S. S. Humanitas vignettes from a report by Milford Lady, Part III: Reflections on war and peace

This past Tuesday was the International Day of Peace, so it’s fitting to conclude Milford Lady’s vignettes with his reflections on entering the Mediterranean Sea in both wartime and peacetime.

9:00 [P.M.] – Dec. 17 [1947]
Tomorrow we will enter the Mediterranean Sea. This gives me a strange feeling. It takes me back to the year 1943 to the first time I entered the Mediterranean on June 6th. (My mother’s birthday). We left Bizerta, North Africa, with a liberty ship loaded with 200 Army men, with their equipment, guns, ammunition, trucks, etc. – bound for Malta. This was before Italy stopped fighting, and these men were to protect our invasion forces while they invaded Sicily. At 5:00 P.M. we were attacked by both German and Italian planes. We were bombed continually for 8 hours. I was on watch from 8-12 in the engine room during this time. We suffered a near miss which landed right off our starboard side, flooding our ship, shifting all our cargo to the port side and knocked out all our lights. I will never forget my feeling as I stood there about 20 feet underneath the surface of the ocean in total darkness, sure that we were seriously hit, awaiting my orders to abandon ship, not sure that I would ever see light again. At that time, I was helping transport death and destruction to Sicily and Italy.

Tonight I have a feeling of happiness. Tomorrow when we enter the Mediterranean I will be helping to transport life and hope to the people of Italy. I feel that in a small way, I am now helping in the greatest job in the world, that of building world peace. The terrible mistake of the second World War cannot be compensated for. However, I feel that it is organizations like the H.P. C. [Heifer Project Committee] that will in time prove to the world that the only way to lasting peace is through Christianity– abiding by the Golden Rule following the example of Christ.

I find it hard to believe that it was people exactly like this Italian crew (in fact it is possible that even a member of this crew) were the same ones who were trying to take my life and all others aboard our ship in 1943. I am sure that they look at us and wonder how fellows like us dropped bombs on their country and almost completely destroyed it. We are working together now for a common cause, which makes us great friends. Surely this is a step in the right direction.

Perhaps one of the main reasons I love the sea is because out here we are governed by the international law. If a ship is disabled at sea the nearest ship will come to its aid whether it be Russian, German, or Italian, or any other nationality. The nearest ship will come to help at top speed. Why can’t we work together the same way as nations.

A seagoing cowboy’s impressions of 1947 Japan

All eyes have been on Japan this past weekend with the closing of the Olympics, bookended by the anniversaries of the American bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. An event embracing the peaceful coming together of athletes from nations around the world took place in the backyard of the sites of the most horrific destruction ever to be waged on another country. Today’s post steps back in time for a look at a significant goodwill gesture in 1947 to this former World War II enemy—a shipment of 25 purebred Holstein bulls made by the Heifer Project to help the war-diminished Japanese dairy industry rebuild and nudge Japan and the United States forward on a path to peace.

Martin Strate, at that time a Heifer Project staff assistant, was one of three seagoing cowboys who accompanied the bulls to their new homes in April 1947. A few months after returning home, he wrote up his “Opinions and Impressions of Japan.” He said, “Prior to 1940, the Japanese were recognized as one of the better importers of U. S. Holstein cattle.” He noted that the war had reduced the number of dairy cattle there by 40% and this shipment would help with rehabilitation of their herds.

Seagoing cowboy Norman Hostetler holds one of the Heifer Project bulls for inspection on the S. S. Alfred I. duPont after arriving in Japan, May 9, 1947. Photo courtesy of Norman Hostetler.

“The animals were allocated and distributed to sixteen national and prefectural livestock breeding stations throughout Japan,” Strate says. “With the cooperation of the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry, we made arrangements to visit and inspect these governmental farms. The purpose of this travel was not only to inspect and advise, but also to interpret to the Japanese the desire for peace and understanding among people throughout the world and that this gift to them came as an expression of brotherly love and practical Christianity. . . . That any group within a former ‘enemy’ country should make a forthright contribution to them was beyond their comprehension.”

After a 10-day quarantine for the animals, the Japanese government held a formal ceremony for the presentation of the bulls.

Martin Strate, fourth from the right, stands between Japanese Minister of Agriculture and Forestry Kimura and Governor Uchiyama of Kanagawa Prefecture following the ceremony, May 19, 1947. Photo courtesy of Norman Hostetler.

“This memorable occasion was only the first inning of a rich game of new experiences and warm fellowship,” says Strate. “Every day in Japan brought something new and interesting. There was never a dull moment from Hokkaido to Kyushu—the Maine-to-Florida idea in Japan. We were cordially received everywhere by the government officials, many of whom were Christians.”

The three cowboys at a banquet given for them at the Shizuika Governmental Livestock Farm. Photo courtesy of Norman Hostetler.

Among the “stimulating experiences” Strate mentions was having tea with the Mayor of Hiroshima. “We talked with him more than an hour about his reconstruction plans for the city, current attitudes of Hiroshima residents, the material and spiritual damage of the Atomic Bomb, and the Annual Peace Festival which was being held for its initial time on the anniversary of the A-bomb; another courageous display of faith in the future, and their ambitious desire to help accomplish what so often seems only a dream today.”

View from the top of Hiroshima’s City Hall located about 1/2 mile from where the A-bomb was dropped. June 1947. “The city is gradually being rebuilt,” Hostetler says. “They say this was all fine homes at one time.” Photo courtesy of Norman Hostetler.

Strate concludes, “I thank God that this privilege of visiting Japan was granted to me, that I might be an ambassador of the peace-loving forces in America toward helping to strengthen the common bonds between us. Through this gift of dairy cattle, the concerned people of our country will help build and develop harmonious and prosperous relationships by such a display of Brotherly Love.”

Brethren Service Committee brochure announcing a contest for the best ideas for “concrete, workable plans” in their post-World War II Campaign for Peace Action.

Heifers and Havoc on the S. S. Humanitas, Part III

This series of posts brings to light the incongruity of Heifer Project animals being donated and shipped to Italy in the spirit of Christian goodwill to help destitute Italians recover from World War II on the one hand and cigarettes for the black market being smuggled into Italy on the same ship on the other. This post picks up the story on the fourth Heifer Project trip of the S. S. Humanitas that departed Baltimore on June 9, 1948.

Loading the S. S. Humanitas in Baltimore. June 1948. Photo courtesy of David Harner.

Like Charles Cutting and Byron Frantz on previous shipments, David Harner felt the ship reducing its speed as it approached the Naples harbor. “No one gave any explanation,” he says. “When I asked Señor Cortali [the radio man], he just shrugged and walked away–standard behavior when he didn’t want to answer a question. By nightfall, the ship was proceeding at a crawl, and finally, when it was completely dark, the ship came to a full stop. Crew members went around the ship making sure that no light escaped from the portholes or companionways. Still no explanation from the officers or crew. Suddenly, out of the dark roared several large, very fast speed boats.”

Harner’s crewmate Jim Moffet picks up the story. “A Jacob’s ladder was thrown over the side of our ship and a man came aboard. The crew of our ship began carrying boxes out of the hold and lowering them over the side into the boat. When it was loaded, another boat came out of the darkness and tied onto the side of us.”

Harner says, “After an hour or so, all of the speed boats had been loaded and they sped away into the darkness. Señor Cortali appeared. ‘You see? Cigarettes. You no tell anybody!’ We had witnessed a major cigarette smuggling operation. Cattle and cigarettes–strange cargo!”

After docking in Naples, Harner traveled up to Carrara, Italy, where the Brethren Service Committee had a project which was often visited by the cowboys on the Italian trips. Harner spent the rest of his summer there helping with the project’s children’s camps.

The cowboys on the next trip of the Humanitas once again experienced the smuggling operation. The outcome of their trip, however, was different from all the rest. Having heard the story from some of the cowboys who visited the project at Carrara, Harner writes it as his own:

“Soon after docking,” he says, “four or five men in suits, accompanied by several carabinieri with automatic weapons slung over their shoulders boarded the ship. They all looked grim. What they wanted was even grimmer. We were all under arrest: cowboys, crew, officers, and civilians…. We were escorted down through a gate and into the city. It wasn’t far before we came to a building with ‘Questura,’ carved into the stonework above the door. This was the Italian [police headquarters]. In a short time, the passengers were all released. In a few minutes more, thanks to the efforts of Señor Cortali, the cowboys were released. The officers and crew were all detained. As it turned out, all the officers and crew, except for Señor Cortali, were imprisoned for smuggling.”

A little embellishment here? Perhaps. But Jim Moffet’s brother Bob was on that shipment that had left Baltimore July 30, 1948. He wrote home on September 2, “The police really did give this ship a going over on the 22nd. They even went through some of our stuff. The captain, 1st mate, 3rd mate, chief engineer, and crew boss are all in jail. From what I hear I guess the police really did beat up the 1st mate. There is a fine of $35,000 that has to be paid by someone….”

A few days later, the Humanitas set sail once again for the US. The Heifer Project made one last shipment to Italy on October 12, 1948. The ship now had a different captain, and the cowboys on that crew reported no nefarious happenings.

The new captain of the the S. S. Humanitas, October 1948. Photo courtesy of Chester Bowman.

Heifers on their way to Italy, October 1948. Photo courtesy of Chester Bowman.

The S. S. Humanitas appears to finally have lived fully up to its name, a Latin word indicating kindness and benevolence.

Heifers and Havoc on the S. S. Humanitas, Part II

In my last post, I shared the havoc storms caused on the Italian ship S. S. Humanitas as it transported Heifer Project cattle and coal from Baltimore, Maryland, to Italy in 1947 and 1948. This week we learn about a different type of havoc the Humanitas seagoing cowboys witnessed.

Loading heifers onto the S. S. Humanitas in Baltimore, 1948. Photo courtesy of Kenneth West.

The slowing down of the ship on its first trip in December 1947, reported in our last post by cowboy Charles Cutting, did indeed involve “something unusual.” Timed to arrive offshore from Naples around 10:00 p.m., the ship crawled to a stop with all lights turned off. The cowboys were asked to stay in their quarters until further notice from the captain. Curiosity prompted Cutting and a friend named Burk, however, to hide in the cattle stall area. There they saw someone on the flying bridge swing a lantern.

“Out of the darkness,” Cutting says, “we could hear the splash of oars as a rowboat came alongside.” Cutting and Burk watched as crew members proceeded to transfer large boxes of cigarettes to the rowboat. A search light in the distance cut off the process for a second rowboat. “We started a slow forward motion without running lights,” Cutting said. When out of sight behind an island, the lantern signal resumed and the unloading process began again, with boxes lowered into the small boats and gunny sacks pulled up on board the Humanitas. Cutting now understood why so many rooms had been locked on the way over.

Noticing a flashlight moving across a dining table in the captain’s mess, Cutting and Burk left their hiding spot to look in the porthole. There, they observed the dumping of the gunnysacks and the counting of stacks of Italian lire. So engrossed in this operation were Cutting and Burk that they didn’t notice the two figures behind them. “The first realization came when I felt an arm around my throat and the slight coldness of a knifepoint in the small of my back,” Cutting says. After a shouting match between crew members, the captain told the boys they could watch from the radio room. With hearts racing, they needed no further convincing to head directly there.

Before daybreak, a patrol boat caught the ship’s crew in the act of smuggling. The officials removed the remaining boxes for which Cutting learned the next day they paid 50% of the black market price. “I was amazed to learn how business was conducted in this foreign land,” he says. He learned that each box, which cost $100 in Baltimore, had the value of $1,000 in Italian lire. “We also learned that this entire operation was under the auspices of Lucky Luciano,” Cutting says.

Officials gather on the S. S. Humanitas to see the Heifer Project animals off to Italy. Photo courtesy of Kenneth West.

Might any of the officials known what other cargo was on board? Photo courtesy of Kenneth West.

The smuggling operation repeated itself on Byron Frantz’s trip in February. Frantz charted the ship’s progress daily on a wall map. “After we passed the Straits of Gibralter,” he says, “I remarked that it looked like we would get to Naples at noon four days later.” He was told, “No it will be evening.” This conversation replayed the next day. On the fourth day, he discovered they were still at sea. “When I went to the engine room I found that the ship was at half speed!”

Out on deck after supper, Frantz saw the lights of Naples. He went to the cabin and asked his bunkmates to follow him “for a great sight. Can you imagine my surprise,” he says, “to find only total darkness. We were running parallel to the coast for thirty minutes and then back again for thirty minutes in order to stay beyond the three mile limit in International water. Naples was now on the other side of the ship! The Italian police had no authority beyond the three mile limit.”

After several hours of this, the smuggling operation commenced. Unlike Cutting’s experience, the cowboys on this second trip were not ordered inside. “Our crew told us to lock everything and trust no one” as men from the row boats came on board.

“By daylight all was tidy,” Frantz says. “Our ship made contact with the port, the police boats met us and escorted us into the dock in such a way that we could not bring things into the port. Of course at that time, we had gotten rid of all of it in international waters.”

The smuggling saga continues in our next post.

(The full story of Charles Cutting’s trip to Europe can be found in his book 1947 Europe from a Duffle Bag.)

 

Heifers and Havoc on the S. S. Humanitas, Part I

The Heifer Project, today’s Heifer International, made six shipments of dairy cattle to Italy between December 1947 and October 1948 on the S. S. Humanitas. The vessel was a renamed Liberty ship sold to Italy after World War II and put into service transporting coal to Italy in its lower holds and dairy cattle quartered on the top deck. The livestock trips of the Humanitas had two major havoc-causing events in common. Today, we’ll look at the havoc caused by the weather on three of the trips.

Photo courtesy of Willard Rush.

On the Humanitas’ first trip, 17-year-old seagoing cowboy Charles Cutting set out from California for an adventurous time in Europe. He writes a delightful account of his experience in his book 1947 Europe from a Duffel Bag, available for purchase online for anyone interested in reading his full story.

The Humanitas departed from Baltimore December 3, 1947, with six seagoing cowboys, 160 head of cattle, and 10,000 tons of coal, causing the vessel to ride low in the water. “Our hope for fair weather was soon just a memory,” Cutting says. Under a heavy cloud cover, the wind whipped up waves that swamped the deck on the third day out and flooded the cowboys’ sleeping quarters through the air supply vents.

“Three a.m.!”, Cutting says. “There was a terrible shudder and crash….A pyramid wave had crashed down on the ship.” The cowboys were sent out to help rescue the cattle from the havoc and debris surrounding them until the ship’s officers ordered them back inside. They were entering a hurricane. The ship emitted frightening sounds as it slapped down into the waves’ troughs and back out again. Then came the calm of the hurricane’s eye, only to be bashed again on the other side of it. When deemed safe, the captain sent the cowboys back out to free the cattle. Only two had been injured, with broken legs. They were shot and became a bonus for the cooks.

The next trip left Baltimore January 30, 1948, with 18-year-old Byron Frantz on board. The Humanitas had to cut through six inches of ice in the Chesapeake Bay to get into open waters. Once it hit the warmer Gulf Stream, the ship again ran into a storm. With the weight of the coal, Frantz says, “mid-ship was only 10 feet above water. The storm caused a wave of water to come over the mid-ship and collapse a part of the ‘heifers’ home.” These cowboys, too, had a rescue job on their hands once it was safe to do so.

The Humanitas’ fourth trip left Baltimore June 9 and didn’t hit foul weather until it reached the Mediterranean Sea. “Once we were through the Straits of Gibralter, the weather drastically changed,” says cowboy David Harner. “The seas began to get rougher, and suddenly we were in a full blown storm. I was a little concerned because as a child my parents took me on a trip that included a visit to Puget Sound near Seattle. Lying at anchor in the Sound was a Liberty ship, actually half a Liberty ship, the forward half missing. When we asked a local sailor, he explained that these ships were so hurriedly made for the war effort that they often broke in two.”

“The blur on the right was seawater blowing up on the bridge’s windshield,” says Harner. Photo courtesy of David Harner.

“At the height of the storm, the deck plates between the No. 2 hold and the superstructure began to buckle, making a horrible screeching sound, then a dull BOOM as the bow dropped back into a wave trough. Señor Cortali, the radio officer, explained how and why this was happening. When I asked him if we were in danger of breaking up, he just shrugged his shoulders and walked away. The next morning the sea was calm. A check of all the cattle revealed that they were all OK, unfazed by the storm. We put dry bedding over the soggy mess and completed our chores.”

Charles Cutting’s voyage also hit foul weather again in the Mediterranean Sea until nearing its destination of Naples, Italy. The ship unexpectedly reduced its speed “to a gentle crawl.” Cutting says, “We inquired, but the captain was evasive and would not tell us why. We sensed something unusual was involved.”

(to be continued)

Grateful Silesian Heifer Project recipients send their thanks to donors, 1946

When the Heifer Project made their first shipment of cattle to Czechoslovakia in January 1946, recipients were encouraged to send photos and letters to the Heifer Project office to be shared with the donors of their animals so international correspondence could develop. Here are some translated excerpts:

“I am a widow. My house and barn burned down during the war and the cow in the barn as well. Some weeks ago I was advised by our local National committee to go to Moravaska Ostrava, where a cow shipped from USA is ready for me; I could not believe it, but it was true and when I brought her home we all wept being deeply touched by the generosity of yours. The children take care of the cow every day on the pasture.” Anna Hravcikova, Zabreh

Anna Hravcikova and her children cherish their Heifer Project cow, 1946. Photo courtesy of the George Craig family.

“The war razed our buildings, killed livestock and nothing was left except our ravaged home…. 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….” Anna Dostalova, Stepankovice

“I thank you most sincerely in the name of my family of 7 for the gift of a cow. It came to us at the right time and helped us when we were most needy….An old slogan of ours has been proven— ‘When need is greatest, the help of God is nearest!’ ” Joseph Yolat, Zarubek

“With feelings of deepest gratitude we received from you a priceless gift—a cow for our Evangelical orphanage in Trinec near Tesinsko. Toward the end of the war our orphanage invaded by the German armada was completely damaged….Out of sacrifices of members of our Evangelical Committee we began slowly to rebuild the orphanage….We had a big holiday when we brought the cow home. No one could believe that it was given to us free…..” Parish Priest, Trinec

The grateful Frank Vojkuvka family with their donated cow, 1946. “Your gift was for us a great surprise,” they said. Photo courtesy of the George Craig family.

“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….Our entire farm was demolished….[Our cow] means for me the greatest means of livelihood. It has become a member of our family. I thank you 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.” Elizabeth Moravcova, Bolatice

“We and the children are looking forward with joy to pasturing the cow; and we shall sing in doing it—after which it will give us more milk.” Josef Hornik, Kozmice

“We had been expelled by the Germans from our birthplace and during the time of occupation we were with our five children in a small camp where we had to live on ration cards. Milk never was sufficient. The children suffered terribly. After the liberation of our country, we returned and found a completely devastated homestead….By your beautiful gift you helped us a lot….I send you my heartiest thanks.” Family Rajnochova, Skorotin

The Frantisek Martinik family in front of their ruined home, 1946. Photo courtesy of the George Craig family.

“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.” Frantisek Martinik, Vresine

May we continue to prove through our actions that there are still good people in the world.

 

First Heifer Project shipment to Czechoslovakia sailed 75 years ago this week

The Czechoslovakian Embassy in Washington, DC, expressed interest in Heifer Project’s offer to send cattle to that war-torn country in early December 1945. In the short time of one month, all red tape was cut and 171 heifers, donated by church groups from ten of the United States, departed from Baltimore January 6, 1946, on UNRRA’s S. S. Charles W. Wooster. On arrival in Bremen, Germany, the seagoing cowboys on this trip would have had similar experiences with those of UNRRA’s first shipment for Czechoslovakia. The animals, however, had little time to adjust to standing on solid ground. Czechoslovakian cattle experts transferred them into rail cars for a long arduous week’s trip to the Silesian area of northeastern Czechoslovakia, one of the regions that suffered the most during World War II.

The heifers arrived in Silesia in good condition February 4, where they were put in quarantine at the State Farm in Nerad near the border of Poland. After a meeting in Frydek to finalize distribution agreements, the officials involved drove some 25 miles to the farm to inspect the cattle.

“We crossed 29 wooden, propped up bridges, of very temporary construction, as all bridges in this region had been destroyed by the retreating Germans,” says Vlasta A. Vrazova of the American Relief for Czechoslovakia in a February 18, 1946, report to the Brethren Service Committee. “A year ago, war raged through this part of the country for many weeks. There is everywhere the same problem—empty barns. The Germans drove away all the cattle. In the Opava area 28,000 families were completely bombed out, another 20,000 families lost almost everything….Children are in grave danger. In first grade grammar school in the city of Praha 25 percent have tuberculosis and another 50 percent are on the danger line. The chief reason is malnutrition for five years….The crying need is milk!”

The home of Heifer Project recipient Frantisek Martinik of Vresina, Silesia, April 1946. Photo courtesy of the George Craig family.

An UNRRA report describes the ceremony that took place at the State Farm on the handing over of the Heifer Project animals, along with 193 UNRRA cattle sent with them. In a “picturesque mountain village of Northern Moravia,” the report says girls in regional dress presented bouquets to the UNRRA and Brethren Service Committee representatives present. “After a formal reception, the traditional ceremony of village maidens wreathing cows with garlands of flowers took place against the background of snow-clad hills and dark pine forests.” Oh, for a photo of that ceremony!

The UNRRA report notes that some of the Brethren-donated heifers were bought with pennies from school children in Ohio. Dr. J. E. Sayre, of the US Fellowship of Reconciliation, who was traveling in Europe at the time, represented the Brethren Service Committee at the reception. In his remarks at the gathering, he said,

In this gift from the children of Ohio to their needy brothers and sisters in Moravia can surely be discerned the great spirit, not of the moment but of the years ahead, that must illuminate our troubled world. The children shall speak. I have traveled a long way to witness this consummation of the spirit of good will that began with the pennies of thousands of American children. I am happy to find the cattle in such good condition. To the children back home in Ohio I shall report: “Your pennies will soon be providing milk for the babies of Czechoslovakia, and this will be not only for this year but also for next year and for many years to come.”

 

“This cow is our saviour from starvation,” the Kysuconova family tells their donor, Silesia, 1946. Photo courtesy of the George Craig family.


Next post: Recipients share their gratitude.

A Heifer Project Christmas Story

While UNRRA’s first livestock shipment to Czechoslovakia was on its way in December 1945, a second shipment was in the works. The Brethren Service Committee’s Heifer Project had been in contact with the Czechoslovakian Embassy in Washington, DC, offering a gift of heifers to this war-torn country for the neediest of recipients.

On December 5,  BSC’s Director of Material Aid John Metzler, Sr. notified the Heifer Project Committee:

Contacts with the Czechoslovak Embassy show a great deal of interest in cattle there. Cables were sent yesterday getting governmental clearance from Czechoslovakia on the matter of distribution. UNRRA has agreed to transport these cattle . . . provided we can complete proper negotiations with that government.

Wheels turned quickly, with the Committee voting approval of the shipment on December 18 if word of acceptance came from Czechoslovakia.

On December 22, UNRRA issued a press statement to be released on December 24, 1945:

One hundred and seventy-five head of cattle have been offered to UNRRA by the Church of the Brethren for the people of Czechoslovakia. The animals, now at the Roger Roop farm at Union Bridge, Maryland, are bred heifers whose average age is two years. . . . After being shipped by UNRRA from Baltimore to an allied controlled port in Germany, the livestock will be transported by rail to their new homes in Czechoslovakia.

When notified of the contribution, Dr. Vaclav Myslivec, representative of the Czechoslovakian Ministry of Agriculture in the United States, said, “The people of my country are badly in need of milk for their children. In expressing their appreciation for this gift I cannot but recall that there were cattle in the stable on the night when the baby Jesus was born. The spirit of that first Christmas lives on in the hearts of the American people who so generously gave these fine animals to rehabilitate the war-devastated dairy herds of Czechoslovakia.”

On the 12th Day of Christmas in January 1946, 170 heifers — donated by Brethren, Evangelical and Reformed congregations, Mennonites, and other churches from as far away as Idaho and Kansas — began their voyage to Czechoslovakia on the S. S. Charles W. Wooster.

Two of the Czechoslovakian children whose family benefited from the gift of a heifer, 1946. Photo sent with thank you letter, courtesy of Heifer International.

May the spirit of that first Christmas and that of 75 years ago live on.
Wishing all my readers a Blessed Holiday Season and New Year to come.
And God bless the seagoing cowboys who delivered hope to a war-torn world.
~Peggy

Extra post: “The Most Important Gift Catalog in the World®”

Have you ever been “given” a cow, or a goat, or a flock of chicks for Christmas, in name only, with the money going to Heifer International for them to provide that animal, along with training, to help lift a family out of poverty? Or have you ever received Heifer’s “Most Important Gift Catalog in the World®” at holiday time from which you can select such a gift for someone?

This catalog has been published for many years now. I’m currently working on a book about the first decade of the Heifer Project, and I’ve just come across a story which shows this idea was alive already in 1946, four years after Heifer was founded in 1942.

Here’s the story in the words of Thurl Metzger, then serving as volunteer administrative assistant in the Heifer Project office at the Brethren Service Center in New Windsor, Maryland, through Civilian Public Service:

It began several weeks ago at a farewell party given for Wayne and Wilma Buckle. They are a couple who gave a year of service at the Center here and helped to start this plant in operation. They requested no gifts; instead, an offering was taken in honor of their service for a donation to the Heifer Project. This amounted to some thirty-odd dollars and at a later meeting the group decided to complete the amount necessary to purchase a heifer — the “Wilma Buckle Memorial Heifer”. A scheme was worked out for inter-department competition. Any department could use whatever means they chose, consistent with the ten commandments, but each was to keep the amount collected a secret. The climax of a final party was the heifer auctioning. A barefooted lassie from deep in the hills of Virginia led in the heifer whose udder looked surprisingly like a base-ball glove and whose four legs had shoes on. Each department was authorized to bid the amount which it had raised. The bidding was lively; the excitement was high and the cow performed well. When the bidding was over and the addition completed, a total of $512.30 had been contributed [enough for two heifers]. The money was given by the employees of the Service Center, many of whom are volunteer workers. There are now about 125 people here.

Still trying to think of an appropriate gift for that hard-to-buy person on your list? Heifer’s catalog is now also online. Choose your animal here.

Happy Holidays!

 

“Operation Stupendous” – a seagoing cowboy’s voyage to Korea

This post is based on Rev. Hugh D. Nelson’s delightful account of his trip to Korea with a load of Heifer Project animals in August 1954, published in Bill Beck and Mel West’s 1994 book Cowboy Memories.

After loading milk goats, sheep, heifers, and a few bulls in San Francisco, the S. S. Pacific Bear went to “a secluded spot” in the Bay to take on 174 tons of dynamite. (Another source says ten tons – but dynamite is dynamite!) “We had the makings of an interesting voyage!” Nelson says. And that, it would become.

A sister ship to the S. S. Pacific Bear that also transported Heifer Project animals gets a fresh coat of paint in San Francisco. (I have no photos from Nelson’s trip.) Photo courtesy of Joann Quinley.

Nelson shared the work with dairymen Ed Taylor and Newt Goodridge who took care of the milking while Nelson saw to the watering and feeding of the animals. “I learned that all the hay an animal eats does not produce milk, and it was my duty to help shovel manure over the side,” he says. “We fertilized a long swath of sea from San Francisco to Pusan – much to the disgust of the gooney birds who followed us expectantly all the way across.”

On nearing their destination, Nelson went up to a favorite viewing spot on the flying bridge. “The hills of South Korea were in view,” he says. “Pusan, the last point of retreat for the fugitives from the North, lay like an ugly scar down the face of the emaciated green slope. Even from a distance it was obvious that the plague of war had touched her – not with violence or explosives, but with a more subtle blow, the degenerating streams of displaced people – refugees coming south, alien youth in uniform going north.”

Arguments among the various military commands about jurisdiction over the unloading and distribution of the animals held up the process. Meanwhile, the animals suffered in the sweltering heat in their stalls. “Tempers mounted on the bridge and the stench arose aft of it,” Nelson said. “Finally the clearances came and the unloading commenced. The animals were driven into a great crate, seven sheep or goats at a time and the whole lot hoisted over the barns and lowered far down the side into native barges. Korean stevedores waited below to open the door, free the animals, and give a signal to the winch operator to remove the crate.”

Crates similar to those used on the S. S. Pacific Bear. Photo courtesy of Joann Quinley.

The process moved smoothly until it came time to unload the larger animals. “The small-statured Koreans retreated from the field,” Nelson says. “The winch became silent, the unloading came to a standstill. There was no one to handle the animals in the barges. The only stock handlers in the area were Ed and Newt, and they were needed on deck to load the crates.” Nelson’s hour had come!

“With trembling knees I crept down the rope ladder into the first barge, I who scarcely had known a cow’s fore from aft when we set sail from San Francisco. Almost at once the first load was upon me. The great box settled into the straw on the floor of the barge burdened by the weight of two huge bulls. The animals breathed heavily, their dignity disturbed by the treatment they had received. My hands shook and nervous fingers tugged at the knot of the halter. And then the first liberated animal broke from his prison.

“I experienced all of the excitement of the bull ring as we made two hurried, awkward revolutions. Fortunately the confused animal didn’t even know I existed – he was only hunting a haven. He came to rest in a coal-dust darkened corner, and my shaking hands passed the rope under a rib of the barge skeleton and improvised a hasty knot.

“As I went back to retrieve my hat I heard the cheers of the Korean stevedores who had come back to watch the fun. They saluted the blonde cowhand who seemed to know how to master the great beasts. I staggered over to take on the second bull, fear bolstered with a degree of pride.”

As if that wasn’t excitement enough to cap off Nelson’s trip, he about missed his ship home. He was to stay briefly in Korea to evaluate the effectiveness of the program and make recommendations for Heifer Project and then reunite with the Pacific Bear at its next stop in Inchon. He soon found, however, that his documents were insufficient – he lacked army approval to be there. A sympathetic military officer helped him through the red tape, eating up valuable time. Then, with the U. S. Army’s help, he was able to complete his mission. On trying to locate the Pacific Bear when he was ready to leave, however, he learned it had left shore from Inchon an hour earlier! “My only available transportation out of Korea had vanished,” he says.

Calls for a patrol boat to take him out to the ship went unanswered. The radio operator shifted tactics. “Operation Stupendous,” he called. “Operation Stupendous, report to landing pier. Acknowledge.” The radioman finally smiled and said, “Got ’em. They’re coming in.”

“As I stumbled up the slanting steps of the gang plank,” Nelson says, “the loud greetings of that wonderful, profane and salty crew were as dear as the welcome of a mother to her small son.”

On the voyage home, Nelson reflected on his experience. “Through my mind surged the indelible pictures of an heroic but tragically needy people,” he says. “Wherever one [of Heifer Project’s animals] had come into a family’s life, hope had come. And with hope there came gratitude and love. It was most surely Operation Stupendous.”