proved its value.”

After ideal weather the first few days, Kaplan says, “we entered a period of pitching and rolling during which ‘the kangaroo’ lived up to her name, until we reached Gibraltar.” Orders for a change in the ship’s Greek destination from Piraeus to Patras necessitated a six-day stay in Gibralter. The new route ran through an area where the magnetic mines laid by the Nazis had not yet been cleared, so the ship had to be demagnitized.

While in Gibralter, a “near-catastrophe” occurred, Kaplan says. “Duke, the oldest and strongest bull sporting two nose rings, indicating previous trouble, became restless. Duke broke the chain which partially confined him.” Then Duke made a “mighty heave backwards.” He tore the rings out of his nose spraying Kaplan with blood as he was trying to fix the chain. They now had “a pain maddened bull loose in what was too obviously an inadequate enclosure for an animal in his state.” Kaplan slowly retreated and advised those watching to “get out on deck and up on the hatch if the bull made a break.”

“There was little we could do until he had quieted down,” Kaplan says. So they went to dinner. Kaplan went to bed that night and dreamed of being chased by the bull.

Kaplan reconstrained the bull, then, by giving him “a Mickey Finn in his drinking water,” 40 times the strength needed to incapacitate a sailor, “which made him merely buckle slightly at the knees,” Kaplan says. But it gave Kaplan the time he needed to insert new nose rings and replace the collar with a much sturdier rope, “strong enough to lash a ship to a dock,” he says.

After a tense passage through the mined area, the ship docked in Patras, only to discover the message of the change in port had not reached the people who were to prepare the dock for unloading. A flying stall was constructed on the spot, and the bulls were offloaded and trucked to Athens and the experimental farm waiting for them. “Athens swelled visibly with pride as we entered with the bulls,” Kaplan says. “My contribution to the swelling was a not inconsiderable sigh of relief. May their seed flouish.”

Consecration of the six bulls begins with centuries old prayers at the Superior School of Agriculture in Athens, the first of many breeding centers to be established, August 26, 1945. UNRRA photograph.

And flourish their seed did. Heifer Project sent another six bulls to Greece in February 1948, and UNRRA sent a few more. “Since the program started … over 16,000 calves have been born and more are coming every day,” states John Halpin, Artificial Insemination Program Director in Greece, in an August 1949 article in The Brown Swiss Bulletin. “These calves sired by outstanding selected sires will have a tremendous influence on the future dairy industry of Greece.”

Mr. F. I. Elliott of the Near East Foundation examines through the microscope the sperm taken from the first bull, after which farmers gather around to have their first glimpse of microscopic life. UNRRA photograph.

The Joannis Golemis family receives the first calf, a bull, born through the artificial insemination program in Greece from the sperm of “Orangeville Bell Boy”, renamed Imittos. UNRRA photograph.

Next post: Heifer Project’s second shipment to Puerto Rico and two seagoing cowboys at odds.

The S. S. Park Victory Livestock trip #3, Greece, March 1946 – Part I

Robert “Bob” Frantz aboard the S. S. Park Victory, April 1946. Photo courtesy of Robert Frantz.

An expected four- to six-week trip delivering mules to Greece turned out to be a three-and-a-half month journey for CPSer Bob Frantz. While serving his term in Civilian Public Service at Michigan State College in Lansing, he says, “I received information that CPS men would be eligible to volunteer as Sea Going Cowboys.” Bob applied and was accepted. “Why did I consider leaving my wife and young son to do this? I felt that I had done little in CPS to help humanity, perhaps taking animals to needy people would ease my conscience and the adventure was tempting.” An adventure it was!

Unidentified newspaper clipping circa March 1946. Courtesy of Will Keller.

Bob soon received his orders to report to Houston, Texas, where the S. S. Park Victory was loading 900 wild mules from Mexico. He reports that about a third of the cowboy crew were CPSers, others signed on to make a contribution to the project, and “quite a number were professional Merchant Marines who needed a short term job and practiced a life style quite different from mine,” Bob says. Learning to know and appreciate some of them “broadened my philosophy of life a great deal.”

“Our work was to see that the mules had hay and water and a few other jobs,” Bob says. “Two weeks on the ocean became a bit boring. Some relief came when we were allowed to convert a ‘gun tub’ on the stern to a swimming pool.”

Livestock ship or cruise ship? Photo credit: Robert Frantz.

After stopping in Athen’s port of Piraeus to receive orders, the Park Victory steamed on up the Aegean Sea to Kavala to unload most of the wild cargo.

The wild mules were difficult to handle, with some running off into the water. Photo credit: Robert Frantz.

The Greek Civil War was under way at the time, but that didn’t stop UNRRA from taking the cowboys on a tour of nearby Philippi to see the site of the first Christian church in Macedonia, the jail where the Apostle Paul was held, and the Roman road.

Temple at Philippi built in the 5th Century A.D. Photo credit: Robert Frantz.

The ship traveled back to Piraeus to unload the remainder of the cargo, giving the cowboy crew the opportunity to tour the historical sites of Athens. Exactly one month into its journey, this is where most UNRRA cowboys would have said good-bye to Greece and headed on home. The Park Victory crew, however, received orders to proceed to Cyprus to pick up a load of donkeys, which they then delivered to Salonika.

In Cyprus, donkeys were loaded from barges alongside the ship. Photo credit: Robert Frantz.

The journey still wasn’t finished after unloading in Salonika. Another order sent them to Haifa, Palestine, to refuel before picking up another load of donkeys in Cyprus to deliver to Patras on Greece’s west coast. This fateful leg of the trip extended the cowboys’ stay in Greece by an additional two weeks when the Park Victory hit a mine left over from the war off the coast of Patras.

“We were able to go the short distance into Patras and unload the donkeys,” Bob Frantz says, “but the SS Park Victory was unable to continue. It was a frightening experience, but there were no injuries. It could have been much worse.”

Cowboy supervisor Rudy Potochnik made arrangements for housing and feeding the cowboys in Athens where they spent two weeks before finding passage home. “The situation was bad,” reports Potochnik, “since it was now about three months since leaving. The men had no funds. In Athens we got some additional spending money for the men. We had to buy soap and towels. UNRRA allowed $3.00 a day to pay room and incidental expenses.”

Supervisor Potochnik found passage home for the cowboys through the War Shipping Administration on the S. S. Marine Shark. “UNRRA paid for the passage of these men as passengers on this ship,” he says. “It was five and one-half thousand [dollars].”

Greek-Americans waiting to board the S. S. Marine Shark to finally go home. Photo credit: Robert Frantz.

The passengers, says Bob Frantz, were “mostly Greek-Americans who had been stranded in Greece for the duration of the war. It was not a pleasant trip, with lots of sea sickness, but we were thankful to be going home. The New York sky line looked very good to all of us.”

Next post: Radioman Will Keller’s account of the Park Victory’s accident.