Reflections of a 1945 Seagoing Cowboy to France on stewardship

The focus of these blog posts is usually on a seagoing cowboy’s trip. This post will focus, however, on how the trip to France in August 1945 affected the life of 35-year-old cowboy Paul Rodeheffer and his family, as shared with former Heifer International staffer and “Cowboy Custodian” Bill Beck in this undated account.

Paul Rodeheffer’s card from the seagoing cowboy file of the Brethren Service Committee. Courtesy of Heifer International.

Stewardship to us is receiving and sharing God’s gifts with others for His purpose in the world….

Because I was a farmer producing food, I did not have to go to war. Out of gratitude, I took the unexpected chance to go with the first load of cattle [to France] for the organization “Heifers for Relief,” where the cows were given to orphanages, hospitals and families with more than six children.

It was here that I saw firsthand that gifts given through the church (in this case Church of the Brethren) actually reached their destination. Through the years we have ignored pleas for our money through the mail and over T.V. We give to the church and its related schools and organizations because we know it gets to the right place.

This trip was the biggest risk we ever took. I left my wife with two boys, 3 and almost 1 year old, at home with my father. It was just before harvest, and the corn picker which I had bought was not even set up. For all its uncertainties this trip proved to us that the more you give the more you get. In our family it changed our priorities about many things.

1st. My absence from the farm changed family attitudes. I, tending cattle on a freighter, seasick sometimes, changed my thinking. At home, my father, unable to carry on alone with the farm, changed his mind and decided to let me buy it when I returned. My only sister agreed, and so just 33 years ago this week, we made the transaction.

2nd. The trip gave us new friends, on the boat and in the churches where I shared my experience. The baby sitter who stayed with Elnor and the boys, and now her whole family, are among our best friends.

3rd. The trip gave me a lasting relaxed attitude toward work and possessions. After two months, I came home on October 20, 1945. The corn picker had to be set up and crops were waiting to be harvested. But the beans and corn were all saved with no Sunday harvesting.

Stewardship, like the miracle of seed time to harvest, is a progressive lifelong process for us.

The Convergence of UNRRA, the Seagoing Cowboys, and the Heifer Project

By June 1945, the Heifer Project had, on their own, made two shipments of heifers across the seas to Puerto Rico, an overland shipment to Mexico, and two to Arkansas. A program of the Brethren Service Committee (BSC) of the Church of the Brethren, with other denominations participating, the Heifer Project was intent on sending cows to provide relief to the victims of World War II.

During the war, 44 of the “united nations” created UNRRA, the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration, to assist countries devastated by the war. As plans for UNRRA took shape, BSC’s Executive, M. R. Zigler, lobbied UNRRA to include Heifer Project animals in their shipments. The sending of six bulls to Greece in May 1945 served as a test.

When UNRRA began shipping livestock in earnest the end of June 1945, the seagoing cowboy program was born through an agreement between UNRRA and the BSC: the BSC would serve as the recruiting agency for the cattle tenders for all of UNRRA’s intended shipments. In return, UNRRA would ship Heifer Project animals free of charge and under the terms of the Heifer Project, meaning the animals would be a gift to the neediest of preselected farmers. UNRRA recipients had to pay a bit, depending on UNRRA’s agreement with the receiving country.

The Seagoing Cowboy Office at the Brethren Service Center, New Windsor, MD. Circa 1946. Photo courtesy of Brethren Historical Library and Archives.

Over the course of UNRRA’s two-year active life span, 4,000 of the approximately 300,000 animals shipped were from the Heifer Project. It’s the seagoing cowboy stories from these UNRRA/Heifer Project shipments I’ll be focusing on during this 75th Anniversary year of Heifer International.

Heifer Project cattle bound for Ethiopia waiting to be loaded onto the S. S. Rock Springs Victory (out of sight on left), March 1947. Photo credit: Howard Lord.

In getting the seagoing cowboy program off the ground after UNRRA’s first two livestock shipments [read about them here and here], the BSC made these recommendations to the Heifer Project Committee in their June 25, 1945, meeting:
1. A foreman should be appointed who would be the spokesman for the entire group. [This was carried out. And a cowboy supervisor was hired by UNRRA for each crew, as well.]
2. Plans should be made for religious worship on the boat. [When UNRRA’s shipments mushroomed, this happened only when there were cowboys in the crew who initiated it.]

Cowboys on the S. S. Norwalk Victory take time for Sunday morning worship en route to Trieste, Italy. February 1946. Photo credit: Elmer J. Bowers.

3. An Educational Director should be appointed. This would include some education on relief needs, livestock needs, language of country which men are going to, church participation in the program, etc. [This fell by the wayside. Tending the animals left little time for anything else.]
4. Recreational program should be planned as on the return trip the men will apparently have no work which will occupy their time. [Some of the crews did take recreational equipment with them, but many had to devise their own pass-times. And the cowboys were often co-opted by the Captain to clean out stalls or do other work on the return trip.]

The Attleboro Victory crew enjoys a game of volleyball on the way home from Greece. December 1946. Photo credit: John Lohrentz.

The June 25 Heifer Project Committee minutes also state, “There was considerable discussion on the selection of these men that are to accompany these shipments. It is felt that we should make this a real testimony, as this is the kind of religion that talks.” These high ideals for this seagoing cowboy program at times bore fruit. But UNRRA’s shipping program and the need for cattle tenders increased so rapidly that just getting the required number of men on the ships was all BSC could manage at times. Ideal cowboys or not, however, these shipments of livestock on their own spoke volumes to grateful destitute recipients.

Heifer Project’s goodwill mission to Puerto Rico, 1945

CPSer Carl Epp and Rufus King prepare to unload Heifer Project cattle in San Juan, Puerto Rico, in May 1945. Photo courtesy of Carl Epp.

Seventy-four years ago this month, the second shipment the Heifer Project made to Puerto Rico, with 45 heifers and 5 bulls, arrived in San Juan, May 25, 1945. But why Puerto Rico? people ask. Weren’t the Heifer Project animals being raised intended for Europe?

Yes, they were. But while these cattle were being gathered in April, World War II was still in motion, making shipping across the Atlantic impossible. Heifer Project had animals ready to send and needed to find a place for them. The Brethren Service Committee, which oversaw the Heifer Project, had connections in Puerto Rico. They were in charge of the Civilian Public Service Unit #43, the Brumbaugh Reconstruction Unit. This unit was formed in December 1943 to address community needs of medical care, public health, and social service on this poverty-stricken island.

Rufus King, Director of the Unit, reported in the Gospel Messenger (May 19, 1945):

Puerto Rico is one of the most thickly populated areas in the world. It has 550 people per square mile; two million people on an island 100 miles long and 35 miles wide. Only 20 per cent of the land is owned or tenanted by individual farmers, although sixty-seven per cent of the population is rural. The result of this situation is extreme poverty, ignorance, disease and malnutrition.

Puerto Rico became the logical place for Heifer Project to send its animals. The Brumbaugh Reconstruction Unit had two projects where cattle were placed, a Brethren project in the mountain village of Castañer and a Mennonite project in the coastal area of La Plata. Both projects had built hospitals. Each project received six heifers and one bull to form the nucleus of a herd to support the hospital work and the CPS workers.

The cattle pens at Castañer, Puerto Rico, date unknown. Photo by Dean Kagarise, Tom Lehman collection.

Carl Epp and Harry Martins with Heifer Project cattle at La Plata, Puerto Rico. 1945. Photo courtesy of Carl Epp.

The Brumbaugh Reconstruction Unit worked closely with the Puerto Rican Restoration Administration (PRRA) which helped set up homesteads for farm laborers. Eleven animals from this shipment went to PRRA recipients in the La Plata area. The remaining 25 were distributed to selected Puerto Rican farmers through the Farm Security Administration.

Puerto Rican farmers receive their heifers from the PRRA allotment, May 1945. Photo courtesy of Carl Epp.

Rufus King summarizes the import of the overall work in Puerto Rico in his Gospel Messenger article:

We know we have only scratched the surface, but we Brethren must give ourselves a fair opportunity to demonstrate what can be done toward building up the body, mind and spirit of a people in one area of Puerto Rico; we must give ourselves a fair chance to see the fruits of our efforts in developing a spirit of initiative and co-operation among a people and in helping them to help themselves. This takes time, more time than the few years of the war period can afford.

Angel Perez Rodriguez with male calf born to Heifer Project cow, Castañer, Puerto Rico, 1946. Photo courtesy of Don Sollenberger.

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

It was an eventful crossing of the Atlantic for seagoing cowboy and veterinarian Dr. Martin M. Kaplan. His “unusual mission” started the day World War II ended in Europe in May 1945.

With his veterinary degree and master’s degree in public health, the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration (UNRRA) hired Dr. Kaplan to accompany six pedigreed bulls to Greece. The bulls were a gift of the Heifer Project to service an insemination program of the Near East Foundation. Greece had lost 40% of its cattle during the war. The insemination program would help the Greek dairy industry recover.

After a long train ride from UNRRA headquarters in Washington, D.C., Kaplan arrived in St. John, New Brunswick, Canada, the morning of Thursday, May 10, to meet his ship. However, when UNRRA contracted the Swedish vessel M/S Boolongena, the war was still on. “The neutral Swedes did not want to break rules by having a paying passenger on one of their freighters going into a war zone,” Kaplan says. So with his master’s in public health, UNRRA was able to sign Kaplan on as the ship’s doctor.

M/S Boolongena, 1952. Source: City of Vancouver Archives. Photographer: Walter Edwin Frost.

Kaplan soon met “the six crosses I would bear” and the man who had purchased them for the Brethren Service Committee, Benjamin Bushong. Bushong was to have tended the bulls until sailing, but an urgent development with the 50 heifers being gathered for Heifer Project’s next shipment to Puerto Rico pulled him away.

In Kaplan’s entertaining report to UNRRA, he says, “[The bulls] were in an isolated railroad car, 1½ miles away from the ship. All the feed and water were gone, ½ bale of hay remained, 2 bulls were completely unbroken, and darkness was approaching….After throwing this lapful at me, Bushong bid me a cheery good-bye, and assured me that I would have little trouble.”

Kaplan had the railroad car moved closer to the ship and procured feed and hay after which he endured “rain and snow for three days, a growing compost pile that assumed formidable proportions by the fourth day in the middle of the car, [and] six suspicious bulls.”

The Heifer Project’s six Brown Swiss pedigreed bulls after arrival in Greece, May 1945. Photo credit: UNRRA Photograph.

In the meantime, stalls were built under the forecastle deck, the location at the front of the ship that normally housed sailors’ living quarters. This meant having to get the bulls through a 2½-feet-wide doorway, “but it was the best location available,” Kaplan says.

Departure was set for Monday, May 14. At 6:00 a.m., two hours before loading time, Kaplan says, “I fed the animals heavily to dull the edge of their tempers for the forthcoming excitement (my drugs hadn’t as yet arrived). There was little difficulty in moving the animals individually from the railroad car directly into a horse-box, thence by means of a crane onto the deck. The delicate procedure was to lead them through a narrow doorway, up a 20 feet long wooden ramp, over obstacles reminiscent of a steeple chase, into their individual stalls.” This task fell to Kaplan when the longshoremen, normally the only ones allowed to touch the cargo during loading, “formally invited” Kaplan “to lead the bulls to their stalls. . . . I led four of them and was chased by two,” Kaplan says, “but they all ended up in their respective places with a net result of one slightly squashed finger.”

[to be continued in April 12 post]

Heifer International 75 years ago: Dan West’s Rationale for the Heifer Project

In a draft of an article to be submitted to Christian Century magazine 75 years ago this month (February 1944), and before any Heifer Project shipments had been made, Heifer International founder Dan West wrote his rationale for “Heifers for Relief.”

“Little children,” he began, “are starving in Europe and elsewhere. They are not to blame, but they have to pay…. How many will have to starve because of the hardness of our hearts nobody knows….

“Reconstruction is in the air now…. But some day the giving from America and other favored countries will stop. Europeans must carry their own burden as soon as they can. Mr Lehman [Director General of the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration/UNRRA] has been stressing the need for helping people to help themselves.

“One government official said there is no question about the need, nor is there any question about where the supply of dairy cattle is to be found. It’s America chiefly.

“After some investigation with officials of the United States Department of Agriculture, the Brethren Service Committee approved a plan for setting aside good dairy heifers, either purebred or grade, to be sent to needy countries in Europe–perhaps elsewhere, whenever priorities and shipping allow. Since last May a number of them have been ear-tagged. Local farmers take care of them, furnishing the labor and in some cases the feed. In other cases, city Dunkers [Brethren] and others who cannot furnish shelter or care [for the animals] pay the feed bill. A good deal of interest has been developed on the part of children, young people, and adults in the project. City children don’t know cows but they can easily imagine that milk can make the difference between life and death for hungry babies….

Faith, the first heifer donated, her owner Virgil Mock (left), and Claire Stine who raised her (right). Photo courtesy of Heifer International.

“How can we get [the heifers] to the right place at the right time?” Dan asks. “Before every new step the Brethren Service Committee has consulted with U.S.D.A. officials at Washington, but this is still an unsolved problem. Because the Allied Shipping Pool has not announced its policy nor has UNRRA, no one can promise finally that the cattle which are ready here will certainly be delivered there…. [W]hatever is done must be done partly on faith, but that faith must not be a substitute for avoidable ignorance.

“If my children were starving to death I would be glad for somebody to act on faith to try to get food to them…. When one considers that a good average cow can give ten quarts a day or more…one cow may become the means of saving the lives of ten children….

“How will [the animals] be distributed? That too is an unsettled question….

“Why do it?
1. Christians cannot let people starve anywhere on the earth without trying to help them….
2. We cannot begin to build a world until we learn how to get elemental foods to the right place soon enough.
3. Until we find a better substitute for milk, cows will be important in rehabilitation.
4. There has been a good deal of talk of church union with not too much success…. Maybe this will help.
5. As one Lutheran pastor imagined it: ‘This looks like a good chance to bring the city Christians and the country Christians together. The city Christians can furnish the money for the feed and the rural Christians the calves and the care. When they are ready to go they can all come to a rural church, the city folks, the country folks, and the calves. They can all worship together and then send the calves off to save life elsewhere–the Christians of America can save Europe.'”

Next post: Heifer Project’s 1st and 2nd seagoing cowboys

The Beginnings of the Heifer Project

Dan West distributes clothing and blankets in Spain to Spanish Civil War victims, 1937 or 1938. Photo courtesy of Jan West Schrock.

After witnessing children dying from a limited supply of powdered milk in Spain in 1937 and 1938 during the Spanish Civil War, Church of the Brethren leader Dan West came home promoting the idea of “a cow, not a cup.” At a meeting of the Church of the Brethren Northern Indiana District Men’s Work April 12, 1942, and with the prior blessing of the denomination’s Brethren Service Committee, Dan’s plan was accepted and set in motion.

As the project evolved, it went through a series of names:
– “Dan West’s Calf Project”
– “Cattle for Europe”
– “Heifers for the Low Countries”
– “European Cattle Project”
– “Dairy Cattle for Belgium”
It was finally officially termed “The Heifer Project” at the “Cattle Committee” meeting of December 16, 1942, and at the subsequent Brethren Service Committee’s final approval of the plan in January 1943.

The purpose of the “Cattle for Europe” plan Dan presented to the Northern Indiana Men’s Work in April 1942 was “to save children’s lives, and to help in rehabilitation.” The agencies to involve went beyond the Brethren Service Committee to include the Mennonite Central Committee, American Friends’ Service Committee, and “other non-partisan agencies wanting to help. No circumference,” Dan proposed, “will be drawn by us if the essential purposes fit.”

Dan’s plan.

Dan’s outline of tasks for the Brethren Service Committee was well thought out and expansive, including:
– Appointment of a subcommittee to administer the project and encourage cooperation with other groups. (This became the Heifer Project Committee.)
– Plans to “[m]ake clear the trackage with Belgian, Dutch, and/or other governments for the efficient placing of heifers of suitable breeds as soon as [the WWII] blockade is lifted and shipping resources permit.”
– Securing cooperation of all USDA agencies.
– Creation of district committees “in at least 5 districts in at least 5 states: Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Virginia.”
– Securing of heifer calves and securing funds from willing donors.
– Earmarking heifers “BSC,” concentrating and shipping heifers to Atlantic ports at BSC expense, and shipping heifers to European ports at the expense of European recipient countries.
– Plans to “[s]end BSC and/or other responsible [persons] with every shipload to destination on European farms” and report on such.
– Contingency plans for disposal of cows, calves, and milk products “in case of delays because of war uncertainties.”

Dan set his sights high with a suggested schedule of having 1,000 heifers ready by Autumn 1942, another 5,000 by spring 1943, 10,000 by that fall, and 20,000 each in spring and fall of 1944 and 1945.

“I believe our church has the resources to furnish more than ¼ of this total number,” Dan noted. “How much of the motive we have remains to be seen.”

Next post: Dan West’s rationale for the Heifer Project

A Seagoing Cowboy on Chick Detail

Leland Voth’s Merchant Marine card for service as a “cattleman.” Courtesy of Leland Voth.

Inspired by his older brother’s cattle boat trip to Europe in early 1946, Leland Voth decided to sign up, too, expecting to take care of heifers or horses. Little did he know that he would instead be put on “chick detail,” as he called it.

Soon after his sophomore year of high school ended, Leland set out on foot from his home in Lorraine, Kansas, to hitchhike to Newport News, Virginia. He slept in a YMCA in Kansas City his first night, then took public transportation to the edge of town where he set out hitchhiking again. “Along the way, however,” Leland says, “I waited for hours for a ride, to no avail. Finally a bread delivery truck picked me up and the driver informed me that the previous week a lady had been killed by a hitchhiker.” When the bread truck driver reached his destination of Lexington, Kentucky, Leland had the driver drop him off at the bus stop and took public transportation the rest of the way.

Leland reported to the Brethren Service Committee office at Pier X in Newport News.

The Brethren Service Committee office where seagoing cowboys checked in and received their assignments. Photo credit: Elmer Bowers, February 1946.

There he was asked to volunteer on the dock “to help assemble chicken batteries (cages) for baby chicks for the next ship.” When the S. S. Morgantown Victory crew was being assembled, Leland was able to sign on. “I helped fill the chick cages with 18,700 baby chicks and load them on the ship,” he says. The remainder of the cargo was 760 heifers. The destination: Poland.

When crew assignments were made, Leland got the night shift. His job was to feed and water the chicks and extract the dead ones. “The chick batteries were about 5 tiers high,” he says, “and each tier had a side spool of brown paper which was threaded in a narrow space under each tier to catch the chick droppings and was normally changed once a day. When the sea was really rough, the wide rolls of paper under the chick cages would fall off their racks and rip out the litter which made a mess that I had to clean up. To prevent such happenings, I made regular rounds to check whether the rolls of paper were centered on their hooks.

“The enjoyable time was to climb up the rungs of the ladder to breathe in the fresh ocean air,” Leland says. “It also was a chance to go to the galley, cut slices of freshly baked bread and smear it with a thick layer of orange marmalade. Orange marmalade became my favorite spread to this day.”

In Poland, the ship docked in Nowyport, the port area for Gdansk. The cattle and newborn calves were unloaded first. “One cow jumped out of its crate as it was being unloaded and broke its back on the dock,” Leland says. “After several days, the chicks were unloaded and I was free to tour the area for the two days remaining.”

Chicks being unloaded from the S. S. Rockland Victory in Nowyport, Poland, three weeks later. Photo credit: Robert Stewart.

The first night off ship, Leland went with other cowboys to deliver food they had brought with them to give to hungry people. The next day, they went by streetcar into Gdansk and saw the “piles and piles of bricks and rubble of buildings which had been bombed” that all cowboys to Poland witnessed.

“We discovered a former Mennonite Church which was badly damaged,” Leland says. There he found some books in the rubble which he took home to Kansas and later gave to the historian at Bethel College.

The exterior of the bombed out Danzig Mennonite Church. Photo credit: Paul Martin, May 1946.

“The return trip was uneventful,” Leland says. “Some of the men used butter as a suntan lotion while sunning on the deck until a notice appeared that ‘such activity was prohibited.'”

When the ship arrived back in Newport News, each cowboy received his $150 pay from UNRRA and two cents from the Merchant Marine (a penny a month, a token to make the cattle tenders legal workers on the ships). What to do with two cents? Leland’s crew put all their pennies in a jar, a total of about 64 cents, and drew numbers to see who would get them.