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.

Dan West – World War I Conscientious Objector

Today is International Conscientious Objection Day. There will be an ecumenical gathering this evening at the World War I Museum and Memorial in Kansas City, Missouri, commemorating those who were conscientious objectors in World War I. There was no alternative service at that time, so COs had to either serve within the military or go to prison. Dan West, the founder of Heifer International, was one of those men.

Dan was drafted into the U. S. Army in 1918. He entered service not knowing how far he could cooperate with the army. His experience became a defining moment in his life. Here is his story in his own words in a paper titled “Your Goals,” as told to a group of Brethren Volunteer Service workers years later:

       There was not any Alternative Service then, but I was a CO. After a few weeks I was transferred to the 39th Machine Gun Battalion. When I got there, I went to my new captain to get released. He cursed me hard, evidently to change my mind. But he didn’t.
A few hours later I went back with a new idea: to offer to go to the Ft Leavenworth Penitentiary. My captain did not curse me any more, but said he could not move me on then.
After a few hard weeks I was assigned to the Quartermaster Corps. There I did not kill anybody, but I felt a part of a killing machine. That still hurts my conscience, and I developed a new GOAL to work for peace-not for war. That has lasted ever since.

Dan became one of the most prominent voices for peace in the church and later became Peace Educator for the Church of the Brethren. In that role, he was selected to be the Church of the Brethren representative to a Quaker (Society of Friends) relief project in Spain during the Spanish Civil War in 1937 and 1938. Observing babies and tubercular children dying from a lack of milk while his babies back home were well fed made him determined to promote a plan to send cows to Spain, an idea hatched in discussions with colleagues in the relief project. Four years later, Dan’s plan was adopted by the Church of the Brethren District Men’s Work of Northern Indiana, then later by the denomination as a national plan which soon became ecumenical. The Heifer Project, as it was named, grew into today’s independent Heifer International.

Dan West distributes clothing to Spanish women and children affected by the Spanish Civil War, 1937. Photo courtesy of Brethren Historical Library and Archives.

Would that more people would develop the goal “to do as much for peace as a soldier does for war,” another way Dan talked of his goal.

 

Men at odds on a mission of goodwill

Dedication of Heifer Project cattle to be sent to Puerto Rico. York (PA) fairgrounds, April 29, 1945. Photo credit: Heifer International archives.

Seventy-four years ago this weekend, some 700 people gathered at the fairgrounds in York, Pennsylvania. The occasion? Dedication of 45 heifers and 5 bulls to be sent to Puerto Rico. The Church of the Brethren Gospel Messenger (May 26, 1945) reported:

At one end of the fair grounds, we are told, implements were being readied for war and for the conquest by force while at the other end these cattle were being dedicated to goodwill and to conquest by love and understanding.

Unfortunately, the two cattle tenders who accompanied these animals did not exemplify the latter. This created a royal headache for Rufus King, Director of the Civilian Public Service Unit #43 in Puerto Rico, the Brumbaugh Reconstruction Unit. King had the job of receiving the cattle and entertaining the cattle tenders while they were on the island.

For the purpose of this post, I’ll call the men Cowboy A and Cowboy B. This unfortunate pairing became a learning experience for the fledgling Heifer Project Committee. When Cowboy B made his report to the committee after the trip, his recommendation number 6 read: “The shipment should be in charge of some one person.” And therein, I believe, lies the crux of the problem.

In a letter to family, King characterized Cowboy A as “a retired farmer who at 66 still works hard and gets irked when any one around him can’t work as hard.” Cowboy B, whom King characterized as “a very successful farmer and good man, but of the managerial type,” got sick on board and could not do his share of the work. Cowboy A, having been put in charge of the cattle at York, may have assumed he would also be in charge on the ship.

The cattle had been trucked overnight to Brooklyn, New York, on May 16. The next morning, they were loaded into sheds on the top deck of the S. S. James Wetmore. The ship departed at 6:30 a.m., May 19, giving Cowboy A and Cowboy B a full week together before arriving in San Juan May 25.

“The upshot of it all,” King says, “was that these Brethren on a mission of goodwill were mighty tired of each other and parted company soon after their arrival!  Individually, I enjoy the company of each and we have entertained each of them separately here at the house for meals.”

To Heifer Project leaders, King wrote, “It is indeed very disgusting to have a shipment of ‘good will’ sent by the Brethren and those Brethren sent to care for the cattle can not get along between themselves and therefore do not represent the basic idea back of the gift. How can we build a new world when we as individuals refuse to lie down in the same pasture?”

The cattle, on the other hand, DID exemplify the goodwill the Heifer Project Committee intended. More on that in my next post.

Conditions in Puerto Rico, 1944 or 1945. Photo by Rufus King, courtesy of the King family.

Gratitude from Silesian Heifer Project recipients

During this Thanksgiving weekend, it is fitting to share expressions of gratitude from early recipients of heifers delivered by the seagoing cowboys. This post takes us to war-devastated Czechoslovakian Silesia in 1946 and comes from a bundle of thank you letters sent to the Brethren Service Committee and the Heifer Project.

A December 23, 1946, letter from the Czech Child Welfare Foundation Vojtechov in Brno gives us an overview:
“The cows donated by the Church of the Brethren are rendering excellent service and are helping by their precious product to restore great numbers of our citizens who contracted tuberculosis and other diseases during the war, either in concentration camps, prisons or through deprivations and malnutrition. Your assistance shall never be forgotten. Thousands and thousands of people are helped by your gifts and are sincerely grateful to you.”

Frank Vojkuvka: “I didn’t have any milk for the children and the entire family suffered from under nourishment. Heartiest thanks for the donated cow.” Photo courtesy of Heifer International.

From the Evangelical Parish orphanage in Trinec near Tesinsko, June 19, 1946:
“Toward the end of the war our orphanage invaded by the German armada was completely damaged. They left us merely empty iron beds and even those were damaged. Many orphans whose parents were killed in Concentration camps of Germany came to us. . . . We had a big holiday when we brought the cow home. No one could believe that it was given to us free.”

Kosarova Frantiska: Your fine cow means for us and especially for our 2 girls 5-1/2 and 1-1/2 y. so much easing our food supply. Since we have enough milk again we are all healthier.” Photo courtesy of Heifer International.

From Elizabeth Moravcova, Bolatice, June 20, 1046:
“My house was so damaged by bombing that it couldn’t be lived in. It was shot at by artillery from three sides. And you can imagine the crumbling and shattering caused by explosions in town. The furniture which I bought just before the war with money I painstakingly gathered was all gone. Our clothes and shoes were confiscated by the occupying army. And that was the way with kitchen equipment and other things in the home. So, after the war we are starting anew. I am beginning alone because until now my husband has not been reported. I am alone with two children – a 5 year old and a three year old boy, also an elderly mother. So I must work hard all week and have the children help me.
“If you can imagine the situation you will know how grateful I am for this gift. It means for me the greatest means of livelihood. It has become a member of our family. I thank you once again dear friends most heartily for this precious gift and believe me that we will think of you the rest of our lives and be grateful. May you live there over the sea happily and may God bless you.”

Kosarova Frantiska: “The wounds of warfare are healing gradually for us, especially as we are so fortunate to have such generous friends.” Photo courtesy of Heifer International.

From Anna Dostalova in Stepankovice, April 14, 1946:
“The war was bad and brought much evil to us. It razed our buildings, killed livestock and nothing was left except our ravaged home and six hungry children. The youngest became ill and died. He was longing for milk at that time to which the children have been accustomed. So when the cow arrived there was much happiness. Five eager children jumped about me and the cow. When I brought the first milk they stood around with their little pots each one eager to taste the milk from America. It has a wonderful flavor. The cow is now well settled and feeds well. For your goodness, I thank you again!

A note from Family Kysuconova: “Grandmother, parents and 3 children are thanking most heartily for the generous gift of a fine cow given to them. This cow is their saviour from starvation.” Photo courtesy of Heifer International.

And lastly, from Frantisek Martinik of Poruba, undated:
“The help given me by this gift [of a cow] is immense. . . . The friendly and sacrificial attitude of the selfless Americans in help to the Silesian people is proving that there are still good people in the World despite of the hatred in Warfare and that Love didn’t die and never will in human hearts.
“This truth and by deeds proved Love is warming and strengthening our spirit and gives us courage to rebuild our homes and reconstruct our beloved but war torn country of Silesia.
“The Lords providence may reward your magnificent deeds, we shall never forget what you have done for us.”

Heifer International continues this great work. Giving Tuesday is coming up! Consider a gift to Heifer in gratitude for all we have been given.

Was there confiscation of UNRRA and Heifer Project livestock?

Rumors abounded among seagoing cowboys who went to Poland that UNRRA horses were being stolen by the Russians and shipped off to Russia. I’ve found assurances in archival materials that this was not the case. The following letter dated October 28, 1946, was sent to the Brethren Service Committee by Brig. C. M. Drury, Chief of the UNRRA Mission to Poland in Warsaw:

Subject: Livestock imported to Poland

Although we have received rumors from various sources that some livestock brought to Poland by U.N.R.R.A. has been taken by other countries, particularly Russia, our investigations have repeatedly proven all such rumors to be without foundation.

I can say without hesitation that to date as far as I know not one U.N.R.R.A. animal has been stolen from the Polish people by the Russians.

On the other hand, the Polish Government Repatriation Office informs us that the Russian government has permitted repatriated persons returning to Poland from Russia to bring with them up to the end of the first quarter of 1946: 52,536 horses, 121,347 cows, 36,775 hogs and 55,329 sheep and goats.

Signed: C. M. DRURY, Chief of Mission

An identical letter was signed by Dr. A. G. Wilder, Chief Veterinarian.

Polish farmers receiving their new work horses at a collection station, 1946. Photo credit: James Brunk.

This assessment was confirmed by Gaither P. Warfield of the Methodist Committee for Overseas Relief and Methodist representative to the Heifer Project Committee who visited Poland in early 1947. Minutes of the March 29, 1947, HPC meeting state: “Warfield said he had not seen any confiscation by the Russians in Poland since they came into the country in the last six or eight months.” Ralph Delk, at the same meeting, reported that “Dr. Wilder has traced down rumors of confiscation but not in any single instance have they found Russian confiscation of American gifts.”

So the seagoing cowboys can rest assured that their animals most likely got to where they were meant to go.

There were two instances, however, where animals sent by the Heifer Project were diverted within Poland. Thurl Metzger, later to become Executive Director of the Heifer Project, spent mid-October 1946 to mid-April 1947 in Poland working for both UNRRA and the Brethren Service Committee. He reported these happenings to the Heifer Project Committee on his return to the United States.

In March 1946, 228 HPC heifers were shipped to Poland on the S. S. Woodstock Victory. Apparently by mistake, these heifers were sold by the Polish government as regular UNRRA supplies. Metzger discovered the mistake, backed up his claim with evidence, and approached Polish officials about the missing animals. “Armed with only my youthful indignation,” Metzger reported years later, “I was able to secure a settlement.”

Based on the average the Polish government received for the sale of UNRRA heifers to Polish farmers, a total of 4,104,000 zloties was deposited by the government in the Naradowy Bank Polskie in Warsaw. This posed a problem for Metzger: What to do with $41,040-worth of zloties that outside of Poland were worthless? He reported to the Heifer Project Committee that the answer “came like a revelation.” The money was used that July to pay the passage for ten Polish students from the College of Agriculture of the University of Warsaw to the United States to spend a year in the homes of American farm families. This planted a seed, which lay dormant for a decade due to the Cold War. Then in 1957, the Church of the Brethren began the Polish Agricultural Exchange Program, which lasted for nearly 40 years.

Students from the College of Agriculture of the University of Warsaw, Poland, gather with officials in the United States in 1947. Thurl Metzger, top left. Photo: Peggy Reiff Miller collection, courtesy of Thurl Metzger family.

The second diversion of cattle happened in December 1946 when a private company contracted by the Polish government to handle all imported livestock substituted some poor quality cows for Heifer Project’s best heifers through a slight of hand. They would have gotten away with it were it not for a brave peasant impressed by Heifer’s humanitarian efforts who came forward several days later and reported the incident to Metzger’s office. An investigation ensued, and five Heifer Project animals were identified in the firm’s herd by their ear tags. “Again the government acted in good faith,” reported Metzger, “and ordered the firm to turn over the five identified cows which were additions to the substitutions that had already been made.” Metzger concluded, “[I]t is significant that the Polish government reputed to be Communist was concerned enough about their relations to a small church group that they made an unusual effort to keep the records straight.”

The Seagoing Cowboy Storytelling Project

My work of fifteen years now has a name: The Seagoing Cowboy Storytelling Project, with thanks to the family of seagoing cowboy Alvin Zook for coming up with this title. The start of a new year is always a good time to look back and ahead; I’m adding a first Friday post this month to do just that.

Seagoing Cowboy Al Guyer and Peggy Reiff Miller

Seagoing Cowboy Al Guyer and I reunite, October 25, 2014. Photo credit: Rex Miller.

It was fifteen years ago this month that I made my first seagoing cowboy interview with a former pastor of mine, Albert Guyer. I knew he had gone to Poland with livestock, and I wanted to know what my Grandpa Abe’s trip might have been like. Al’s story hooked me in and got me started on a journey that culminated this past year with the publication of my first book, the children’s picture book The Seagoing CowboyThat event pretty well defined my professional year, first planning for its release the end of March and then promoting it throughout the remainder of the year.

A highlight of my year was a 3-day visit to the Maple Ridge Bruderhof community in Ulster Park, New York. Many older members have long ties to Church of the Brethren, Heifer Project, and seagoing cowboy history. Vonnie Burleson's (left) father and Marlys Blough Swinger's (right) brother were seagoing cowboys. Martin Johnson (top right) was my delightful host. Photo by Reuben Mow (grandson of Anna and Baxter Mow.

A highlight of my year was a 3-day visit to the Maple Ridge Bruderhof community in Ulster Park, New York. Many older members have long ties to the Church of the Brethren and its Heifer Project and seagoing cowboy history. Vonnie Burleson’s (left) father and Marlys Blough Swinger’s (right) brother were seagoing cowboys. Martin Johnson (top right) was my delightful host. Photo by Reuben Mow (grandson of Brethren icons Anna and Baxter Mow).

 

A local book signing and release party was followed by speaking events and signings for all ages that have taken me from coast to coast, with stops in Indiana and Iowa, Arkansas, California, North Carolina, New York state, Maryland, Virginia, back to California, on to Arizona, and Texas, often connecting with seagoing cowboys. I’m grateful to my many readers for the warm and enthusiastic reception of my book and the seagoing cowboy story. It’s been a whirlwind of a year, and I’m looking forward to a different pace and focus for 2017.

Sharing the story with Maple Ridge Bruderhof upper elementary students. Photo by Reuben Mow.

Sharing the story with Maple Ridge Bruderhof upper elementary students. Photo by Reuben Mow.

I’m excited about the year to come. It will start with a trip next week to Germany, where I will be able to visit the seagoing cowboy exhibit at the Upper Silesian Museum in Ratingen. Then my focus turns to the writing of a book about the first decade of the Heifer Project, including the seagoing cowboy story as it relates to Heifer. I plan to sequester myself for six months during the year at the Heifer Ranch in Perryville, Arkansas, to that end. Three months in the middle of that will be spent in “Oma and Opa time” assisting our daughter in Ohio with child care while she tests the waters of running a friend’s market garden for the summer.

If all works as planned, the year will end with another trip abroad — this time to Finland for the 70th anniversary commemoration of the S. S. Park Victory and the ten sailors who lost their lives in the sinking of the ship off the coast of Finland in December, 1947. The Park Victory had been one of UNRRA’s livestock ships, making six trips prior to its demise while shipping coal. It’s a famous ship wreck in Finland, but the livestock portion of the ship’s history was unknown there until one of the men working on the commemoration found my website.

I will only be taking a limited number of speaking engagements this year. I’m looking forward to being the speaker for a Heifer International event in Michigan April 8, in being the featured author to kick off the children’s summer reading program at the Goshen, Indiana, public library in June with the theme of “Build a Better World,” and in being a keynote speaker at the Church of the Brethren National Older Adult Conference (NOAC) in North Carolina in September. Aside from that, my plan is to write, write, write!

Many wonderful pieces of seagoing cowboy and Heifer Project history happened in 1947, so look for lots of 70-year commemorations in my blog posts throughout the year. I’m looking forward to a great year, and I wish you one, as well!