“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.”

 

A “flying cowboy” accompanies first Heifer Project shipment to Korea

As early as December 1947, requests started coming to the Heifer Project for animals for Korea, which had lost about half of its cattle in World War II. The need in Korea stayed on HP radar until finally in August 1951, Heifer Project Executive Secretary Thurl Metzger made a trip to Korea during the Korean War to investigate possibilities.

In cooperation with the United Nations Korean Reconstruction Agency (UNKRA), the first project turned out to be 216,000 hatching eggs. Divided into three air shipments a week apart, the eggs would help reconstruct the decimated Korean poultry industry. So the first cowboy to Korea turned out to be a “flying cowboy” rather than seagoing.

from The Indianapolis Star, May 25, 1942.

On April 1, 1952, Warsaw, Indiana, poultry breeder Hobart Creighton, on whose farm the eggs were produced, took off from Midway Airport in Chicago in a cargo plane carrying 200 boxes of Leghorn hatching eggs. He accompanied the shipment as a consultant for the United Nations to oversee proper transport, incubation, and distribution of the eggs.

L. to R. Thurl Metzger, Bill Reiche of the United Nations, and United Nations Ambassador at Large from South Korea Ben C. Limb at Midway Airport in Chicago, sending the hatching eggs on their way April 1, 1952. Photo courtesy of Heifer International.

After a stop to gas up in Minneapolis, Minnesota, the plane hit icy conditions on its leg to Seattle, Washington. “Ice over windshield and on wings,” Creighton notes, “but the pilot said the DC4 could carry a lot of ice, so we let him do the worrying.” The plane made further stops in Anchorage, Alaska; Shemya Island in the Aleutian Islands archipelago; and Tokyo, Japan, before landing safely in Pusan (now Buson), Korea.

This historic Heifer Project shipment made news in the U.S., as Richard “Dick” Simons of The Indianapolis Star traveled with Creighton and a reporter from Life magazine met up with them in Tokyo. “We were met by the ‘Big Brass’,” Creighton says, “General W. E. Crist, a host of Colonels, Lt. Colonels, Majors, the Korean Minister of Agriculture, and Representatives of UNKRA and UNCACK (United Nations Civil Assistance Corps Korea). There were four trucks and a host of Korean laborers who in no time flat had unloaded the plane and had the eggs on the way to hatcheries, to Taegu.”

A couple days after their arrival in Korea, Creighton was guest of honor at a dinner where he was well entertained by “Kieson gals”, with one assigned to each guest. “One fed me with the chopsticks and saw that I had plenty of sushi,” Creighton says. “They were good singers and dancers and very interesting companions.” Moderately dressed in velvet skirts, they exhibited “nothing bordering on vulgarity or sex that one finds in American performances.”

Creighton stayed in the area a good three weeks, meeting the next egg plane, walking the back roads to visit Korean poultry farms, and visiting the hatcheries. He was present at the hatchery in Kumhae when the last of 14,400 eggs delivered there were placed in the incubator.

The last of 14,400 eggs being placed in the incubator at Kumhae. Source: The Indianapolis Star, May 25, 1952.

At one hatchery, there was one egg case that Creighton hadn’t gotten instructions about in time, however. “It was an egg case full of cookies made by [my daughter] Jo,” Creighton says. “Dick reported later, the incubator workers said one case of eggs was especially tasty!”

Creighton had the opportunity to be taken to the front lines of fighting while there. “Shortly we were passing ruins of all kinds,” he says. “Seoul was shot up pretty badly. Bridges out. Some repaired, others still dangling, locomotives and trains burned out and left lying. In the country five miles south of the 38th parallel there has been, and still is, complete evacuation of civilian population. The rice paddies are idle for the third consecutive year.”

They drove on another 65 miles to the battle front. A Scotch 2nd Lieutenant took them up Hill 238. “Below were the red panels, marking the points of furthermost advance of UN line,” Creighton says, “and there was no man’s land about one mile in front of us. [The Lieutenant] had his crew fire two or three shots from the 82 mm guns mounted on top of the Centurian tank. We watched the projectile and saw the exploding 100 feet or less from the target. We wondered if our fire might bring a reply, but not this time.” Creighton’s party returned to their billet in Seoul in time to watch the American movie “Too Young to Kiss.” A day in contrasts.

Before leaving for his roundabout trip home with stops throughout southern Asia, Creighton had the opportunity to see some of the Creighton Brothers’ chicks at hatcheries and be present at their distribution. UNKRA’s agricultural reconstruction of Korea had begun.

 

Special Post: Korea brings the Heifer Project full circle

Today marks the 70th anniversary of the beginning of the Korean War, scars of which still remain today. In memory of that time, a major Korean media outlet has posted a series of three articles by reporter Hong Duk-hwa and a YouTube video this week about how Heifer Project, Inc., today’s Heifer International, stepped into the fray.

Korean Heifer supporter Haewon Lee tells me, “All three articles highlight how HPI and Heifer’s Seagoing Cowboys, undiscovered ‘heroes’ of the Korean War, helped to reconstruct the war-stricken Korean livestock industry and farmers.”

Google’s rough translation of the titles are: 1) “Operation ‘Noah’s Ark’ reviving the ruins of the Korean livestock industry,” 2) “The story of a cowboy driving a herd of cows across the Pacific Ocean,” 3) “When the gift of livestock is hopeful to us who have been dead…now it’s time to give.” If you’d like to take a look at the original articles with photos, the links are posted below. (You can ask Google to translate if you don’t read Korean. The translation is rough, but you can get the gist.)

HPI began its shipments to Korea in the midst of the war with approximately 210,000 hatching eggs sent by air in April 1952. Airlifts of goats and hogs followed in June with more in 1953 before the war’s end. Shipments by sea, including cattle, began in 1954, with the last shipments by air in 1976.

L. to R. Thurl Metzger, Bill Reiche of the United Nations, and United Nations Ambassador at Large from South Korea Ben C. Limb at Midway Airport in Chicago, sending the hatching eggs on their way April 1, 1952. Photo courtesy of Heifer International.

Thurl Metzger, Executive Secretary of HPI when these shipments began, traveled to Korea in the autumn of 1951 to survey the needs there. After the successful shipments of hatching eggs, he said in a news release: “My recent tour of Korea convinces me that the longer the conflict continues, the greater the need. Therefore, we must not relax our efforts because [truce] negotiations seem to be at a standstill.”

“The war has brought about wholesale destruction of livestock,” he said in background material sent with the release. “Shortage of work cattle has made it impossible to cultivate many of the rice paddies and fields. The rural economy has also suffered near bankruptcy due to the fact that farmers have been deprived of their chickens and hogs which heretofore had provided significant income.” He underscored the fact that “Lack of proper animal protein in the Korean diet has also become a serious threat to public health.”

A letter of gratitude sent to Metzger in July 1968 from the Union Christian Service Center in Taejon, Korea, quantifies the value of Heifer’s gifts to Korea. “The total value of this stock and supplies, according to prices in Korea today, we estimate to nearly reach half million dollars.” This does not “consider the value of the offspring from all the livestock imported. Therefore,” the four signees concluded, “within several years, we would estimate the total help to Korea originating from your contribution as high as a million dollars.”

And today, as seen in the third of the Korean articles this week, Koreans are bringing their gifts from Heifer full circle. The article tells the story of Heifer recipient Jae-bok Lee, now a successful dairy farmer at age 83. In 1988, Mr. Lee and eight fellow dairy farmers traveled to Heifer International headquarters in Little Rock, Arkansas, to share their experience. “After returning home,” the article says, “Mr. Lee collected $7,300 to buy 8 cows and donated them to farmhouses in Sichuan, China in 1989.”

Today Mr. Lee says, “I don’t know how long I will work (healthy), but I want to play a role in delivering the gift of hope to the developing countries (like us at that time).”

Heifer International’s core value of “Passing on the Gift” has come full circle in Korea, a demonstration of how giving to Heifer International is exponential.

Watch for stories here in July of seagoing cowboys to Korea.

P.S. I’m adding a link to a Yonhap News TV report with remarkable historical video footage: Not a Cup, But a Cow: Seagoing Cowboys crossed the sea to Korea

Rock Springs Victory to Ethiopia #4 – The Noah Theory

There’s a story connected with the March 1947 trip of the S. S. Rock Springs Victory to Ethiopia that I would put in the category of legend. The story was told some 35 years after the trip to seagoing cowboy Howard Lord and a hand full of other cowboys from that trip by one of their two foremen whom I will leave unnamed.

The foreman, Lord says, “started talking about the ‘Noah Theory,’ The officials were convinced that there would be a third world war, and since it was after 1945 it would be a nuclear, atomic war. Where would be the best place in the world to start over? And what would you need to start over? They sent some of the livestock on our ship to Greece as a cover up, a smoke screen. The rest of the cattle, and the sheep, and the mules, and the chickens went to Ethiopia to start over again. If there was a third world war, the last place they’d hit would be Ethiopia. If that was an actual theory that was part of our shipment, we never knew it. Nobody except our supervisor and two foremen knew it.”

A jack aboard the S. S. Rock Springs Victory, April 1947. Photo courtesy of Howard Lord.

Roosters on their way to Ethiopia on the S. S. Rock Springs Victory, April 1947. Photo courtesy of Howard Lord.

It’s a theory for which I’ve found no confirmation. I found nothing in the UNRRA files I researched in the United Nations archives, nor in any Heifer Project archives I’ve gone through, that would give even a hint of credence to this theory.

George Woodbridge’s history of UNRRA, volume two, tells of the devastation that took place in Ethiopia from six years of Italian occupation in World War II and of the needs and the difficulties in meeting those needs due to collapsed infrastructure and murder of the educated segment of the population. The Brethren Service Committee worked with UNRRA to provide cattle through the Heifer Project for regeneration of their herds and provided five men, as well, who stayed a year to teach the use of modern agricultural machinery and techniques.

Cattle stranded in the streets of Djibouti after unloading off the Rock Springs Victory. The railroad was out between Djibouti and Cairo, delaying passage on to Addis Ababa. April 1947. Photo courtesy of Howard Lord.

There were, to be sure, a variety of animals sent to Ethiopia on this, the one and only, UNRRA livestock trip to Ethiopia. After the first offloading of nearly half the Rock Springs Victory animals in Greece, UNRRA reports the following for Ethiopia: 323 cattle, both heifers and bulls of beef and dairy breeds (of which 248 were sent as gifts from the Heifer Project per their report); 3 jacks; 60 sheep; and 117 chickens. This variety of animals would fall far short of what would be needed for restarting a world’s agriculture.

Delivering UNRRA roosters and chickens in Ethiopia, 1947. Photo courtesy of Howard Lord.

Transporting cattle to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, 1947. Photo courtesy of Howard Lord.

The origin of the “Noah Theory” remains a mystery. A story spun by one of the ship’s regular crew, perhaps, who wanted to have some fun with the seagoing cowboy leaders, swearing them to secrecy? We’ll likely never know.

Heifer Project and UNRRA cattle grazing outside Addis Ababa, Egypt, 1947. Photo courtesy of Howard Lord.

The hope for this shipment, scribbled in notes of then Executive Secretary of Heifer Project Benjamin Bushing, was that Ethiopia would become the “Bread Basket of the Middle East for years to come.”

Special post: Celebrating the 75th anniversary of Heifer International’s first shipment to Europe

May 14, 1945, is a special day in Heifer International history. It marks a dream finally realized.

The Heifer Project, Dan West’s dream of sending cows to Europe to help starving war victims, came to life in April 1942. The Church of the Brethren Northern Indiana District Men’s Work organization adopted West’s idea and named a committee to get it going. The idea caught on, and by January 1943 it became a national program of the Brethren Service Committee. However – and this is a BIG however – with World War II raging, shipping live cargo across the Atlantic was simply out of the question. And not for the lack of trying on the part of the Heifer Project Committee to get heifers to Belgium and Spain. In 1944, with plenty of heifers ready to go, the committee sent a small pilot shipment instead to Puerto Rico.

Concurrently, the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration was in the planning stages of how they would operate when hostilities ceased. Despite West’s attempts to get UNRRA to agree to ship Heifer Project animals, UNRRA did not intend to ship live cargo. But when the Near East Foundation requested bulls for Greece to help the country’s devastated dairy industry rebuild, UNRRA approached the Heifer Project for assistance with a pilot project of their own. Brethren Pennsylvania diary farmer and Guernsey breeder Benjamin Bushong was drafted to obtain the bulls for the Heifer Project and see them to the ship. May 14, 1945, just six days after V-E day in Europe, six purebred bulls sailed for Greece. Bushong became Executive Secretary of the Heifer Project later that year and often joked that the first “heifers” to Europe were “six bulls.”

Brown Swiss bulls donated by the Heifer Project after arrival in Greece, May 1945. Credit: UNRRA photo.

Read the story of that first European livestock shipment for both UNRRA and the Heifer Project in two parts here and here.

Congratulations Heifer International on another live-saving milestone!

Rock Springs Victory to Ethiopia #2 – Greece, Suez Canal, and Djibouti

Another unique experience of the S. S. Rock Springs Victory seagoing cowboy crew of March 1947 was delivering Heifer Project animals to Ethiopia. They were one of only two UNRRA livestock crews to travel through the Suez Canal and the only one to deliver animals to the African continent. The other UNRRA ship, the S. S. Carroll Victory, after unloading their initial live cargo in Greece, was sent down to South Africa to pick up a load of horses and deliver them back to Greece – twice.

Like the S. S. Carroll Victory, the Rock Springs Victory stopped in Greece on their way where they unloaded part of UNRRA’s cargo of horses, mules, and cattle in Piraeus, Athen’s port city. Howard Lord’s first impression in Greece was of the hunger. “It just floored me,” he says. “Then here came a little train all decorated up like Christmas. It was their Independence Day in Greece! And I thought, well, they’re able to celebrate.”

Celebrating Greece’s Independence Day, March 25, 1947. Photo courtesy of Bob Heimberger.

Like all cowboys to Piraeus, they also took in the Greek antiquities around Athens.

Touring the Acropolis, March 1947. Photo courtesy of Howard Lord.

The next leg of the journey took them through Suez Canal, into the Red Sea, and on down the coast of eastern Africa to Djibouti, the capital city of what was then French Somaliland and the port for land-locked Ethiopia.

“We saw lots of wrecked ships and old destroyed tanks from World War II in the Suez Canal,” notes cowboy Stanley Wakeman. Among other things.

Beach huts along the Suez Canal, March 1947. Photo courtesy of Bob Heimberger.

As they sailed on, it got hotter and hotter, from “Very hot” in Wakeman’s journal on March 28 in the Suez Canal, to “105° in the shade” the next day in the Red Sea, to “VERY VERY HOT – 120º” on April 2 in Djibouti. An exaggeration, perhaps? Lord recalls it being “98 degrees all day – every day [in Djibouti]!”

A whole new world awaited there. Because of the lack of an adequate dock, the Rock Springs Victory had to anchor itself offshore and unload the animals and feed into barges, maybe 30 to 40 feet long and 12 feet wide.

Unloading cattle and feed off the S. S. Rock Springs Victory off the shore of Djibouti. April 1947. Photo courtesy of Howard Lord.

“They’d load the barge full of cattle,” Lord says, “and a young man with a pole would stick it against the bottom of the water and poled that barge into the dock, barely able to move it. Just one single guy with one pole. He’d have to move from side to side. It was really somethin’.”

A sole laborer poling a load of cattle into Djibouti. April 1947. Photo courtesy of Howard Lord.

On shore, the cowboys must have been as much a curiosity to the Africans as the Africans were to them. These cowboys saw sights no other crew had seen.

Cowboys roaming the area around Djibouti encounter some camels. April 1947. Photo courtesy of Howard Lord.

With no common language, the Americans took raisins with them to barter for souvenirs. That’s how cowboy Bob Heimberger acquired the metal cup the crew used for their Easter Sunday Communion on their return voyage.

Trading raisins to Djibouti residents for souvenirs, April 1947. Photo courtesy of Bob Heimberger.

For six members of the crew, the voyage was just beginning in Djibouti.

Seagoing cowboys heading on to assignments in Ethiopia, April 1947. Photo courtesy of Howard Lord.

Five had been selected by the Brethren Service Committee for a special assignment to accompany the cattle to Ethiopia, where they were to stay for a year at the request of Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie to train the Ethiopians how to breed and care for the livestock and teach the use of modern farm machinery and agricultural methods. The sixth, a Methodist missionary, would travel on to his project in the Belgian Congo. The remainder of the cowboy crew headed back with their ship to New York City.

Next post: Monkey business on the Rock Springs Victory

Seagoing Cowboy wives carry the load at home

Women’s History Month is the perfect time to recognize seagoing cowboy wives and families left at home while their men took their journeys. For three Midwestern farm wives, winter weather presented challenges on the home front.

Evelyn Grisso Smith recalls the winter of 1945-1946 when her father, Harvey Grisso, left their home in New Carlisle, Ohio, to travel to Poland on the S. S. Park Victory. “Mother and I were alone on the farm,” she says. “That winter a terrific storm came through followed by a blizzard that not only closed all the roads, but also the long lane to our house.” Ordinarily, her father would plow open the lane with a bulldozer blade on his tractor. “But this winter we were stuck,” Evelyn says.

“Well, almost. Mother had the presence of mind to park the car across the field at a neighbor’s house near the highway. If we then had to go someplace, we’d put on boots, head scarves, gloves, several layers of clothing, and stomp across the field through the snow to the car. Upon return, it was a repeat performance, only this time carrying bags of groceries.”

After some days, her Uncle Orville came by to plow them out. “Mother and I walked out to watch.” When he got to the curve in the lane that dropped off down to a creek, “the tractor began sliding sideways down the cliff. I recall feeling very frightened that the tractor was going to roll over and kill Uncle Orville,” Evelyn says. “I started to cry and called for my Daddy. The tractor didn’t roll, and somehow Uncle Orville got the tractor out of there.”

The Grisso farm in New Carlisle, Ohio, in a lighter snowfall in a later year. Photo courtesy of Evelyn Grisso Smith.

Evelyn’s snowperson. Photo courtesy of Evelyn Grisso Smith.

The following winter, the George Weybright family accompanied him at Thanksgiving time on a car trip from their farm near Goshen, Indiana, to his ship in New Orleans. He was to be the cowboy supervisor for a Heifer Project shipment to China. “That was a big step in our lives,” his wife Rachel says.

Loren, twins Mike & Muriel, and Garry Weybright on the dock in New Orleans, November 1946. Photo courtesy of Garry Weybright.

Rachel Weybright, with her four children ages 2-1/2 to 9, took the long way driving home to visit friends in Iowa. Arriving on Friday evening, they intended to stay the weekend. “However, on Saturday morning,” Rachel says, “the weather forecast predicted a heavy snowstorm.” She changed plans and started home. “The storm kept chasing us, we kept going with just a skiff of snow in our path, and reached home about midnight. There was less than an inch of snow covering the ground when we got home, but by morning, we had about eight inches of it. To say I was glad to be home safely was a gross understatement!”

Problems arose at home when the hired man developed medical problems. A new hired man had to be sought in a hurry. Cows don’t wait to be milked. “[The new man’s] inabilities became more visible in February when we had an ice storm that covered electric wires with ice two inches thick,” Rachel says. “We were without power from Tuesday until Saturday evening, so we milked more than 20 cows by hand twice a day; carried water from a neighbor’s hand pump to water the cows, hogs, chickens, and people; ate cold meals or fireplace offerings….There was great rejoicing when the power came on!”

The Weybright family shortly after George’s return, May 17, 1947. Photo courtesy of Garry Weybright.

Ruth Wicks found herself snowed in that same winter in Adel, Iowa, while her husband, Dale Wicks, was on his trip to Italy. With two small children in tow, she had to walk out her gravel road to the main road where her parents picked them up to go to town or to church. Then notice came from the Red Cross of Dale’s accident in Sicily. “I knew he was thrown out on the lava, and I had horrors that his face had slid on the rocks and what his head would be like. After I saw the picture in the Des Moines paper, I was just so relieved.”

With his extended stay in Italy, planting season arrived before Dale did. “Family members helped out,” Ruth says, “so when Dale got home, they had the first crops already planted.

“Dale had been gone so long,” she says, “that our two-year-old daughter didn’t even recognize him. When he put his arms around me and kissed me, she didn’t like that strange man! After that, she did, though.”

Dale and Ruth Wicks, July 1, 2006. Photo: Peggy Reiff Miller

Credit goes to all the seagoing cowboy wives for helping their men deliver hope to a war-torn world!

Nanorta Goes to Greece – Part II

Today’s post continues the trip of “Nanorta” from farm to Greece and the seagoing cowboys who delivered her, as told through diary accounts of Jim Long and photos from his father’s movie footage and slides taken on the trip.

Seagoing cowboys of the S. S. Villanova Victory, July 1946. L to R, Rev. George Kimsey, Richard Lambert, Darwin Overholt, Arthur Houk, Frank Melick (back), Rev. Wilmer H. Long (front), Jim Long, Harry Herbert.

Most of the Victory ships used by UNRRA carried around 800 animals, requiring 32 seagoing cowboys for their care. The Villanova Victory, however, was one of a few ships that carried livestock on the top deck only, requiring only 8 cowboys.

Rev. Long takes care of “Nanorta,” a heifer sent by his church.

On the two-week trip from Newport News, Virginia, to Kavalla, Greece, the 198 Heifer Project cattle on board kept the cowboys busy with the usual tasks: feeding and watering the animals, tending to newborn calves, and pulling up hay and grain when supplies on deck ran low. And with two ministers in the crew, the cowboys had Sunday morning church services.

Getting hay ready to pull up top on the S. S. Villanova Victory, July 1946.

After a week at sea, Jim noted in his diary, “A freak wave hit the port side, breaking loose the gang way. Deck crew retrieved it. Soon after that a boiler broke down and the ship proceeded at half speed.” Within 24 hours, the boiler was fixed. “Everything else normal,” Jim notes. “The routine is starting to get on my nerves.”

Things became more interesting the next day, however, with the sighting of land and passing the Rock of Gibralter on the way into the Mediterranean Sea. Passing Algiers the next evening, Jim writes, “It was very beautiful with lights stretching for several miles.” On reaching Greece, he notes, “We saw many islands and a beautiful sunset.” And fifteen days after departing Newport News, the destination about 250 miles north of Athens came into sight. The small city of Kavalla (Neapolis of the Bible), on the northern end of the Aegean Sea, stretched out in front of them with the ancient world awaiting their exploration.

Kavalla, Greece, August 6, 1946.

Among the many sights the cowboys took in were the ancient part of Kavalla, the ruins of Phillipi, St. Paul’s jail cell, and the river where St. Paul baptized Lydia.

St. Paul’s jail cell near Philippi, Greece.

The ruins at Philippi.

After ten days in Kavalla, the Villanova Victory made a six-day stop in Piraeus, the port for Athens, to unload the rest of her cargo. This afforded the cowboys the opportunity to tour the Acropolis in Athens and the old and new city of Corinth. “Ancient Corinth has the finest ruins I saw yet,” Jim notes.

Touring the Acropolis.

The trip home included the finding of seven stowaways while sailing through the Mediterranean and an argument with the captain once the ship reached the Atlantic about cleaning the stalls. “We lost,” says Jim. “So we cleaned them up all day.”

The trip also included a rare death at sea. The ship’s Purser died of a heart attack while alone in his cabin and was “put on ice” in the “fish box,” Jim says. After receiving instructions from the Purser’s elderly mother, Jim’s father Rev. Long and the other minister in the crew were told the Purser would be buried at sea and they were to conduct the service. “The Purser’s body was slid down a board and slipped into the sea,” Jim notes. “He was sewed into a canvas bag with two 5″ shell cases and 100 pounds of cement.” A sad, but memorable, event, to be sure.

With the Heifer Project animals being sent to quarantine in Greece before going to their new owners, Jim and his father were unable to go with Nanorta to her new home. But a year after the trip, they received their thanks in a letter from Nanorta’s new owner, a war widow whose husband, along with 300 more Greeks, was killed by the Bulgarians on September 29, 1941.

“I write to thank you and express the joy of all of us,” she said. “Nanorta gives about 10 quarts of milk a day.” The Norristown Times Herald carried the story along with a photo Widow Kallipoi Kl. Karyanni sent with the letter.

Norristow Times Herald, July 31, 1947.

A fitting end to Nanorta’s journey.

Nanorta Goes to Greece – Part I

Not many seagoing cowboys got to accompany their heifer from farm to recipient. The summer of 1946, Jim Long, just out of high school, did. His father, Rev. Wilmer Henry Long, pastor of Trinity Evangelical and Reformed Church in Norristown, Pennsylvania, hatched the idea of documenting the journey of one heifer. He named the heifer “Nanorta.” The children of Trinity and Ascension E&R churches sponsored Nanorta. Slides and still shots captured from Rev. Long’s 16 mm film and Jim’s diary tell the story.

The church school children purchased Nanorta for the Heifer Project from Silver Lake Farm, Center Square, Pennsylvania.

Nanorta stopped by Trinity Church Wednesday, July 10, 1946. for a visit with the children on her way to the Roger Roop Collection Farm in Union Bridge, Maryland, with other heifers and a bull from Silver Lake Farm.

Jim and his father lodged at the Brethren Service Center in New Windsor, Maryland, for the night, where Jim’s supper cost 40 cents.

While Nanorta rested at the Roop Farm the next day, Jim and his father took the train to Baltimore to get their seaman’s papers. “The process was easy,” notes Jim. The process for getting the livestock to the ship is quite another story.

Jim and his father arrived back in New Windsor in time for the loading of Nanorta and 197 additional animals into railroad cars on a sidetrack in Union Bridge.

Jim had a little trouble getting on the train. “Had to hop the train while it was moving,” he notes. “I used the wrong arm to swing on and fell off because of my back pack. But I got back on unhurt…. We made it to Baltimore at 8:30 PM after a very bumpy ride in the caboose.”

At 2:30 AM Friday, Nanorta’s train was shifted to the west side. “We slept in a vacant caboose,” Jim says. “We left Baltimore at 11 AM on the Baltimore and Ohio RR. We made Potomac Yard at 4 PM. We slept at the Bunkhouse from 10 PM. While in the Potomac Yard we watched RR cars being ‘humped’ – pushing cars up a hill and then letting them coast down the other side and being individually switched to the proper track to remake up the new trains for the continuing trip. This also required the use of automatic air compressor rail brakes to slow up the cars so the ‘hook up impact’ could be controlled and hopefully the goods inside the car not damaged.” Dinner at Potomac Yard cost $1.01.

Watering the heifers along the way. Wilmer Long photographer.

Saturday morning, “Left Potomac Yard at 3:20 AM on Chesapeake and Ohio RR and arrived in Richmond at 10:10 AM. We left Richmond yard at 12:30 PM on way to Newport News. At about 3:30 the train stopped along side Levinson’s stock yard to get the animals off the train in preparation for the trip to the ship.”

Jim and his father walked about one-and-a-half miles along 160 RR cars to the stockyards. “We saw cattle herded across the road and into the barn,” Jim notes. The first leg of Nanorta’s journey was over.

One of the Levinson brothers drove Jim and his father to Newport News where they checked into the Warwick Hotel at $2.75 per day. There they met up with two of Jim’s high school teachers who would accompany them on the trip. And there they stayed for the next week, waiting for their ship, the S. S. Villanova Victory, to come in, checking in frequently at the Brethren Service Committee’s seagoing cowboy office near the docks, and playing lots of pinnocle.

A week after arriving in Newport News, Jim, his father, his two teachers, and four additional cowboys finally boarded the Villanova Victory and got ready for their trip. Nanorta would be loaded with the other livestock the following day.

“The VV is a nice ship,” says Jim, “and our quarters were great, by ourselves at the back of the ship in one big bunkroom. The meals are good.”

Ready to sail!

[to be continued in the next post — in the meantime, Merry Christmas!]

Heifer Project helps Italian families recover from World War II

The need for heifers for war-battered Italy came onto Heifer Project founder Dan West’s radar in August 1944 from an unexpected source – Angelo P. Lucia. Lucia was serving in the U. S. Army in Naples, Italy, at the time, assigned to the Monuments Men program  of the Civil Affairs and Military Government Sections of the Allied armies. He had read the article “A Down-to-Earth Project” about Heifer Project’s inaugural shipment to Puerto Rico in the July 24, 1944, Time Magazine. Lucia wrote:

…I was very much interested in your very commendable project of raising and sending heifers to Post-War Europe.

I am writing this letter with a hope that I may be of some help to you in establishing contact with the Commissioner of the Confederation of Agriculture in Italy….He was most happy to hear of your project….

One of the most pressing problems here as you surmised is the shortage of milk for the little children and the lack of meat and fats of any kind, for what domestic animals were not killed in the fighting were taken away by the enemy. Your plan brings a bright ray of hope on a very dark horizon.

West responded with a list of questions for the Commissioner, starting a process of exploration by many people on both sides of the ocean as to how to achieve their goal. Nearly two years later, the first of eight shipments of dairy cattle for Italy crossed the Atlantic on the UNRRA ship S. S. Cyrus W. Field, arriving in Naples July 1, 1946. The cattle were offloaded into National Committee for the Distribution of Relief in Italy (ENDSI) trucks and taken about 50 kilometers to a large farm where the animals could rest and acclimate.

ENDSI trucks lined up to load cattle from a later shipment to take them to the holding farm. Naples, Italy, March 1947. Photo courtesy of Aaron Haldeman.

“Cheers greeted the animals at the dock, and along the busy streets of Naples as they passed by truck on their way to the rest farm where they are temporarily quartered,” says an UNRRA press release. 

Seagoing cowboy Aaron Haldeman and Italian truck driver await loading to go to holding farm, March 1947. Photo courtesy of Aaron Haldeman.

An unnamed source reporting on the Italian program several years later says,

It was my privilege to have assisted in the distribution of these cows in Italy, and to have visited more than a hundred of them in their new homes.

Approximately eighty-five percent of the heifers have been given to small farmers who had one or two milk cows before the war. The provinces into which the animals are sent are determined by the Ministry of Agriculture, based upon the percentage of the livestock which was lost due to the war. Within the province a committee composed of government officials and farmers selects from the applications those people who will receive the cows designated for that province.

The remaining fifteen percent are given to institutions, chiefly orphanages and homes for the aged. A small number now is given to the owners of the distribution farm at which all the cows are kept for the first four to eight weeks after arrival in Naples. The dairy herd of this farm was also taken by the occupying armies.

Unloading the heifers at the Societa Ciria, the holding farm where they would rest before distribution, March 1947. Photo courtesy of Aaron Haldeman.

Heifer Project’s signature “passing on the gift” requirement was in place for these shipments, as noted in an Italian news article: “To ensure continuity, the farmer who receives a heifer has to undertake to present to ENDSI’s provincial committee, the first born female calf when it is six months old, and this calf in turn is assigned to another farmer on similar conditions.”

Through 1948, 1,531 heifers and 30 bulls were distributed by the Heifer Project in Italy. Their value is summed up in a thank you letter from recipient Luigi di Giorgio of Pignataro Interamna to his donor:

I would never in my life have expected such a thing in this region so destroyed by the war – such a wonderful gift – and I assure you that I and all my family will always hold a kind memory of you and will always keep you present in our prayers. With the devastation of the war I have become poor, but now that I possess this fine cow I feel myself restored again because the plentiful milk which this cow gives me is real ‘balm’ to my family.

 

Heifer Project worker John Eberly visits an Italian recipient family. Photo courtesy of Brethren Historical Library and Archives.

Heifer Project worker John Eberly looks on while a recipient milks her cow. Photo courtesy of Brethren Historical Library and Archives.