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.

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

Robert “Bob” Frantz aboard the S. S. Park Victory, April 1946. Photo courtesy of Robert Frantz.

An expected four- to six-week trip delivering mules to Greece turned out to be a three-and-a-half month journey for CPSer Bob Frantz. While serving his term in Civilian Public Service at Michigan State College in Lansing, he says, “I received information that CPS men would be eligible to volunteer as Sea Going Cowboys.” Bob applied and was accepted. “Why did I consider leaving my wife and young son to do this? I felt that I had done little in CPS to help humanity, perhaps taking animals to needy people would ease my conscience and the adventure was tempting.” An adventure it was!

Unidentified newspaper clipping circa March 1946. Courtesy of Will Keller.

Bob soon received his orders to report to Houston, Texas, where the S. S. Park Victory was loading 900 wild mules from Mexico. He reports that about a third of the cowboy crew were CPSers, others signed on to make a contribution to the project, and “quite a number were professional Merchant Marines who needed a short term job and practiced a life style quite different from mine,” Bob says. Learning to know and appreciate some of them “broadened my philosophy of life a great deal.”

“Our work was to see that the mules had hay and water and a few other jobs,” Bob says. “Two weeks on the ocean became a bit boring. Some relief came when we were allowed to convert a ‘gun tub’ on the stern to a swimming pool.”

Livestock ship or cruise ship? Photo credit: Robert Frantz.

After stopping in Athen’s port of Piraeus to receive orders, the Park Victory steamed on up the Aegean Sea to Kavala to unload most of the wild cargo.

The wild mules were difficult to handle, with some running off into the water. Photo credit: Robert Frantz.

The Greek Civil War was under way at the time, but that didn’t stop UNRRA from taking the cowboys on a tour of nearby Philippi to see the site of the first Christian church in Macedonia, the jail where the Apostle Paul was held, and the Roman road.

Temple at Philippi built in the 5th Century A.D. Photo credit: Robert Frantz.

The ship traveled back to Piraeus to unload the remainder of the cargo, giving the cowboy crew the opportunity to tour the historical sites of Athens. Exactly one month into its journey, this is where most UNRRA cowboys would have said good-bye to Greece and headed on home. The Park Victory crew, however, received orders to proceed to Cyprus to pick up a load of donkeys, which they then delivered to Salonika.

In Cyprus, donkeys were loaded from barges alongside the ship. Photo credit: Robert Frantz.

The journey still wasn’t finished after unloading in Salonika. Another order sent them to Haifa, Palestine, to refuel before picking up another load of donkeys in Cyprus to deliver to Patras on Greece’s west coast. This fateful leg of the trip extended the cowboys’ stay in Greece by an additional two weeks when the Park Victory hit a mine left over from the war off the coast of Patras.

“We were able to go the short distance into Patras and unload the donkeys,” Bob Frantz says, “but the SS Park Victory was unable to continue. It was a frightening experience, but there were no injuries. It could have been much worse.”

Cowboy supervisor Rudy Potochnik made arrangements for housing and feeding the cowboys in Athens where they spent two weeks before finding passage home. “The situation was bad,” reports Potochnik, “since it was now about three months since leaving. The men had no funds. In Athens we got some additional spending money for the men. We had to buy soap and towels. UNRRA allowed $3.00 a day to pay room and incidental expenses.”

Supervisor Potochnik found passage home for the cowboys through the War Shipping Administration on the S. S. Marine Shark. “UNRRA paid for the passage of these men as passengers on this ship,” he says. “It was five and one-half thousand [dollars].”

Greek-Americans waiting to board the S. S. Marine Shark to finally go home. Photo credit: Robert Frantz.

The passengers, says Bob Frantz, were “mostly Greek-Americans who had been stranded in Greece for the duration of the war. It was not a pleasant trip, with lots of sea sickness, but we were thankful to be going home. The New York sky line looked very good to all of us.”

Next post: Radioman Will Keller’s account of the Park Victory’s accident.