Seagoing Cowboys in Memorium

On this Fifth Friday, I once more remember cowboys we’ve lost of late. This is not a definitive list, I’m sure, but rather only the ones of whom I’m aware.

Horace Autenrieth, d. January 24, 2015. S.S. F. J. Luckenbach, March 23, 1946, to Poland; S.S. Flagstaff Victory, May 18, 1946, to Greece.

Gordon W. Bucher, d. September 28, 2015. S.S. F. J. Luckenbach, June 24, 1945, to Greece.

Hartwell Benton Conklin, d. July 8, 2015. S.S. Rafael R. Rivera, August 26, 1946, to Poland.

Emlyn Harley Kline, d. July 20, 2015. S.S. Virginian, June 26, 1945, to Greece.

Paul Wesley Shetler, d. January 31, 2015. S.S. Charles W. Wooster, April 21, 1946, to Greece.

Howard E. Weaver, d. January 20, 2015. S.S. Beloit Victory, November 27, 1946, to Poland.

Lester Clayton Weber, d. April 19, 2015. S.S. Frederic C. Howe, November 15, 1946, to Yugoslavia, docking in Trieste, Italy.

I’d like to thank Gordon Bucher’s family for passing on to me his seaman’s papers and his wonderful journal from which I’ve shared stories in previous blogs. It will go with my collection to the Brethren Historical Library and Archives when I finish my writing projects so future researchers will have access to these historical documents.

I’d also like to thank the family of Alvin Zook who was included in the last “In Memorium” for naming my “Seagoing Cowboys Storytelling Project” as a memorial for Al. The funds received are helping me to continue to share this wonderful history.

Rest in peace, dear seagoing cowboys, knowing you have contributed to the betterment of the world.

Seagoing cowboys mingle with returning World War II soldiers

As we have seen in previous posts, several of the early UNRRA livestock ships brought soldiers home from Europe. With their cargos unloaded, space was available for cots to be set up; but having had livestock as cargo, there was some serious cleaning that had to take place! Even though their work was supposed to have been finished after the animals were unloaded, many of the cowboy crews were coerced into helping to scrub the decks. As Byron Royer, supervisor of the Zona Gale cowboys, said,

 We agreed because of the emergency in regard to getting the troops home, to help clean up the ship. . . . It was definitely not a part of our duties. However, we did work all day and got the ship in a shape much as I doubt if it’s been in before.

Their eighty-eight G.I.s boarded the next day.

Gordon Bucher, on the F. J. Luckenbach, recorded in his journal for Sunday, July 22, 1945,

At 3:30 150 soldiers came on board & what a mess. We had to set up our cots in a stable & move our mattresses & stuff. If it means 25 more can come back to the U. S., it’s all right with me.

Most of the early cowboys were from the Church of the Brethren, one of the Historic Peace Churches, and many were conscientious objectors. Having G.I.s on board gave them a unique opportunity to dialogue with the soldiers. The S. S. Virginian crew includes a section about contact with the soldiers in their report of their trip titled “Relief for Greece” that gives a good idea of what these conversations might have been like. I’ll share that report in my next regular post.

On the Zona Gale, the G.I.s were invited to the worship services the cowboys had, and many good friendships were developed between cowboys and soldiers. Byron Royer records their homecoming in his account “A Seagoing Cowboy in Italy”:

     We ate our lunch and when we came out after lunch, we could just see the Coast of Virginia coming into sight. I wish you could have seen the GI’s as we were coming in. Those boys, most of them, had been away for from two to four years and they were one happy lot coming home.

Some were cursing and cracking obscene jokes to cover their true feelings. But most of them were thinking pretty seriously. There were even some who were crying — men who had been through months on the battlefield. I’m very glad they could come home with us.

We pulled into Hampton Roads (?) [sic] which is a sort of a bay which is the entrance into Newport News and Norfolk, Virginia. After a lot of red tape and examinations by the Health Service and Customs, the boat came out to take the GI’s ashore. We hated to say, “Goodbye” to them. You know, it’s surprising how well you learn to know people in a short time like that when you have nothing to do.

The boat had three WAC’s aboard. . . . The Red Cross had doughnuts and a cold drink of some kind for the boys as soon as they checked off and there was a GI band to furnish music for them as they went in.

They pulled away with a lot of yelling and waving and exchange of farewells.

I’ve found no photos as yet of these returning soldiers or of their accounts of coming home on a cattle boat. If anyone has any, I’d love to see them!

Next post: Conversations with the soldiers.

 

Acropolis or bust! The hair-raising bus ride of the F. J. Luckenbach crew

From the unpublished 1945 journal of Gordon Bucher comes this entertaining account of his bus ride from his ship in Patras, Greece, to the Acropolis:

Wednesday – July 18 & Thursday – July 19

Big day! I have to write this on Thurs. as you will soon know why. We started in an old bus about 11 for Athens. It took us about 7 hrs to get there & we were nearly jolted through our seats. The road is about as good as a cow path. The homes are made of mud brick & seem to be quite filthy. At Corinth we saw Old Corinth where Paul was at from a distance. Also we saw the canal that links the Gulf of Corinth to the other body of water. It was blown [up] & a ship was sunk at the entrance so it was closed. All along the way we saw where trains had been bombed & bridges also. We had quite a lot of detours or divisions as they called it around bridges. Some of the blown bridges we crossed anyhow if they weren’t too bad. We got to Athens about 6:30 and went to the Acropolis where the Parthenon & Pantheon are. It was a bunch of ruins from a high mt. . . .

F. J. Luckenbach crew at the Acropolis.

The F. J. Luckenbach crew at the Acropoplis, July 1945. For whatever reason, the cowboys on this ship were not allowed to take cameras on board. This is the only known picture from this trip, likely taken by an unidentified professional Greek photographer. Photo courtesy of Kenneth Frantz

Next we saw where they play the Olympic games. The stadium is quite large. Next it was Mars Hill where Paul preached. More ruins! About 9 we started back after waiting some time for one of our men & also the headlights. Our first trouble was horn trouble. ½ hr delay. Next it was a large landslide where we waited about an hr. Then at the canal we were held up for about 15 min. but as we were Americans they let us through. At Corinth we waited for 2 hrs. while the Greeks tried to repair the clutch. We were getting worried as the ship was supposed to leave from 8 to 9 [a.m.]. It was 3 [a.m.] when we left Corinth. Again we were delayed a short time which seemed like hrs. as the clutch was out again. Instead of fixing it we just went along in our old Ford without a clutch. And did we roll! We came so close to the edge of the cliff that I felt like I was riding on air & boy was it hard. These Greek drivers won’t give the right of way to any one. In our excursion we managed to hit a wheel barrow, sideswipe 2 cars, & hit most of the ruts in the road. At night they have only one light usually & as two cars approach they flicker the lights on & off. It’s . . . dumb. Of course, I’m from America. Anyhow the sunset & sunrise over the mts & water were beautiful. Also the moonlight. It really is beautiful around here. About 10 min. to 8 we pulled into Patras. It took 11 hrs. Some of the crew on board ship were sort of scared when we hadn’t shown up. So I went to bed as you can’t sleep on a bucking horse. About 3 our ship finally pulled out of Patras harbor with all of us aboard. It took some time to get out as the wind was against us & the stern had to go first.

Thanks, Gordon, for sharing this delightful account!

Next post: A “Cowboy” evaluates the trip to Europe with relief cattle