Heifer Project’s first shipment to Poland, Part II – seagoing cowboys experience Poland

The seagoing cowboys of the S. S. Santiago Iglesias, like almost all cowboys who went to Poland, were immediately struck by the devastation that surrounded them. “No one can imagine the damage until it is seen,” Pennsylvania cowboy Milt Lohr wrote in his diary, amazed that people still lived in the ruins, and others were still buried beneath them.

Four days after arriving, city welfare worker Anna Yawaska came to take two car loads of cowboys through the rubble to visit an orphanage with almost 700 children. “They range in age from 1 year to 14 years,” Lohr says. Some of the children entertained the cowboys with songs and recitations – all in Polish. “We didn’t understand a word,” says Lohr. Even so, the children captured the cowboys’ hearts.

Orphanage children entertain the cowboys of the S. S. Santiago Iglesias, Dec. 1945. Photo courtesy of the L. W. Shultz family.

Another day, on a trek into the country, Lohr and ten other cowboys happened onto a battlefield. “The trees were about all stripped of their limbs to a height of 40 to 50 feet,” Lohr says. The cowboys found foxholes, trenches, spent shells, German cannons, wrecked tanks, a destroyed barracks, and graves with German helmets on them. All reminders of a month-long battle only months earlier between the Germans and the Russians for control of the area.

Seagoing cowboys of the S. S. Santiago Iglesias explore a battlefield above Gdynia, Poland, December 1945. Photo courtesy of the L. W. Shultz family.

Lohr writes of meeting Americans who had gotten trapped in Poland at the beginning of the war. Like the man from Buffalo, New York, who had come over to settle an estate just before the war and hadn’t heard from his wife in the USA since 1942. And a mother and two daughters from Detroit, Michigan, who had the misfortune to be in Poland on a European tour in 1939 when Germany declared war there and couldn’t get home. They were a rich source of information for the cowboys.

While in port, Lohr records seeing several ships come in with Polish soldiers, refugees, and prisoners of war from such countries as England, Denmark, Sweden, and Germany. Cowboy supervisor Clifton Crouse wrote home of an English ship delivering 1100 Poles who had been in German slave labor. “We saw them going by the hundreds, taking their few belongings with them, on sleds, on their backs, trucks, etc. They looked happy, but I’m afraid they will be badly disappointed when they find out conditions.”

A German ship returning Polish refugees as seen by the cowboy crew from the S. S. Morgantown Victory, Jan. 4, 1946. Photo credit: Hugh Ehrman.

The highlight of the trip for Indiana cowboy Clarence Sink was a tour into the country to meet recipients of the Heifer Project animals they had delivered. “After traveling about 40 miles in the back of a truck,” he says, “we came to one village where they had a bobsled and team waiting to take us on. The first place we stopped was a typical little peasant hut. We stood and talked in the kitchen awhile and the lady of the house opened what we thought was the pantry door, and there in a little room was a fine Brown Swiss heifer that we had brought over from America. She was bedded down in deep straw and the family told us that they carried water to her. They stood with tears in their eyes because they were so appreciative.

“The climax of the whole day’s trip came about three o’clock in the afternoon,” Sink says, “when the people prepared a meal for us in one of the homes. Many of the people of the village had gathered.” Spokesmen for both groups exchanged meaningful greetings. “Then we sang and had grace for the meal of milk and eggs.” It was “a very sacrificial meal,” Sink says. Likely especially so, because this was an added event; the celebration meant for this crew of cowboys was mistakenly given earlier to the crew of the S.S. Mexican, in port delivering UNRRA animals at the same time.

Of the trip as a whole, Sink concludes, “It is our conviction that the Heifer Project has been successful not only because we have sent them cows but also because we took them our love and concern. We ate with them in their homes and we sang and prayed together. Missions of this nature will go a long way in hastening the day when we shall be brothers indeed.”

Out of the Fog — a Seagoing Cowboy Tale for Our Time

Ever feel like your life is in a heavy fog? Personally? Collectively? Can’t see where you’re headed individually? Where we’re headed as a country? As a world? As I reread this recollection of seagoing cowboy Les Messamer, it came across to me as an allegory for our times.

Messamer served on the S. S. Lindenwood Victory delivering heifers to China for UNRRA and the Heifer Project. In early 1947, after the heifers were unloaded in Shanghai, UNRRA sent the ship on down to New Zealand to pick up a load of sheep for China. Messamer remembers that part of the voyage well:

“It is doubtful if there is a more melancholy sound in the world than that of the fog horn of a ship sounding at regular intervals day and night. If memory is accurate, the fog horn was heard every eight minutes. It was a low, non-melodious toot that lasted for several seconds. For more than three days that sound was part of the S. S. Lindenwood Victory ship as it was approaching New Zealand. . . .

“Heavy fog on the ocean provides no sights to be seen. The gray stuff envelopes everything and everyone and becomes increasingly oppressive. The sound of the fog horn is necessary (or was at that time) to warn other ships of one’s location. That did not keep it from adding to the dismal situation. The fog horn is necessarily loud and interrupted naps and sleep time. It interrupted thoughts. It was always there – predictably and regularly – always.

“Other factors helped to make the time less than desirable. The cattle and feed had been unloaded in Shanghai and the work of cleaning the stalls to be ready for the next load was complete. There was nothing to do. The changes in the time of day were barely noticeable as there was no visible sunshine but instead there was the continuous gray – and the fog horn. Counting the number of times the fog horn sounded was one way to determine how many minutes had elapsed. Chess and checkers helped to while away the time. A trapeze built in one of the holds provided some exercise option, but that did not take up too many minutes out of a day. Everyone actually did a good job of handling the situation, but it was still obviously a depressive time for all.

“A difference in the feel of the waves signaled that we were approaching land, as the return of the waves, called land swells, rolled under the vessel. The captain sent word that we were approaching New Zealand, and many of us (seagoing cowboys and ‘regular’ sailors) lined the rail hoping for a glimpse of land. There was little conversation. There was nothing to see except fog. There were no flying fish, no whales, no dolphins, no turtles, no clouds, no sun, not even waves were visible. Not a thing was happening, except the normal rolling of the ship. The fog – and the fog horn – always the fog horn – continued.

“Then it happened! A portion of the sky cleared and in the clearing was the upper thousand feet of the snow capped mountain named after the explorer who is credited with first visiting the islands. It was bathed in sunshine and was instantly recognized as a sign from the Creator that all was well. No one spoke as each individual felt the reverence of the moment. The sight of Mt. Cook in the sunshine above the fog was instantly etched into the minds of those of us fortunate enough to be there.”

May the fog in your/our life/lives dissipate as we enter 2019.

Photo from publicdomainpictures.net.

Blessings to all of my readers for a bright and shiny New Year.

Peggy

Waste not? or Want not?

Captains and/or seagoing cowboy supervisors had a decision to make: what to do with all that manure their four-legged charges produced! Do we not waste it? Or do we not want it? If a Captain was altruistic, he might let the manure accumulate on the voyage and be offloaded at the destination for use as fertilizer. Many a cowboy with such a Captain said that by the time they reached their destination, the back ends of their animals were higher than their front ends.

Manure offloaded from the S. S. Bucknell Victory in Nowy Port, Poland, February 1946. Rich cargo for the Polish farmers. Photo: Harold Thut.

If the Captain liked his vessel “shipshape,” however, he may give the order to “Keep those stalls clean!” – in whatever way the cowboys could manage.

Cowboys Guhr and Brenneman pull up manure on the S. S. John J. Crittenden, November 1945. Photo: Ernest Bachman.

Luke Bomberger pitches manure overboard en route to China on the S. S. Boulder Victory, February 1947. Photo: Eugene Souder.

The very first UNRRA livestock trip, on the S. S. F. J. Luckenbach, was one on which the cowboys cleaned their stalls. College students Gordon Bucher and Ken Frantz worked on the top deck. They recalled an incident when they had thrown manure over the rail just as an older cowboy (whom I will not name) had stuck his head out a porthole right below. The joke of the trip became, “My name is (unnamed cowboy). What did YOU see when you looked out the porthole?”

Manure overboard! It didn’t all make it to Poland. Bucknell Victory, February 1946. Photo: Harold Thut.

Seagoing cowboy Ernest Williams, who in 1954 accompanied the 36th load of heifers sent to Germany for the Heifer Project, relates this story:

We tended the cattle twice a day, a pretty easy job. After a couple of days out, we made an effort to clean out the cages, which was considerable work in itself. Our method was to take the steel tubs used to wash clothes, which were about two to two-and-a-half feet in diameter with handles. We put as much weight in each one as we could handle and two of us would carry the tub and throw the waste overboard. We could see brown patches on the ocean behind the ship on both sides, dotting the trail of the ship. BIG MISTAKE. The trip was two weeks over. When we got to Europe, they said, “Where is the manure?” It was considered important fertilizer for the fields. We saw the “honey wagons” there hauling manure. We had wasted ours feeding the fish.

The ship used for Williams’ trip was not one of the regular livestock carriers that went to Germany, so the Captain would not have known the waste was expected along with the animals.

Special Post: Friends with the Weather honors Seagoing Cowboys in new music video

Announcing a new collaboration with the singing group Friends with the Weather! I had asked them to sing the song “Hope for the Children” at the close of my presentation to the Church of the Brethren National Older Adult Conference last September. While they sang, I projected photos taken by seagoing cowboys of children in post-World War II Europe on a screen. Friends with the Weather had been looking for an idea on how to bring their lead song “Blessed for the Journey” from their new CD to life and were so inspired by the story of the seagoing cowboys that they asked me if I would assist them. You can see the resulting music video on the Friends with the Weather website or on youtube

I’m thrilled to have been a part of this collaboration and to be able to share with you this new medium for spreading the seagoing cowboy story. Enjoy!

The S. S. Park Victory: Livestock trip #2, Poland, December 1945 – Part I

The seagoing cowboys on the second livestock trip of the S. S. Park Victory faced a much bleaker experience than those who went to Trieste. It was a rougher ride in wintry weather, for one thing. And the destination more devastated.

S. S. Park Victory awaits departure in Baltimore, December 1945. Photo credit: Harold Hoffman.

Seagoing cowboy Daniel Hertzler says in an article for The Mennonite, “We were a diverse group of cattlemen…. Ten states and two Canadian provinces were represented. There were 16 Mennonites, 10 Brethren, one Methodist, one Baptist and one Presbyterian.” Of these men, the ship’s radio operator Will Keller notes, “Some younger, some older, some conscientious objectors to war, some adventurers, all well-behaved without exception.”

Seagoing cowboys of the S. S. Park Victory to Poland, Dec. 1945. Photo credit: Harold Hoffman.

More seagoing cowboys of the S. S. Park Victory to Poland, Dec. 1945. Photo credit: Harold Hoffman.

Cowboys started arriving December 18 and had plenty of time to get to know each other before the work began, as a snow storm and sickness of horses held 13 train car loads up in Kentucky. Keller notes that cattle were then substituted for the horses. Finally, on December 24, with all the cargo loaded, tug boats began pulling the Park Victory from the pier in Baltimore and moving down the Chesapeake Bay.

Photo credit: Harold Hoffman.

“Everyone was excited,” notes assistant cowboy supervisor Harold Hoffman in his diary. That is, until the ship anchored off Norfolk, Virginia, where it sat for three days waiting for a full ship’s crew. Radioman Keller explains, “Anchored midstream away from any access to land so as to not lose crew members or cowboys over Christmas holiday.”

On Christmas Eve, Hoffman notes the finding of a dead mare. “Some start,” he says. But “What a Christmas dinner,” he writes the next day. “Stewards dept. really put themselves in good with the cowboys.”

Christmas menu. From the papers of Harold Hoffman, Peggy Reiff Miller collection.

However, it wasn’t such a good Christmas Day up top. “Had messy time feeding top deck in rain tonight getting the canvas back on the feed that a hard wind blew off,” Hoffman says. An omen of the chilly, cloudy, rainy weather and choppy seas that plagued the ship all the way across the Atlantic.

The ship set sail December 27, and two days later Hoffman writes, “This morning we began to get a real touch of sea life. Two of the boys went to the rail after breakfast. Most every one was affected some.” Later, I was “standing in line at slop chest [ship’s store] when it seemed the ship went on her side. Passageway doors opened and six inches of water came in. Soon the fire alarm. A rush for life jackets. Everyone wondered if it was drill or real. The crew was serious. Another alarm, some thought it was to abandon ship…. I rushed for my life jacket. The First Mate came through, said the last alarm was the dismissal.”

Photo credit: Fred Ramseyer.

Radioman Keller notes, “Not all animal manure developed on board will be discarded overboard. Odor becomes overwhelming in some places. Horrible below deck.” Pity the poor cowboys who were assigned to those holds!

The distribution of heifers and horses on the S. S. Park Victory to Poland, Dec. 1945. Drawing by Harold Hoffman.

Arrangement of the livestock in the Park Victory holds, Dec. 1945. Drawing by Harold Hoffman.

On New Year’s Day, 1946, part way across the Atlantic, Keller notes, “wartime radio silence at sea no longer required. Radio airwaves congested with commercial traffic.”

Finally, on January 6, “Sighted land of Scilly Islands,” says Hoffman. “Much excitement about it.” The ship made its way up through the English Channel to the White Cliffs of Dover, where it anchored for the night. Of the cliffs, Hoffman says, “They are a chalky-Limestone rock. White indeed…. This trip is really swell. It is like a dream, such a thrill.”

If the White Cliffs of Dover were thrilling, the next leg of the Park Victory trip was chilling, in more ways than the weather.

to be continued . . .

Seagoing Cowboys before World War II – Part III

Today, we look at how the experiences of the cowboys to Germany after World War I contrasted with those of the UNRRA seagoing cowboys after World War II.

The trip across the Atlantic was much the same in 1921 as in 1946 – seasickness, smelly holds, ocean vistas and all. The animals demanded the same attention for feed and water. However, the 1921 shipments contained a greater percentage of cows needing to be milked, with some cowboys responsible for as many as 60 head. Must have been some sore hands on those ships! The milk was dumped overboard.

The differences in the two eras manifested when the ships docked in Bremen. With little damage to structures by World War I artillery, the cowboys of 1921 found an exciting city still intact, with one crew heading into town for beer and to refresh their work-encrusted bodies in a public bath house. The cowboys after World War II could only step into the rubble left from saturation bombing and had no such pleasures.

Roger Ingold experiences war-torn Bremen, Germany, July 1946. Photo courtesy of Roger Ingold.

Being of German-speaking heritage and delivering dairy animals sent by ethnic Germans, the 1921 cowboys were met on board in Bremen by a welcoming committee and taken on tours through Bremen and around the country. They visited poet Goethe’s home in Weimar, banqueted with city council members in Leipzig, visited an orphanage in Halle where some of the cows were sent, and marveled at palaces and museums in Berlin. The UNRRA cowboys had no welcoming committees. The livestock they delivered were sent via rail on to Czechoslovakia, as Germany was not a receiving country for UNRRA goods. These cowboys made their way around the ruins of Bremen on their own, and that was as far as most of them got.

Devastation as far as the eye could see met the UNRRA seagoing cowboys in Bremen, Germany, in July 1946. Photo by Roger Ingold.

Living like kings ceased for the 1921 cowboys when they returned to their ship, however. “If the Germans looked on with warm hearts,” writes La Vern J. Rippley, “the West Arrow’s Captain Forward cast a less friendly eye.” At his command, the cowboys spent 13 days of their return voyage “pitching manure, scraping stalls and washing down the interior of the ship.” No matter that the work wasn’t in their contract.

Even though the cowboys of 1921 had not seen the brutal devastation witnessed by the UNRRA cowboys of later years, like the UNRRA cowboys, they came home realizing the reality of war. Cowboy Peter Andres commented in a New York Times article of February 25, 1921, “There is too much misery here.” Others noted, “We have had plenty to eat and have been banqueted everywhere but everywhere we have seen hungry children and tubercular adults who need milk.”

The human face of war is timeless.

 

Sources for this post were two articles by La Vern J. Rippley: “Gift Cows for Germany,” North Dakota History: Journal of the Northern Plains, Summer 1973 and “American Milk Cows for Germany: A Sequel,” North Dakota History: Journal of the Northern Plains, Summer, 1977.

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.