Special Crew #1: Brethren seminary and college students dialogue with German Christians

Throughout the two-year period of UNRRA livestock shipments, several special seagoing cowboy crews were put together. The first, a group of 33 Brethren, mostly seminary and college students, left seventy years ago this week. The idea for this special crew was hatched by a group of Bethany Biblical Seminary students the spring of 1946 as an experiment in Christian service. Having heard reports of questionable behaviors in some cowboy crews, they felt that a carefully selected group with high standards of conduct approaching their job in a strictly Christian attitude could set a pattern for the future.

Students from Bethany Biblical Seminary and Brethren colleges gather at the Brethren Service Center in June 1946. Peggy Reiff Miller collection, courtesy of Ivan Meck and Guy Buch.

Students from Bethany Biblical Seminary and Brethren colleges gather at the Brethren Service Center in June 1946. Peggy Reiff Miller collection, courtesy of Ivan Meck and Guy Buch.

The group met at the Brethren Service Center in New Windsor, Maryland, for orientation. Before sailing, they made a concerted effort to gather relief goods to take with them to distribute overseas. Ivan Fry writes of collecting money and going on a shopping spree, on which they bought two cases of baby food, a case of condensed milk, a half carton of raisins, a carton of liver soup, a case of dried pea soup, and two bottles of cod-liver oil, in hopes of finding a children’s home to give them to.

The cowboy crew boards the S. S. Queens Victory for their trip to Germany in June 1946.

The cowboy crew boards the S. S. Queens Victory for their trip to Germany.  Peggy Reiff Miller collection.

On June 8, 1946, this select crew left from Newport News, Virginia, on the S. S. Queens Victory, carrying 785 horses destined for Czechoslovakia. They docked in the port city of Bremen, Germany. Upon arrival, some of the cowboys set out to find deserving people to whom they could give the supplies they had brought with them. They also sought out German Christians with whom to engage in dialogue.

Cowboys load an Army jeep in Bremen with the relief supplies they brought along and fruit they had saved from their meals on the ship. Peggy Reiff Miller collection, courtesy of Ivan Meck and Guy Buch.

Cowboys load an Army jeep in Bremen with their relief goods. Peggy Reiff Miller collection.

Pastor and Mrs. Erick Urban, Bremen, Germany, June 1946. Peggy Reiff Miller collection, courtesy of Ivan Meck and Guy Buch.

Pastor and Mrs. Erik Urban, Bremen, Germany, June 1946. Peggy Reiff Miller collection.

A couple of the cowboys headed into the city to find a pastor and happened upon Pastor Erik Urban, who turned out to be the head Lutheran pastor of Bremen and an associate of theologian Martin Niemöller. Some rich experiences developed from this contact, including a dialogue between the cattlemen and a group of German Christians – enemy meeting enemy – each realizing that they were in Pastor Urban’s words “as one in Christ.”

The affects of the war on the German populace was brought home to the cowboys when a plan laid at home was scuttled. They had desired to have a fellowship meal with a group of German Christians. The seminary students had decided a large quantity of dehydrated soup would serve the purpose well – all the Germans would need to do would be add hot water.

Ruins of Bremen, Germany, June 1946. Peggy Reiff Miller collection.

Ruins of Bremen, Germany, June 1946. Peggy Reiff Miller collection.

After meeting Pastor Urban and delighting him and his wife with the prospect of this substitute Lord’s Supper, the disadvantages perpetuated by war made themselves known. First, there was the lack of dishes. Then, there was nothing in which to heat the soup, and if there were it would be difficult to find any fuel with which to heat it. But the clincher was that “Pastor Urban was unable to find a room anywhere in the city which was both intact and large enough to allow the group to sit around a table and eat.” [from “The Enemy was Christian” by Byron P. Royer, Bethany Biblical Seminary Bulletin, October-December 1946]

Conrad Snavely feeds his horses en route to Bremen, Germany, June 1946. Peggy Reiff Miller collection, courtesy of Ivan Meck and Guy Buch.

Conrad Snavely. Peggy Reiff Miller collection.

These experiences of Christian fellowship, along with witnessing the leveled rubble of the saturation bombing poured on the city of Bremen by the British and the Americans, left an indelible mark on these cattlemen of the S. S. Queens Victory. Conrad Snavely says of the trip: “It made me more interested in working for social justice.”

Roger Ingold in Bremen, Germany. Courtesy Roger Ingold.

Roger Ingold in Bremen, Germany, June 1946. Photo: courtesy of Roger Ingold.

Roger Ingold says his life was completely turned around by the experience. It started him thinking in a more international way than ever before, leading him to become a missionary to Nigeria. In looking back at the seagoing cowboy program, Roger credits it for being a great recruiting tool for church workers of all kinds. He says, “People who had gone and had been part of that program came back and wanted to do something to make a difference in the world.”

 

 

Next post: Special Crew #2: Mennonite high school and college students come of age on a cattle boat

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Activities of Heifer Project as seen from the Roger Roop Collection Farm, Part II

The Roger Roop family played an important role in the development of the Heifer Project that touched all of their lives, from Roger and Olive to their daughters Shirley and Patricia, and later baby Elaine.

Roger Roop with daughters Patricia and Shirley, fall 1945. Photo: Robert Ebey.

Roger Roop with daughters Patricia and Shirley, fall 1945. Photo: Robert Ebey.

Olive and Roger Roop in a later photo with one of their daughters. Photo courtesy of Rouford Coonts.

Olive and Roger Roop in a later photo with daughter Patricia Ann. Photo: Rouford Coonts.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In my 2003 interview with Olive, she recounted how “the shipments came in by rail at night, and the station agent would call us and Roger would go in and get the men who were with the cattle, one or two, and bring them out and we often would have just a little something for them to eat or drink and have a place for them to sleep at night. And then the next morning, they would have trucks ready and bring the cattle out to the farm. But they almost always came in the night.” One trucker from Virginia was a particular aggravation. He would come in at night blowing his air horn, waking the baby. “I didn’t like it,” she said. “But I could tell you so many good things.”

For daughter Patricia, the farm was an exciting place to be. She recalled in a 1976 Messenger article, “Along with the cattle came many colorful people to share stories with us. I especially remember Milo Weaver because he used to help me peel potatoes for all the men my mother, sister, and I had to feed.”

One of the good things Olive mentioned was a local trucker, Vernon Gladhill, who volunteered his truck and time hauling cattle from the train to the farm and back to the train for shipping to Baltimore. This was his way of contributing to the Heifer Project, he told Roger.

The work load for Roger became heavy as the Heifer Project mushroomed. The 15 acres originally offered free of charge soon expanded to rental of the entire approximately 130-acre farm and buildings for $800, with a salary of $1800 for Roger and $400 for the use of equipment including truck, tractors, hay baler, grinder, etc. Kenneth West and Wayne Keltner, two Civilian Public Service workers, and Rouford Coontz, all stationed at the Brethren Service Center in New Windsor, were assigned to help out at the farm. Seagoing cowboys waiting shipment would sometimes help, as well.

Roger wrote in one report, “There were days when things were a bit hectic due to cattle at the farm needing care, animals arriving, then cattle needing to be read by vet for Bangs disease and TB [tests they had been given].” Incoming cattle had to be recorded, numbered, and maybe have blood drawn. “Bloating happened on several occasions,” Roger said, “as well as freshening heifers needing help on some occasions when placenta had to be removed manually.”

A saying around the farm was that “we could expect the unexpected anytime.” Like the night the family was awakened by a terrific rumble. “Apparently something had spooked the cattle,” Roger said, “and they stampeded. The next morning we found two heifers in the field with broken legs.” They were butchered and the meat was used in the kitchen at the Brethren Service Center.

“Sometime later we experienced another stampede,” Roger wrote. “We had worked a long day…. About 10 o’clock that night someone said that a large group had broken out and gone out across the field. Ted Albaugh and I knew the lay of the land so we went out and got around them. It was a clear, moon light night. If some of you have read western stories that speak of ‘Saint Elmos’ fire you will understand what I have to share.

“While we were bringing the cattle back to the barn something must have spooked them for they turned right around and ran toward us. We could see the bluish-green light in their eyes which was caused by fright. We were too far from any fence to outrun them so we ran toward each other, cupped our hands and yelled at the top of our voices. The cattle did part and ran on either side of us. If they had not done so we would have been trampled to death. I’m wondering what was the color of our eyes!

“Fortunately, of all the volunteers and others who had any part in work at the farm, none were injured.”

Some 3600 head of cattle were processed at the Roop farm during the three years of its operation. Roger became ill with undulant fever in 1948, after which collection activities were transferred to the Barkley Bowman farm.

Next post: Fifth Friday, In Memorium

The Roger Roop Heifer Project Collection Farm

As World War II ended in Europe in May 1945, shipping possibilities across the Atlantic became a reality for the Heifer Project. Hundreds of heifers were on hand across the country ready to be shipped to the east coast, and Roger and Olive Roop of Union Bridge, Maryland, saw a need. Lifelong members of the Church of the Brethren, they had been hearing and reading about the development of the Heifer Project. When the heifers for the Project’s second shipment to Puerto Rico in May 1945 were gathered at the fairgrounds in York, Pennsylvania, just up the road from the Roops, they drove up to see them.

Heifers ready for a May 1945 shipment to Puerto Rico are dedicated at the York Fairgrounds in Pennsylvania. Photo courtesy of Bill Beck.

Heifers ready for a May 1945 shipment to Puerto Rico are dedicated at the York Fairgrounds in Pennsylvania. Photo courtesy of Bill Beck.

Olive Roop, now 102 and living in Bridgewater, Virginia, told the youth of her church in a talk some decades ago, “What we saw [in York] made Roger feel that this was not a very suitable place for the collection, handling and shipment of cattle. The cattle were tied in stalls (no exercise)….”

When they got home from York, Roger and Olive talked it over and decided to offer their farm as a collection point. “Our barn had a loading chute, 4 large pens and we had about 15 acres of pasture divided into 3 paddocks,” Olive said. “Our 20 or so head of cattle could run on a back pasture. We were only two miles from the railroad and forty from the dock in Baltimore.” Being only six miles from the Brethren Service Center in New Windsor, Maryland, Roops also felt there would be Civilian Public Service men stationed there who might be able to help on the farm.

The Roger Roop farm in Union Bridge, Maryland, circa 1946. Photo courtesy of Kenneth West.

The Roger Roop farm in Union Bridge, Maryland, circa 1946. Photo courtesy of Kenneth West.

Thinking this was only to be a summer project, Roger and Olive drove to New Windsor and made the offer of use of their 15 acres and barn to the Heifer Project. Little did they know what was ahead for them. John Metzler, the coordinator of the Heifer Project at the time, reported to the Heifer Project Committee in their June 3, 1945, meeting that the Roop farm “has been offered to the HPC free of charge as a collecting point for cattle before shipment. He has adequate space to care for from 300 to 500 cattle at one time.” A motion was made and passed “that we accept the offer of Roger Roop for facilities for collecting cattle, using the service of one veterinarian.”

The Heifer Project was off and running. And so were Roger and Olive.

Next post: Activities of Heifer Project as Seen from Farm, Part I

 

The Brethren Service Center Serves and Is Served by Seagoing Cowboys

Dormitory and gym where much of the relief work was done at the Brethren Service Center, New Windsor, MD, March 1947.

The Brethren Service Center in New Windsor, Maryland, March 1947. The gym in center of picture is where much of the post-World War II relief work was carried out. Photo courtesy of Howard Lord.

As noted in my post of May 22, many a seagoing cowboy and cowboy supervisor ended up spending time at the Brethren Service Center in New Windsor, Maryland, while waiting on his ship to sail. The seagoing cowboy office was located there, along with a swarm of activity related to other Church of the Brethren relief programs.

Ernest Bachman, supervisor of the SS John J. Crittenden crew of November 1945, noted that his men were assigned the task of raking leaves. J. O. Yoder’s time at New Windsor overlapped with Bachman. Yoder arrived on November 13 and was surprised to meet Carol Stine from his home town in Goshen, Indiana, working there as a secretary for the seagoing cowboy program. After that, he didn’t stand a chance.

Carol Stine, right, works out details for a seagoing cowboy. Photo courtesy of Brethren Historical Library and Archives.

Carol Stine, right, works out details for a seagoing cowboy. Photo courtesy of Brethren Historical Library and Archives.

The next morning, Yoder notes in his journal, “Carol Stine collared me after breakfast and made me say I’d do dishes. Lots of ‘em and about 3 of us did it. Couldn’t sneak away quick enough and so found 3 potato peeling knives in my hand and potatoes in pan all set to go. Never imagined a whole bushel under table was to be peeled for supper. Well – peeled for 3 hours right up to dinner time and had about ¾ bushel done. Ate a good dinner and went to my room and wrote.”

Yoder then spent a couple of days getting squared away in Washington, DC, to be a supervisor with UNRRA. There he met Bachman. They traveled back to New Windsor together on the 16th, and Bachman got collared, too. “Backman [sic] and I washed and wiped dishes,” writes Yoder, “while a speaker on CPS camps (Mr. Banta I—–) started talking to a meeting in mess hall.”

Saturday, the 17th, Yoder strolled around campus looking for work and ended up helping to build a new bed on the Center’s V-8 truck. That night he got in on some of the culture of the Center. “Ora Zeigler gave a very colorful talk on this trip through devastated Europe -,” Yoder wrote, “had many contacts with the most horrible evidences of starvation throughout entire war area…. Nearly every single person in that area has lost considerable weight due to insufficient amount of calories. Babies and small children are housed in large auditoriums, etc., where all windows and doors have been blasted out and cold winds are sweeping through. He told of picking up stiff and lifeless bodies – the way millions will go during the next year. The people of these countries will quite definitely favor the country giving the best relief….”

Sunday at the Center provided a day of rest. Yoder skipped church, “as I ain’t got a suit [with me],” he quipped in his journal. “I played the victrola in lounge and enjoyed it very much – Bolero, Lord’s Prayer, etc.” He went out to the nearby Roger Roop farm in the afternoon to see the Heifer Project cattle collected there for shipping. Later that night, he reveled in a game of Rook with a group of Kansas seagoing cowboys.

Volunteers bale and package used clothing to send to Europe after World War II. Photo courtesy of Brethren Historical Library and Archives.

Volunteers bale and package used clothing to send to Europe after World War II. Photo courtesy of Brethren Historical Library and Archives.

Yoder’s time in New Windsor was lengthened when UNRRA lost his papers. As the next week rolled on, he made himself useful. He helped “pack and truck bales of used clothing to store room. Then went with truck to Post Office and got several hundred packages of old clothing, etc. – sent here by churches and peoples from all parts of U.S.A.”

Women sort relief clothing to be sent to Europe. Photo courtesy of Brethren Historical Library and Archives.

Women sort relief clothing to be sent to Europe. Photo courtesy of Brethren Historical Library and Archives.

Another day he wrote, “went to the gym and helped unload a truck of relief boxes brought up from P.O. Weighed and noted each box then heaved it up to the top of the stack – clear up to ceiling! Toward noon I helped fill a shipping box with all sorts of toys, dolls made and donated by various church groups.”

Later, he helped prepare shipping cases for old shoes that had been rebuilt at the Center. “Nearly 40 cases containing from 85 to 150 pr. shoes are ready for shipping,” he wrote.

Volunteers repair used shoes sent to the Brethren Service Center after World War II. Photo courtesy of Brethren Historical Library and Archives.

Volunteers repair used shoes sent to the Brethren Service Center after World War II. Photo courtesy of Brethren Historical Library and Archives.

Other days found him helping carry boxes in the food canning department or helping Carol Stine sort cowboy application blanks.

Volunteers help can food to be sent to Europe. Photo courtesy of Kenneth West.

Volunteers help can food to be sent to Europe. Photo courtesy of Kenneth West.

Canned food ready to box for Europe. Photo courtesy of Kenneth West.

Canned food ready to box for Europe. Photo courtesy of Kenneth West.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Yoder’s three weeks spent at the Center weren’t all work and no play, however. Evenings were filled with games of checkers, Chinese checkers, jigsaw puzzles, singing around the piano, folk game activities, reading, and writing letters. Finally, on Monday, December 3, Yoder had his orders to report to New York City where he would lead the cowboy crew of the SS Clarksville Victory on their journey to Poland. There, he would have the opportunity to see firsthand the devastation which Ora Zeigler had described.

Next post: The Roop Farm

 

Hanging Out in the Port City

What a logistical nightmare it must have been for Benjamin Bushong and his staff in the Seagoing Cowboy Office to man UNRRA’s livestock ships. For every one of the 360 livestock shipments, timing had to work out for a ship, the animals, and the seagoing cowboys to be at the port at the same time. Ships that were scheduled were often switched at the last minute creating delays. A wave of postwar strikes (including coal, railroad, and maritime) also played havoc with carefully laid plans, stranding some groups of cowboys, as well as livestock, in the port cities up to two months.

Robert Ebey, a young pastor serving in Michigan, reports on October 10, 1946, “I received a telegram indicating that the maritime strike was ‘just over’ so I should leave at once.” He took the next train to Baltimore the following day, only to find that the strike continued. Despite daily news reports “expecting settlement within the next few hours,” the strike lasted until November 1. For whatever reason their delay, men like Ebey found themselves with time on their hands. If they had signed onto the ship’s articles before the delay, they received $2.50 per day in port. If they hadn’t gotten that far in the process, they were on their own dollar. Some went home.

Seagoing cowboys at Seaman's Branch of YMCA in Baltimore.

The crew of the William S. Halsted stayed at the Seaman’s Branch of the YMCA in Baltimore, November 1946. Photo credit: Robert Ebey.

Cowboys who reported to Baltimore could stay at the Brethren Service Center in New Windsor, Maryland. A former college campus, dormitories housed staff and volunteers who worked at the center. Cowboys would often help with the processing of used clothing sent to the Center to be shipped overseas for relief, helped at the Roger Roop farm where heifers were collected for the Heifer Project, or hired themselves out to local farmers.

Clothes processing at Brethren Service Center.

Used clothing sent to the Brethren Service Center, aka Church World Service Center, in New Windsor, Maryland, was sorted and baled for shipping overseas. Photo courtesy Robert Ebey. Source unknown.

The Center was a busy hub of activity with speakers such as Dan West and other religious leaders, games, music, folk dances, and side trips to Washington, D.C — and girls. While waiting at the Center for one of the first UNRRA ships to sail, Earl Holderman met a young volunteer with whom he had a whirlwind romance. They exchanged letters while he was overseas, reunited on his return, and later married.

Kate and company.

Female volunteers at the Brethren Service Center in New Windsor, Maryland, entertained waiting seagoing cowboys in June 1945. Photo courtesy of Kathryn Holderman.

Kate and Earl

Kate and Earl teamed up for life. Photo courtesy of Kathryn Holderman.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Many of the cowboys hadn’t been far from home before. Imagine being ordered to report to New York City with all its hustle and bustle and exciting things to do and see: Broadway, the Empire State Building, ice skating at Rockefeller Center, Madison Square Garden, Radio City Music Hall.

Rockefeller Center

Ice skating in Rockefeller Center, December 1945. Photo credit: Nelson Schumacher.

Some Midwestern cowboys got their first taste of city life and the Deep South in New Orleans.

New Orleans at night

Night life in New Orleans, August 1946. Photo credit: Dwight Farringer.

New Orleans drinking fountains.

Dual drinking fountains in New Orleans were a shocking sight to northern cowboys. Photo credit: Dwight Farringer.

In 1946, Newport News became the central port for UNRRA livestock shipments, and a Brethren Service Committee satellite office was established there to service the cowboys. They often stayed at the Catholic Maritime Club. Some groups of cowboys took advantage of nearby beaches and maritime museums. Many Mennonite cowboys enjoyed the hospitality of the nearby Warwick River Mennonite community where they would go to help at Yoder’s Dairy, or join the local young people for their wiener roasts, Bible studies, or singing. Women today still recall how eagerly they anticipated each new group of cowboys during that time.

Catholic Maritime Club

Seagoing Cowboys at the Catholic Maritime Club in Newport News. Photo credit: Ben Kaneda.

Swimming at Virginia Beach

J. Reeser Griffin and friend enjoy a moment at Virginia Beach while waiting for departure on the Creighton Victory to Poland, July 1946. Photo credit: Ben Kaneda.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Whether it was Baltimore, New York, New Orleans, or Newport News, one experience common to most of the cowboys was watching the loading of the ships. The animals were most often hoisted up into the ship in large sturdy wooden crates called “flying stalls.”

Flying stalls

Heifers being loaded onto the S.S. Virginian to travel to Poland in June 1946. Photo credit: Charles Shenk.

After however many days in port, the anticipated day arrived when land legs were turned into sea legs and the real adventure began.

Departure notice

Notice is given for the departure of the Clarksville Victory in December 1945. Photo credit: Nelson Schumacher.

 

Next post: The Trials of the S.S. William S. Halsted

 

Becoming a Seagoing Cowboy

One of the first questions I ask a seagoing cowboy in an interview is, “How did you learn about the seagoing cowboy program?” Some say through their church or school, others saw an ad in a church or farm magazine, some heard an ad on the radio, and many learned by word of mouth.

seagoing cowboy ad

Once interested, the cowboy-to-be contacted the seagoing cowboy office at the Brethren Service Center in New Windsor, Maryland, and put in his application. Then the waiting began. Maybe a matter of hours after an initial phone call if livestock tenders were urgently needed. Maybe a couple of weeks or longer, especially if a longshoreman’s strike was in process.

The Seagoing Cowboy office

Located in Old Main at the Brethren Service Center in New Windsor, Maryland, the seagoing cowboy office was the hub of coordination efforts to keep the UNRRA livestock ships manned. Photo courtesy of Brethren Historical Library & Archives

Finally, that telegram or phone call came saying to report to New Windsor or directly to the port of loading. Could have been Baltimore; New York City; Newport News; New Orleans; Portland, Maine; Savannah, Georgia; Houston, Texas.

Telegram to report

Alfred Willms [misspelled in telegram] orders to report to Newport News. Courtesy of Alfred Willms

Bags were packed and the cowboy headed to the port at his own expense, whatever way he could get there. Maybe train, or bus, or car, or thumb. Many had never been out of their state before. Some, even their own county.

Cowboys ready to travel.

Lloyd Gingrich (right) and friend are ready for their adventure on the  S.S. Adrian Victory to Poland, July 1946. Photo courtesy of Lloyd Gingrich

Then the process of obtaining seaman’s papers in a strange city began, with trips to a number of offices including that of the Coast Guard, the five and dime store for passport pictures, the doctor for a quick physical exam and inoculations. If the applicant was under 18, he needed to have a permission form from his parents. If he was of draft age, he needed a release from his draft board to leave the country. Finally, the cowboy received his papers showing he was a member of the U. S. Merchant Marine with the classification of “cattleman.”

Seaman's card

My Grandpa Abe’s seaman’s card. He went to Poland on the S.S. Pierre Victory in October 1946.

On receiving his papers, the cowboy took the seaman’s oath. When his ship was ready, he signed on to the ship’s articles, separate articles from what the regular crew signed, making him a member of the seagoing cowboy crew. He was ready for the adventure of a lifetime!

Next post: Seagoing cowboys and the Maritime Union