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.

1946 Heifer Project shipment to Italy becomes trip of a lifetime for Lititz, PA, high school boys

At age sixteen and between his junior and senior years of high school, Harry Badorf, Jr., and six of his friends made the trip of a life time. Harry’s Sunday School class at the Lititz [PA] Church of the Brethren was raising money to buy a heifer for the Heifer Project. Having heard the stories of others who had accompanied livestock to Europe for the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration, these boys decided to go the next step and sign up to be seagoing cowboys. They ended up on UNRRA’s S.S. Cyrus W. Field carrying a load of 330 Heifer Project animals to Naples, Italy.

Lititz, PA, seagoing cowboy Dick Nolt with one of the calves born aboard the S. S. Cyrus W. Field, June 1946. Photo courtesy of Stanley Schoenberger.

The ship departed from Baltimore, Maryland, in the wee hours of June 14, 1946. The light work of caring for heifers on the smooth seventeen-day crossing of the Atlantic Ocean afforded countless hours for playing cards and laying in the sun. “When we came back,” recalls Dick Nolt, “we didn’t look like we were white boys.”

On arrival in Naples on July 1, Badorf notes in his diary, “From where our ship is docked we can see Mt. Vesuvius and the Governor’s Palace. There are several wrecked and sunken ships in the harbor. Some parts of the city are bombed up fairly bad. . . .It is very hot and the flies are awful.”

Heat and flies notwithstanding, Badorf and his friends took advantage of the nine-day stay of the Cyrus W. Field in port. First, an UNRRA truck took the cowboys to see the farm about 40 miles outside Naples where the heifers would temporarily be held before distribution to selected farmers and institutions. The next day, UNRRA took the cowboy crew on a tour of Pompeii.

Art restoration in process at the excavation of Pompeii, July 1946. Photo courtesy of Stanley Schoenberger.

A brother of two of the Lititz cowboys who was serving in the U.S. Army in Italy arranged for a military “cracker box ambulance” to take the group to Rome. Eleven cowboys and four of the ship’s crew who were Catholic and wanted to see the Pope packed themselves into the vehicle for a bouncy trip north. “It was worth it,” says cowboy Jean DePerrot.

Taking a break from the “cracker box ambulance” on the way to Rome, July 4, 1946. Photo courtesy of Stanley Schoenberger.

The group toured the Coliseum, walked through the Roman Forum, went to the top of the dome at St. Peter’s Cathedral, and took in Michelangelo’s frescoes in the Sistine Chapel. Badorf notes seeing “millions of dollars worth of pearls, rubies, gold and silver” at the Vatican Museum. But the Pope was nowhere to be seen.

The Lititz cowboys at the Roman Forum, July 1946. Photo courtesy of Stanley Schoenberger.

Lititz cowboys at St. Peter’s Cathedral. Front row: Stan Schoenberger, Harry Badorf, Dick Waltz. Back row: Jim Dietrich, Stan Dietrich, Jean DePerrot, Ken Dietrich. Photo courtesy of Harry Badorf.

With the help of army brother Stan Dietrich and the cowboys’ Merchant Marine cards, they were able to stay overnight in Rome at a U.S. Army Rest Center located in a complex of elaborate marble buildings built by Mussolini. There they got to swim in Mussolini’s swimming pool.

Cowboys after their swim in Mussolini’s indoor swimming pool. Photo courtesy of Stanley Schoenberger.

A sobering stop to see the immense World War II destruction at the Monte Cassino Monestery on their return to Naples capped off their two-day excursion.

Bombed Monte Cassino Monestery, July 1946. Photo courtesy of Stanley Schoenberger.

The next day, the Lititz boys took a limo up Mount Vesuvius, still warm from it’s 1944 eruption, They saw the bubbling lava and walked ankle-deep in its ashes. Then it was on to the Island of Capri. The crew hired a motor boat to take them around the island and into its Blue, Green, and White Grottoes. They got a hotel room for 150 lira each. The next morning they took a taxi up hairpin bends to explore Anacapri and its Villa San Michele and the Church of Saint Michael with its mosaic floor depicting the Garden of Eden. They returned to Naples in time to see a stirring production of Carmen at the open air San Carlo Opera House.

Their last day of adventure took in the breathtaking sights along the famed Salerno Amalfi Drive, followed by a return to Mount Vesuvius. “It took us about an hour and a half to hike up,” notes Badorf, “and we ran down in about 15 mintues.”

I had a delightful interview with four of the Lititz men several years ago in which they all agreed, “We learned more in those nine days than in any history or geography class in school.”

Next post: Heifer Project helps Italian families recover from World War II

S. S. Park Victory painting travels to Finland

The Lord willin’ and the creek don’t rise, I’ll be in Finland when this post goes live. I’ll be delivering a painting of the S. S. Park Victory given to me by seagoing cowboy Fred Ramseyer. Fred traveled to Poland on the S. S. Park Victory’s second livestock trip in December 1945. When I interviewed Fred in 2007, he showed me the painting he had of his ship.

An artist’s depiction of the S. S. Park Victory off the coast of Naples, Italy. May 1946. Photo: Vicki Dreher.

Here’s the story:

On his voyage, Fred became friends with the ship’s night cook and baker, Eddie Carlson. Fred helped Eddie at night just to have something to do. He remembers making candy with Eddie and that Eddie, who played the guitar, spent a lot of time with the cowboys. Eddie must have taken a liking to Fred especially, because some time after Fred had gotten home Eddie paid him a visit.

Eddie hitchhiked to Smithville, Ohio, where Fred lived and asked a man on the street for “Freddie.” The man turned out to be Fred’s father who took Eddie to the house. Eddie presented the painting of their ship to Fred and went on his way. Eddie had stayed in service on the S. S. Park Victory for another trip after Fred’s that went to Greece. On the way home, the ship had docked in Naples to pick up ballast. An enterprising painter on shore had painted the picture and Eddie acquired it.

Fred had the painting framed, along with his Merchant Marine card. It has graced his home ever since. At age 92, he wanted to find a good home for the painting. He called me to see if I would like to have it. I said, “Yes! And I know who would REALLY like to have it and will see that he gets it.” I explained about the interest in Finland in the S. S. Park Victory and shot off an email of inquiry to my contact there, Jouko Moisala. His response: “I am really very interested in the painting!!!!!”

So in March, Fred’s longtime friends Don and Vicki Dreher, who have often traveled with Fred and assist him now, drove Fred the three hours to my home. We had a lovely visit.

Don and Vicki Dreher on an outing with Fred Ramseyer. Photo courtesy of Vicki Dreher.

Fred left me not only the painting, but also a Park Victory life jacket light and whistle he had, all of which I am delivering to Finland to be placed there with other memorabilia of the ship.

Fred Ramseyer and Peggy Reiff Miller holding the painting of the S. S. Park Victory. Photo: Don Dreher.

Life Jacket light and whistle from the S. S. Park Victory, 1946.

As our conversation came to an end, Fred said, “I’m glad the picture will do some good in the end, because the trip was the highlight of my life.”

Next post: Delivering the painting in Finland.

Five Elizabethtown College students make 2nd UNRRA ship out, but arrive first in Greece

This post will set the record straight for a friendly little rivalry that has taken place through the years between the Manchester College students and the Elizabethtown College students who were on the first two UNRRA livestock ships to depart the United States the end of June 1945.

When I first talked with Gordon Bucher about his trip on the F. J. Luckenbach to Greece [see Jan. 23 post] that left New Orleans June 24, 1945, he wanted to know, “Wasn’t ours the first ship to leave the U. S.?” Having found the UNRRA records, I was able to tell him, “Yes.” The Elizabethtown cowboys who departed from Baltimore on the SS Virginian June 26, 1945, had always said they were on the first ship out. But diary accounts from the two trips and the UNRRA records show otherwise.

Turns out, it was an honest mistake on the part of the E-town cowboys, as even the media thought this to be the first shipment. The Baltimore Sun newspaper said on June 25, 1945:

GREECE CATTLE SAILS TODAY

UNRRA Shipment To Be First Consignment

     Laden with 704 head of dairy cattle and horses, the first consignment of such animals to be sent to a European country by the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration the freighter Virginian will leave Baltimore today for Greece, where the livestock will be used in an agricultural rehabilitation program . . . .

The F. J. Luckenbach had already left New Orleans when this article went to press, and the Virginian didn’t leave port until a day after the article appeared, if the date typed under the article given to me is correct. Other media gave the same story, including the August 1945 Baltimore & Ohio Magazine:

First UNRRA Livestock Shipment for Europe Rides B&O

The article tells of the arrival to Baltimore on the B&O railway of 335 Brown Swiss bred heifers and twelve bulls and 357 light draft mares . It goes on to say:

This “first shipment” created a great deal of interest among the UNRRA people and various publicity agencies. The Coast Guard, Life, the Baltimore papers and the newsreel agencies all had photographers on the job . . . .

All of this while the Luckenbach was already on its way.

But alas, the Luckenbach was not to be the first to arrive in Greece. The Virginian, departing closer to Europe, arrived at its destination of Piraeus, Greece, the port for Athens, on Saturday, July 14, and gained the honor of delivering the first UNRRA heifers to Europe. The Luckenbach arrived in Patras, Greece, two days later on Monday, July 16.

First heifer to Greece.

A proud Greek poses with the first UNRRA heifer to put foot on European soil. Photo courtesy of Earl Holderman

Both crews were able to visit the Acropolis, via a short $5.00 taxi ride for the Virginian crew and a hair-raising bus ride across the Peloponnese peninsula for the Luckenbach crew that almost made them miss their ship home. [Look for this story in my next post.]

Virginian crew at the Acropolis.

Members of the Virginian crew at the Acropolis, July 15, 1945. Photo courtesy of Earl Holderman

After unloading in Greece, both ships also stopped in Naples to pick up U. S. soldiers who had fought in Europe during the war to take them home – 140 for the Virginian and 150 for the Luckenbach. The Luckenbach, however, arrived home first. Their entire cargo had been unloaded in Patras, after which they were ready to head back across the Atlantic; whereas the Virginian unloaded only part of its cargo in Piraeus and then had to travel further up around Greece to Salonika to unload the rest. Even with a stop at Béni Saf in Africa to pick up iron ore after picking up their soldiers in Naples, the Luckenbach had a considerable head start on the Virginian, arriving in New York City ten days ahead of them on August 10. They were met with a rousing welcome home for the soldiers on Staten Island complete with a WAC band playing the “Beer Barrel Polka” and a black band playing hot jazz, before finally docking in Jersey City. The Virginian delivered their soldiers to Newport News and finally docked in Brooklyn on August 20. No matter which ship they were on, the cowboys were glad to be back on U. S. soil.

Sources: Gordon Bucher’s unpublished journal and the report of the S.S. Virginian crew titled “Relief for Greece.”

Next post: Acropolis or bust! The hair-rising bus ride of the F. J. Luckenbach crew.