Seagoing Cowboy Program Turns 75 this year!

Happy New Year to my faithful readers!

This year will mark the 75th anniversary of many significant events surrounding the end of World War II. Besides the end of fighting, the event that excites me most is the beginning of UNRRA’s seagoing cowboy program, initiated with UNRRA’s first shipment of June 24, 1945. I look forward to sharing bits of this history with you throughout the year – a history of helping a war-torn world rebuild.

For starters, let’s look at what the seagoing cowboy experience entailed as spelled out in a document titled “Information for Livestock Attendants.”

The following information comes from men who have already been to Europe as livestock attendants and is backed by their experience.

Handling of Animals

  1. Attendants should have and should exhibit a natural love for animals – a calm voice, with gentle treatment and manners, with no evidence of fear, is most effective.

    Cowboys on the S. S. Adrian Victory tend the horses on way to Greece, Oct. 1946. Photo: Elmer Bowers.

  2. Attendants should check carefully the eating habits and bodily functions of animals under their care and should report irregularities to the veterinarian at once.
  3. Each attendant will feed, water and care for 25 to 35 animals (cows, heifers, horses, mules, bulls) under the supervision of the veterinarian and the supervisor.
  4. Each man should assume his duties willingly and discharge them faithfully. This is not a pleasure ship.
  5. Cleaning should be done daily, as per instructions.

    Luke Bomberger cleans cattle stalls on the S. S. Boulder Victory to China, Feb. 1947. Photo: Eugene Souder.

  6. Be diligent in keeping watch – sometimes a delay of 15 minutes may mean the life of an animal under your charge.

Customs Aboard Ship

  1. It is well to have a talk with the ship’s captain or one of the mates before putting out to sea to learn the practices aboard ship, to discover what suggestions he may have regarding conduct of the crew aboard ship, privileges, responsibilities and general conduct. Remember the captain is the absolute master of all aboard his ship.

    Cowboys on the S. S. Carroll Victory watch chief engineer and mate cut chain. 1947. Photo: Charles Lord.

  2. Be friendly at all times with the ship’s regular crew. Let nothing disturb that relationship. Crew members respect character in others and expect to be treated as gentlemen.

    Luke Bomberger gets a tour of the engine room on the S. S. Boulder Victory to China, Feb. 1947. Photo: Eugene Souder.

  3. Ignore the caste system aboard ship and don’t let it disturb you.
  4. Do not abuse dining hall privileges. Snacks at night are for men who are on duty. When using this privilege when on duty, men must assume their part in cleaning up.
  5. Danger of fire at sea is terrific. Refrain from smoking.
  6. Men should be sure their mailing address is understood and forwarded to their homes before leaving. There are many uncertainties and do not be too much disturbed if mail does not reach you.

    Seagoing cowboy Bob Richards made sure his crew on the S. S. Virginian knew their mailing address. Orville Hersch scrapbook.

Conduct in Foreign Ports

  1. One can reflect credit or discredit upon the organization and the people he represents by the way he conducts himself among strangers. Be sensible – act discreetly and with an open, frank friendliness toward the people in the foreign ports. Act like Christians at all times.

    Shopping at the open air market in Trieste, Italy, Feb. 1946. Photo: Elmer Bowers.

  2. Never try to violate port rules or to evade port inspector’s regulations.
  3. Plan your own shore tours with competent guides. Ignore “gate offers”. Consult the UNRRA representative who boards the ship, the U.S. consul, and if available representatives of private relief agencies, cooperatives, Red Cross, church men, FOR members, et al.
  4. Crew members and livestock attendants are faced with the temptation to trade with black market operators in foreign ports. Cigarette sales, as well as sales of clothing at exorbitant prices are temptations to many of our men. Faced with such a situation one must keep in mind his purpose in coming to Europe. He has come to the people with help – not to help exploit them.

To be continued…

Waste not? or Want not?

Captains and/or seagoing cowboy supervisors had a decision to make: what to do with all that manure their four-legged charges produced! Do we not waste it? Or do we not want it? If a Captain was altruistic, he might let the manure accumulate on the voyage and be offloaded at the destination for use as fertilizer. Many a cowboy with such a Captain said that by the time they reached their destination, the back ends of their animals were higher than their front ends.

Manure offloaded from the S. S. Bucknell Victory in Nowy Port, Poland, February 1946. Rich cargo for the Polish farmers. Photo: Harold Thut.

If the Captain liked his vessel “shipshape,” however, he may give the order to “Keep those stalls clean!” – in whatever way the cowboys could manage.

Cowboys Guhr and Brenneman pull up manure on the S. S. John J. Crittenden, November 1945. Photo: Ernest Bachman.

Luke Bomberger pitches manure overboard en route to China on the S. S. Boulder Victory, February 1947. Photo: Eugene Souder.

The very first UNRRA livestock trip, on the S. S. F. J. Luckenbach, was one on which the cowboys cleaned their stalls. College students Gordon Bucher and Ken Frantz worked on the top deck. They recalled an incident when they had thrown manure over the rail just as an older cowboy (whom I will not name) had stuck his head out a porthole right below. The joke of the trip became, “My name is (unnamed cowboy). What did YOU see when you looked out the porthole?”

Manure overboard! It didn’t all make it to Poland. Bucknell Victory, February 1946. Photo: Harold Thut.

Seagoing cowboy Ernest Williams, who in 1954 accompanied the 36th load of heifers sent to Germany for the Heifer Project, relates this story:

We tended the cattle twice a day, a pretty easy job. After a couple of days out, we made an effort to clean out the cages, which was considerable work in itself. Our method was to take the steel tubs used to wash clothes, which were about two to two-and-a-half feet in diameter with handles. We put as much weight in each one as we could handle and two of us would carry the tub and throw the waste overboard. We could see brown patches on the ocean behind the ship on both sides, dotting the trail of the ship. BIG MISTAKE. The trip was two weeks over. When we got to Europe, they said, “Where is the manure?” It was considered important fertilizer for the fields. We saw the “honey wagons” there hauling manure. We had wasted ours feeding the fish.

The ship used for Williams’ trip was not one of the regular livestock carriers that went to Germany, so the Captain would not have known the waste was expected along with the animals.

Luke Bomberger holds record for most seagoing cowboy trips

Luke graciously shared his seagoing cowboy stories with me in July 2004.

Luke Bomberger graciously shared his seagoing cowboy stories with me in July 2004.

When 17-year-old Luke Bomberger of Mt. Joy, Pennsylvania, set sail for Greece on the S. S. Charles W. Wooster on August 15, 1945, he had no idea his expected two-month adventure would last twenty-one months. The Charles Wooster was only the seventh livestock ship to leave the United States. It carried 335 horses and the first Mennonites to sign up for the program. As all of the seagoing cowboys were required to do, these men had to join the Merchant Marine to be able to legally work on a merchant ship.

Luke explores the Acropolis in Athens, Greece, with crew members of the S. S. Charles W. Wooster, 1945. Photo courtesy of Wilbur Layman.

Luke explores the Acropolis in Athens, Greece, with crew members of the S. S. Charles W. Wooster, 1945. Photo courtesy of Wilbur Layman.

 

In line with his Mennonite upbringing, Luke had registered with his draft board as a conscientious objector. He turned 18 while he was at sea on the Charles Wooster, and his draft board came calling. When his parents told the board where he was and what he was doing, the board said he should keep on doing it for his service. His Merchant Marine status was his ticket to a tour of duty.

Luke, top left, enjoyed life-long friendships with some of these crew mates of the S. S. Norwalk Victory, Feb. 1946. Photo courtesy of Elmer Bowers.

Luke, top left, enjoyed life-long friendships with some of these crew mates of the S. S. Norwalk Victory, Feb. 1946. Photo courtesy of Elmer Bowers.

Luke made nine trips before his discharge on April 25, 1947. He is likely the only seagoing cowboy who received a letter from President Harry Truman, “To you who answered the call of your country and served in its Merchant Marine to bring about the total defeat of the enemy, I extend the heartfelt thanks of the Nation….” He also received a “Certificate of Substantially Continuous Service in the United States Merchant Marine” from the United States Maritime Commission.

Hiking with crew mates outside Trieste, Italy, February 1946. Photo credit: Elmer Bowers.

Hiking with crew mates outside Trieste, Italy, February 1946. Photo credit: Elmer Bowers.

Luke’s nine trips took him across the Atlantic Ocean sixteen times and across the Pacific twice. He traveled on eight different ships that took him to Greece, Poland, Italy, Germany, the Island of Crete, and China. He proved himself a worthy sailor on his first trip when he was hired as a “Wiper” for the return stretch to fill in for a regular crewman who had to stay behind in Greece. At the young age of 18, he became a cowboy foreman on his fifth trip and served in that capacity at least twice more.

Cleaning stalls on the way to China aboard the S. S. Boulder Victory. Photo credit: Eugene Souder.

Cleaning stalls on the way to China aboard the S. S. Boulder Victory. Photo credit: Eugene Souder.

All was not smooth sailing for this young man, though. Close encounters with mines floating in the water on a couple of his ships, a fire in the engine room on another, a fall in which he broke his hand, and a horse bite that left a lifelong scar on his back added drama to some of his trips. His scariest moment, however, was aboard an older merchant ship, the S. S. Mexican, on his second trip. He was serving as night watchman, making his rounds to check on the animals. After one of his hourly reports to the bridge, his foot slipped coming down a rain-slicked ladder and he shot across the deck on his back right towards an opening on the side of the ship. All that saved him from disappearing into the dark Atlantic night was a narrow lip of metal at the opening that caught his foot and stopped his slide. He was grateful to be alive, cracked ribs and all.

Luke says his trips made him more aware of persons of other countries and their needs, which influenced his family’s hosting of international exchange visitors and students through the years.