The S. S. Park Victory Livestock trip #3, Greece, March 1946 – Part II

“April 30, 1946 approaching Patras. Almost 7 o’clock in the morning. I’m just getting up. Still sleepy. BOOM!” So begins radioman Will Keller’s account of the S. S. Park Victory accident off the coast of Greece. He continues:

“The ship gives a terrible lurch. ‘S____! We’ve been torpedoed. The war’s been over almost a year and we’ve been torpedoed,’ so I thought. Then I came to…we had struck a mine…15-20 miles outside Patras.

Mine damage viewed from under the S. S. Park Victory, May 1946. Photo credit: Will Keller.

“We were in a ‘tethered’ mine field. The black gang had heard the mine scrape under the engine room. They raced for the ladders. Someone slammed shut the watertight door to the Shaft Alley. Mine explodes under the Shaft Alley. Alarms, alarms, alarms! Broken glass. All electrical power lost. No lights. Emergency generator starts then shuts down. Battery-powered emergency lights are on. Look out porthole. Ship slewing trailing oil. Down by stern but not sinking.

“Radio’s dead. Turn on battery backup. Radio’s still dead. Open receiver drawer and find all tubes had jumped out of sockets. Jammed tubes back into sockets, push receiver back into drawer, turn on, and…it’s working! Examine transmitter carefully. Everything looks OK. But, it won’t work.

“Go out on bridge wing to take a look at antenna wires normally strung high between the masts. Now they’re lying on the deck and across the animals’ stalls.

“Bosun climbing ladder to the Bridge. I yell to him and point to antenna wires. He nods and directs two seamen to climb masts and raise wires off the deck. Cowboy livestock handlers gathering on main deck putting on life jackets. Now’s the time for quick whizz. Back on wing bridge and note antenna is off the deck. Seamen climbing down mast.

“Back to radio room. Turn on receiver. Turn on transmitter. Wonderful! Wait for dead internal on 500 Kcs, then ask Malta if they can read. OK! Malta says sounds OK. I tell him, casually, that we’ve struck a mine and that I’ll ‘CUL’ (see you later). The Mediterranean radio chatter dies down. A North African station, with French call letter whispers, ‘Anybody killed?’ I respond, ‘Don’t know.’

“Turn off radio equipment. Go to bridge and tell Captain and First Mate that I have radio working. They nod. ‘Thanks, Sparks. Standby.’ They continue to discuss with Engineers whether we can or should run the engine slowly and creep into Patras under our own power.

“I go back to the Radio Room.

“Fishermen in small boats come near Park Victory. Point to other tethered mines in the water nearby. Dumb thing to do is look over side to see mine 15-20 feet from side of ship. I looked.

“We are slowly drifting, trailing oil.

“I go back to the Radio Room…. Patras advised that an ‘Army’ tug was on the way.

“Sent off message to New York offices of Seas Shipping advising them of events.

“Towed in to Patras and docked. Unloaded donkeys. Donkeys reluctant to be driven off dock; seemed to prefer immediate relationships with opposite sex. Dock workers pound on them to clear the area so that more donkeys can be unloaded. This scene was repeated and repeated until all the donkeys had been unloaded and relationships satisfied. Townspeople, dockworkers and crew members fascinated onlookers.

The wounded Park Victory rests in the harbor at Patras, Greece, May 1946. Photo credit: Will Keller.

“May 1-8, 1946 With Park Victory wounded the cowboys are no longer needed. Cowboy livestock caretakers, Foreman, and two Vets leave ship for Athens. Captain Fairbairn replaced by W. F. O’Toole.

The seagoing cowboy crew of the S. S. Park Victory, April 1946. Photo courtesy of Robert Frantz.

“Helmeted diver goes under ship and explores damage caused by mine. He reports it looks OK to proceed to Taranto, Italy, for temporary repairs.”

The S. S. Park Victory in dry dock in Taranto, Italy. May 1946. Photo credit: Will Keller.

By May 26, the Park Victory was on her way home to the Baltimore shipyards for full repair. Fortunately, no lives were lost in this accident.

The vessel made three more livestock trips that year before UNRRA disbanded. To Poland in August, to Germany with livestock for Czechoslovakia in October, and to Greece in December. Another accident while carrying coal to Finland the end of 1947 was to be her demise, however; but her memory lives on in Finland, where I’ll be going in July. More on that in a later post.

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The S. S. Park Victory: Livestock trip #1, Trieste, October 1945

The S. S. Park Victory is one of 531 Victory ships built for transporting troops and materials during the latter years of World War II. Named after Park College (now Park University), the ship was launched April 21, 1945. On her maiden voyage, she carried U. S. Navy cargo around the Pacific, departing May 26 from southern California and ending September 14 in New York City. There, in the Todd Shipyard, she was transformed into a livestock carrier.¹ According to the notes of seagoing cowboy Norman Brumbaugh, this conversion cost $100,000.

A sister ship undergoes transformation from merchant ship to livestock carrier, November 1945. Photo credit: Paul Springer.

Newly outfitted with stalls on three levels and new ventilation and watering systems, the Park Victory headed on down to Baltimore, Maryland. She departed October 26, 1945, for Trieste, Italy, with her full quota of 32 seagoing cowboys and 336 mares, 149 mules, 310 heifers, and 12 bulls. Brumbaugh notes additional cargo of:
640 tons of water for the stock alone
35 tons of hay
30 tons of straw
36 tons of dairy feed
75 tons of oats
3,000 feet of rope
878 buckets.

Seagoing cowboys of the S. S. Park Victory to Trieste, October 1945. Photo courtesy of Paul Weaver.

Except for some rough seas, this first livestock trip of the Park Victory was relatively routine and easy. A week into the trip, Brumbaugh recorded in his diary, “Getting up too early these mornings and losing sleep because we keep moving time up each night for the last while….Been hungry nearly every night for last week, though we get plenty at meals.”

The trip became more exciting when land was spotted on the tenth day. Brumbaugh notes, “We did our best to hurry through our work and take in everything. There it was, Spain to our left, Africa to our right, the Rock of Gibraltar, an immense thing about dead ahead. Further in the Mediterranean we saw the mountains on the left were all snow capped, weather warm. Watching porpoise trying to race our ship was lots of fun. Spirits extra high.”

The ship arrived in Trieste with more livestock than at the start, as twenty calves were born en route and only one horse, one mule, and one heifer lost. The heifer choked to death and was butchered and put in the freezer.

War ruins in Trieste, November 1945. Photo credit: Paul Weaver.

Of Trieste, cowboy Paul Weaver says, “the harbor is pretty well destroyed and buildings near it, but the rest of the town isn’t hit. It is a very nice town but no cars, mostly military trucks and jeeps. Lots of bicycles, mules, donkeys, ox teams, horses, three-wheel motorcycles, half-ton trucks. The British and American Armies are both here. You get mobbed every time you go to town for cigarettes, soap and gum.” Weaver also notes, “This section of Italy is quite a disputed area between Yugo and Italy. General Tito comes down pretty often to try to take it back, but the Americans and British scare him out. There was some rumor of him coming yesterday, but he didn’t.”

Some of the cowboys took a side trip to Venice, November 1945. Photo credit: Paul Weaver.

As with all trips that ended at Trieste, the animals were shipped by rail just across the border to Yugoslavia. Members of this cowboy crew had the opportunity to go to there to see where the animals were taken. Cowboy LaVerne Elliott writes, “We kept winding and going up and finally got to top and we could look down on Trieste. Sure was beautiful with Adriatic Sea as background.” Brumbaugh adds, “I never saw such beautiful Christmas or snow scenery as this.”

To get into Yugoslavia, the cowboys’ were stopped at two guarded barricades, not sure if they would get through. First were the British guards, “of which we gave matches,” Brumbaugh notes. Then, after about a mile and a half across no man’s land, “after persuasion of Yugo soldiers, we gave gum, soap, and matches.”

At a Yugoslavian home, November 1945. Photo credit: Paul Weaver.

Brumbaugh writes, “People very poor up in Mts. with acres of stones. We saw our mules and horses being well taken care of by prisoners in bad need of clothing.” The cowboys stopped at a farm that had received a horse earlier, and Brumbaugh says, “Horse is well off. But people are without fuel and shoes. Came back and missed supper on this cold night, but were much better off than many.”

 

Cracking nuts for Thanksgiving dinner on the trip home. Photo credit: Paul Weaver.

¹ Jouko Moisala, S/S Park Victoryn Tarina, Fandonia Oy, Finland, 2017.

Next post: Park Victory trip #2 – Poland

Delivering Hope to the Next Generation

I’m late with this post, as I was absorbed last week in the Church of the Brethren National Older Adult Conference where I was a keynote speaker. I invite you to listen to the live streaming of my illustrated presentation that gives the back story of how I became the documenter of the seagoing cowboy history, the legacy of the seagoing cowboys and the Heifer Project, and the importance of continuing to deliver hope to the next generation. The speech, which you can find here: https://livestream.com/livingstreamcob/NOAC2017/videos/162425620 begins at 13 minutes into the session and lasts for 70 minutes. I know — that’s a long speech! But that’s what I was contracted for and that’s what I gave. If you wish to jump to the seagoing cowboy part, you can start at 25:30 minutes (including the reading of my picture book The Seagoing Cowboy) or start at 35 minutes to skip the picture book reading and stop wherever you wish. Enjoy!

Next post will pick up Part II of the pre-WWII seagoing cowboys.

UNRRA expresses gratitude for Heifer Project

The work of the Heifer Project following World War II did not go unnoticed by the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration. A letter to the Heifer Project Committee from UNRRA’s Director General was published 70 years ago this week in the January 11, 1947, Gospel Messenger of the Church of the Brethren:

UNITED NATIONS RELIEF AND REHABILITATION ADMINISTRATION
1344 CONNECTICUT AVENUE
WASHINGTON 25, D. C.

November 26, 1946

Heifer Project Committee
New Windsor, Md.
Dear Mr. Bushong:
I am informed that your organization, the heifer-project committee of the Brethren Service Committee, has assembled a boatload of heifers which you will contribute to UNRRA for shipment from New Orleans to China in December. This will be the first boat of cattle to go to China, and is one of the most important gifts that UNRRA has received. Thousands of the cattle you have donated are now in Czechoslovakia, Greece, Italy and Poland helping the farmers there to restore their war-torn lands and feed the populations—rural and urban—of these countries which lost 50% of their livestock in the war. The artificial insemination program in Greece, set up by UNRRA with your assistance, has materially helped to improve the depleted breeding stock of that suffering country.
The fine spirit of practical Christianity and the faith that your group has shown are examples to us all in these days when, without faith, we cannot progress. Your movement, beginning modestly as it did, has spread its spirit and its work. Transcending barriers of nationality and religious conviction, it has drawn to itself members of many denominations, and illustrated what can be accomplished when conviction and efficient enterprise and fine Christian generosity are combined.
I understand that your organization has decided to continue its work for two years after UNRRA ceases. This is further exemplification of its validity. May I congratulate and thank you in the name of those we have all been trying to help and wish you every success in the future.
Sincerely yours,
F. H. La Guardia
Director General

Yet further exemplification of the Heifer Project’s validity is that it continues today as Heifer International. The organization was set in motion 75 years ago this week, as recorded in the January 10, 1942, minutes of the Church of the Brethren Northern Indiana Men’s Work Cabinet: “The Cabinet decided to support Dan West’s Calf Project. Dan West is to give more information at our April meeting.”

The shipment to China to which Mr. La Guardia refers left New Orleans November 19, 1946, on the S. S. Lindenwood Victory carrying 723 Heifer Project cattle and 32 seagoing cowboys. Watch for stories from this memorable trip in upcoming posts.

Photo courtesy of George Weybright family.

Photo courtesy of George Weybright family.

Photo courtesy of George Weybright family.

Photo courtesy of George Weybright family.

Special Crew #4: Second All-Mennonite Crew

Several months after the Mennonite student crew of the S. S. Stephen R. Mallory made their trip to Poland, a second all-Mennonite crew departed from Newport News, Virginia, on the S. S. Frederic C. Howe November 15, 1946. Bound for Trieste, Italy, they cared for over 700 horses that would be transported on to Yugoslavia.

Courtesy: Henry Weaver, Jr.

Courtesy: Henry Weaver, Jr.

This post will be told through the slides of Henry “Hank” Weaver, Jr., an eighteen-year-old student at Eastern Mennonite College who was taking a year off between his freshman and sophomore years when he made his trip.

 

 

 

 

Photo credit: Henry Weaver, Jr.

Photo credit: Henry Weaver, Jr.

 

 

“All but four cowboys got seasick,” Hank said. He was among the lucky four who didn’t.

 

 

 

Photo credit: Henry Weaver, Jr.

Photo credit: Henry Weaver, Jr.

 

 

 

The “bosses,” Chris, Trimmer, Art, and Walt.

 

 

 

Photo credit: Henry Weaver, Jr.

Photo credit: Henry Weaver, Jr.

 

 

Like the Mennoite crew that went to Poland, these cowboys were greeted in Trieste by the devastation of war.

 

 

 

Photo credit: Henry Weaver, Jr.

Photo credit: Henry Weaver, Jr.

 

 

Hank and his friends take a “taxi” to see Trieste.

Photo credit: Henry Weaver, Jr.

Photo credit: Henry Weaver, Jr.

 

 

 

 

 

An old Roman amphitheater was one of their stops.

 

 

 

Photo credit: Henry Weaver, Jr.

Photo credit: Henry Weaver, Jr.

 

 

They took a bus to Venice, a bit uneasy about whether they’d make it back in time to catch the ship, but relaxed when they saw the Captain was on the bus, too.

 

 

 

 

Photo credit: Henry Weaver, Jr.

Photo credit: Henry Weaver, Jr.

 

The ship was met by “bum boats” off the coast of Spain on the way home, with merchants wanting to sell bedspreads and table cloths. The basket goes up with the merchandise and down with the pay.

 

 

The Frederic C. Howe completed its trip on December 31, 1946, docking in New York City.

As I do with all seagoing cowboys I interview, I asked Hank if this trip had influenced his later life. He said it stoked his interest in other countries and led him to a career administering college study abroad programs. He started Goshen College’s program in Indiana and served as Deputy Director for Education Abroad in the University of California system. His work has taken him to over half the countries of the world.

Next post: the seagoing cowboy who made the most trips

Extra post: Passing of the cowboys

One of the most difficult parts of my work is receiving obituaries of the seagoing cowboys whom I have interviewed. To sit in their homes and have them share so intimately with me about their experiences at such a formative time in their lives is an honor that I will always cherish. These men become like family to me; so when I lose another one, I grieve.

Today’s notice was the passing of Donald W. Rummel, formerly of Manheim, Pennsylvania, on July 24, 2014. When he was a junior in high school, Don was on the SS Park Victory that left Baltimore October 25, 1945, with 485 horses and 322 heifers on board. The ship docked in Trieste, Italy, where the livestock were transported over ground to Yugoslavia.

Don went on to college and seminary and served as a pastor in the Church of the Brethren for many years. I interviewed Don together with his shipmate Quentin “Queenie” Buckwalter several years ago and was treated to a lovely meal at a local restaurant with their spouses afterwards. Don sent me many cheerful notes through the years I’ve known him. Don, I’ll miss you. Rest in peace.