Oceans of Possibilities: Turning Swords into Plowshares

If you missed my program for the Indian Valley Public Library last week and would like to see it, you can tune in to the 56-minute recording here. I talk about the ways in which the seagoing cowboys and the Heifer Project contributed to building peace after World War II. Enjoy!

~Peggy

The Longest Ride – Part II: Life on board from the US to Greece

Today’s post picks up the story of the November 5, 1946, trip of the S. S. Carroll Victory to Greece and South Africa. I’m exceedingly grateful to Charlie Lord for sharing with me and granting me permission to use the letters he wrote to his wife while on this trip as well as his marvelous photo collection documenting this voyage. The following vignettes show in part what life on board was like for these seagoing cowboys apart from caring for their 785 horses.

Nov. 5 – “It has been unusually rough for the first day out they say. The ship is rolling sidewise a lot and rocking endwise, each end goes up and down 8 or 10 feet with each rock. . . . It’s very unhandy to be trying to re-arrange things in a locker, and find yourself sliding back and forth on the floor and the locker door banging back and forth against your leg with every roll. Dishes banged in the pantry and kitchen with that one.”

In the stormy Atlantic Ocean, November 1946. © Charles Lord

Nov. 6 – “The sea continues quite rough. The crew battened every thing down today after a flying box slid off into a passageway and almost hit a cattleman. . . . Down in lower two [hold where Lord worked], it sounds like thunder as hundreds of hooves go one or two steps forward then back on each roll. . . . Several cattlemen are feeling under the weather. I hope to get a picture of a man at the rail tomorrow.”

Nov. 7 – “Del just told about his getting caught in the cable, swinging on the end of the cable clear out over the stalls and the ocean and coming back to crash his shoulder into a bale of hay.”

Pulling up hay from the lower hold on a rocking ship was dangerous work. © Charles Lord

Nov. 11 – near the Azores. “A strong wind is blowing and the ship is pitching from end to end, lengthwise. It feels queer to be climbing a ladder and have to use most of your strength to get two or three rungs then float up the next two. Walking you climb a hill then are practically thrown through space. A few men are getting seasick again. . . . Tonight I saw sparks in the water behind the ship. It is a phosphorescent result of the propeller or something. It looks like diamonds in the sea.”

Cowboy supervisor Jesse Roth at the top of the hold 2 ladder. © Charles Lord

Nov. 12 – “There is a notice up about a Mail Buoy at the Rock of Gibraltar, but I hear it is a hoax. If it isn’t I hope to send this letter there.”

Charlie Lord at the Rock of Gibraltar. Looking for the mail buoy? November 1946. © Charles Lord

Nov. 13 – “The Mail Buoy is an old marine joke. I’ll send this in Greece. . . . I did my washing today. Main trouble is that soot from the smokestack leaves soot on them while drying. . . . I showed my pictures to the Chief Steward of the ship, a Negro, and asked him if I could take pictures of his department sometime. He has 14 men under him, about half colored & half white. I’ll bet Ebony would like pictures of an interracial crew at sea, without any mention of cattle-boating. I’ve never seen any article on the subject. He was enthusiastic, promised 100% cooperation. He said if I could get the story where all the people would see it, realize mixed races can get along when living close together in cramped quarters for weeks or months, it would help him & the whole Negro race.”

Nov. 15 – “We are supposed to go to Kavalla. But about a thousand guerrillas are loose with arms in that territory so we may not go there. . . . We got clean linen [today]. We get it once a week. 2 bath towels, 2 hand towels, 2 sheets, 1 pillow case, and clean bed spread every two weeks.”

Nov. 16 – “One of the things I dislike about this is the way most of the horses have colds or something, and have snotty noses. They often snort and cough & blow the mucous on a fellow when he is watering or feeding them. All in all, it’s a pretty easy job, though. The manure is beginning to smell now. It is getting warmer.”

Nov. 17 – nearing Kavalla. “We passed through a mine field and they sent all men up from the holds from 3:30 to 5:30 PM. We will pass through another in the morning and no one is to be in the holds below from 4 – 6 AM. We are due to reach Kavalla at about daybreak.”

Nov. 18 – “We arrived!”

Arriving in Kavalla, Greece, safe and sound November 18, 1946. © Charles Lord

Next post: Greek odyssey #1

In Memoriam

Another fifth Friday has rolled around, and with it a post remembering seagoing cowboys no longer with us.

Good, Ellis, January 10, 2022, Bourbonnais, Illinois. S. S. F. J. Luckenbach to Poland, January 15, 1946.

Guyer, C. Albert, February 28, 2022, Martinsburg, Pennsylvania. S. S. Mexican to Poland, November 8, 1945.

Kaufman, Lester, February 14, 2022, Millersburg, Ohio. S. S. Joshua Hendy to Poland, December 8, 1945.

Lammers, Richard Lewis, February 2, 2016, Pleasant Hill, Tennessee. S. S. Spartanburg Victory to Italy, March 17, 1947.

Layman, Wilbur Clement, January 24, 2022, Harrisonburg, Virginia. S. S. Charles W. Wooster to Greece, August 15, 1945; S. S. Bucknell Victory to Poland, February 16, 1946.

Morehouse, John, Jr., February 22, 2022, Goshen, Indiana. S. S. Lindenwood Victory to China, December 19, 1946.

Neuhauser, James Groff, January 8, 2022, San Juan, Puerto Rico. S. S. Pierre Victory to Poland, March 29, 1946; S. S. Plymouth Victory to Poland, May 11, 1946.

Schwartz, Arthur Edward, January 10, 2022, Henderson, North Carolina. S. S. Zona Gale to Yugoslavia (docking in Trieste, Italy), June 28, 1945; S. S. Frontenac Victory to Poland, June 6, 1946.

Shenk, Ellis, December 28, 2021, Bel Air, Maryland. S. S. American Importer to West Germany with the Heifer Project, November 7, 1953.

Stuntz, Hayward W., February 17, 2022, Plymouth, Indiana. S. S. Joshua Hendy to Poland, December 8, 1945.

Swords, Gene G., March 13, 2022, Lititz, Pennsylvania. S. S. Rockland Victory to Czechoslovakia (docking in Bremen, Germany), June 14, 1946.

Rest in peace, dear seagoing friends.

Ten young seagoing cowboys from Okanogan County, Washington, on an errand of mercy: Part III

The story of the Okanogan County, Washington, seagoing cowboys continues with their sobering arrival in Danzig, Poland, on December 27, 1945*:

The Clarksville Victory approaches the pier in Nowy Port, Poland, December 27, 1945. Photo by J. O. Yoder.

In an unidentified newspaper article, 16-year-old Fancher said, “You have to see that country to believe it. Everyone is hungry . . . The children are in rags and most of them have not been to school since the war started. You walk down the streets and they run up to you, holding out their hands and begging for food.” One of the images that still remains in Fancher’s mind today is that of seeing people on the street cutting steaks off of one of the mares that died.

Children following the seagoing cowboys in Gdansk, Poland, January 1946. Photo by Nelson Schumacher.

Henneman recalls that their ship had apples from Tonasket. “The labels on the box tell you where they come from, and who packed it. Somebody we knew packed them. You knew their number.” In Poland, he carried apples off the ship under his jacket and handed them out to people. “I guess it was stealing,” he said, “but we had plenty. They didn’t have any.” He bought other items that he carried off the ship and gave to people. The guards, who would normally shake someone down they suspected of carrying things off, would let him pass because they knew he was giving everything away.

Dave Henneman shares a story from J. O. Yoder’s book about their trip with Peggy Reiff Miller in 2014 interview. Photo by Sandra Brightbill.

Cigarettes were the prime black market commodity, and other cowboys learned they could buy cigarettes cheaply in the ship’s store and trade them for souvenirs. Or they could trade their dollars for Zloties to make their purchases. Dugan was able to obtain a violin which he still has and which he played for dances after he got home. Fancher brought home a little wooden box with a hand-carved lid.

Entertainment options in Danzig were slim. Dugan remembers visiting battlefields with ammunition and the bodies of unburied German soldiers still lying around. “Danzig is like some old Wild West town,” Fancher said in his newspaper interview. “It is full of Russian, Polish and British soldiers, and all the civilians carry guns–pistols, rifles or tommy-guns. There are a lot of shooting scrapes. Two English and four Russians were killed during the 14 days we were there, and some of our boys were held up and robbed of cigarets [sic] and American money.”

Exploring a battlefield near the docks in Poland, January 1946. Photo by Nelson Schumacher.

Fancher and John Woodard told the reporter, “one sight in Danzig was three times as horrible as the worst Boris Karloff movie.” Woodard explained, “That was the [building] the Germans used for human medical experiments. They showed us thru it . . . it was terrible. There were human bones all about, human skin that had been tanned, soap made from human fat . . . the smell was sickening . . . there were two petrified bodies . . .” The experience is one the cowboys do not like to talk about today. Their crew was one of only a few that were taken through the facility before it was put off limits.

Photo by Clarksville Victory fellow cowboy Eli Beachy, January 1946.

(to be continued)

* Excerpted from my article published in the Okanogan County Heritage magazine, Winter 2014.

On being seasick

The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines seasickness as “motion sickness experienced on the water.” Some say it’s “all in the head.” Many a seagoing cowboy would disagree. Here are two accounts:

Cowboy Merle Crouse, from our last post, painted this colorful description of what it was like to be a seagoing cowboy in his short address at Heifer International’s 70th anniversary kickoff in Little Rock, Arkansas, in March 2014. He opened with this paragraph:

If you like to feed dusty hay to confused cows who are sliding around on a layer of fresh manure that has greased a floor that is rocking 4 ways at once from 40 foot North Atlantic waves while you are so seasick that you don’t have anything left in your stomach to throw up and you almost wish you were dead and you almost wish you had stayed home on the farm instead of volunteering to be completely miserable, then, welcome to the experience of being a seagoing cowboy.

Seagoing cowboys en route to Italy in 1946 try to get their sea legs. Photo by Elmer Bowers.

John Brelsford served as a seagoing cowboy on the S. S. Rock Springs Victory delivering cattle to Ethiopia in March 1947. He says, “I can’t write about this crossing without trying to describe seasickness.” He continues:

Ten minutes after we left the pier, I began to be sick. I didn’t know what was the matter then, but by the middle of the next day I knew well enough. I get a headache that seems to settle in the back of my neck, have a very upset stomach, and feel cold all over. The night we sailed, I went to bed right away to try and get warm and get over my headache. The next morning I didn’t feel like eating and my headache was worse. I ate an orange to see how food would stay down. It stayed pretty well, so I went to breakfast. After I had been there a little while, the whole place seemed to make me sick, so I grabbed a half grapefruit and beat it. I don’t suppose that it was five minutes later that I decided to see if the orange and grapefruit tasted as good as I thought they did, so I brought them back up. . . . Well, I tried to go about my business of feeding and watering a third of the 84 head of heifers that we had on our end of the top deck, but every once in awhile I’d give up and stick my head over the side of the ship or over a bucket. . . . It was surprising what it would take to set you going. Sometimes, it was looking up and seeing somebody else going through the motions. Sometimes, it was the look on the face of a cow. Sometimes it was listening to someone tell how just as they got through eating they leaned over and deposited their dinner in some lucky fellows lap and then settled back down and ate another plateful. Sometimes it was just looking at the paleness or yellowness and the pained expression on the faces of the fellows around most anywhere. To say the least, I was worn out by night just from bending over the ship and working my diaphragm muscles so much. I had decided never to eat again when Carl Geisler talked me into testing a pork chop that he was eating out in the fresh air. He strongly suggested that I do the same thing, so I finally consented and went into the galley and ordered a plate to go out. I went back out and stuck my head in every few minutes until my plate was ready. It had a couple of pork chops and three slices of bread. I very carefully discarded all the fat and bones and wrapped up the small pieces of meat in the bread and rather slowly ate them. After the first bite hit my stomach, I felt better. I have been eating ever since. . . .

There were all sorts of different ideas as to the causes and remedies. . . . I’m sure that if doctors and sailors haven’t been able to figure out either the cause or the cure in all the years that men have been sailing the seven seas, there isn’t much use of first time sailors trying to figure it out. But figure we would. For three or so days that was all anybody talked about. All I’m sure of is that we all got sick and that we all got over it in spite of the cause or treatment.

Two of John Brelsford’s shipmates hanging over the rail. Photo by Howard Lord.

Read more about cowboys and seasickness here.

The Seagoing Cowboys and the Bruderhof

For some reason, the photos intended for this post were omitted this morning, so I am resending it with the images included.

At this time of Thanksgiving, I give thanks for the wonderful people my husband and I met or reconnected with this month on my 12-day speaking tour out east. I also give thanks for the work of sharing the seagoing cowboy stories that has, by providence, been placed in my hands. My tour took us to the Hagerstown, MD, and Elizabethtown, PA, Churches of the Brethren; the Living Branches Mennonite retirement community in Souderton, PA; and four Bruderhof communities in New York and Pennsylvania. I was able to tell specific stories of their own related cowboys at each place – always a joy. And particularly this time at the Bruderhofs.

The Bruderhof is a 100-year-old intentional Christian community with over 25 settlements on five continents. The members practice radical discipleship in the spirit of the first church in Jerusalem. After they came to the United States in the 1950s, a number of young Church of the Brethren families joined the movement, and today there are more than 600 descendants of the Church of the Brethren throughout the Bruderhof. Having grown up and been active in the Church of the Brethren, it was great fun for me when I first visited the Maple Ridge community in New York in 2016 to discover the many connections I had with Bruderhof members.

Heifer Project started in the Church of the Brethren in 1942; and when World War II ended in Europe in May of 1945, the Brethren Service Committee became the recruiting agency for the livestock tenders, dubbed “seagoing cowboys,” which the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration would need for their shipments of animals to Europe. I learned in 2016 that some of the Brethren families who joined the Bruderhof had been active in raising animals for the Heifer Project in those early years, that some of their relatives had served as seagoing cowboys, and that some of their young adults had recently spent a year volunteering at the Heifer Ranch in Perryville, Arkansas.

Bruderhof member Kathy Fike Mow & her sister Elsie in the right of this photo join other children in presenting money they had raised for a heifer to farmer Paul Rhodes in Astoria, IL, in 1944. Photo courtesy of Kathy Fike Mow.

So on this year’s trip, I went with stories in hand of Bruderhof relatives’ involvements in the Heifer Project and as seagoing cowboys to share with the four communities we visited. Being able to share a piece of their ancestral history at their high school and three of their elementary schools was the highlight of my trip.

Presenting the Heifer Project and seagoing cowboy story to 9th graders at Bruderhof’s The Mount Academy. The high school is located in an amazing former monastery. Photo credit: Rex Miller.

After basking for six days in the love and hospitality offered to us in the Bruderhof settlements we visited, and being inspired by their model of radical discipleship, my husband and I came away with hearts full of gratitude and refreshed for our journey home and the responsibilities that awaited us there.

With my husband Rex on the Hudson River at The Mount Academy, November 10, 2021.

May the Spirit of Thanksgiving embrace you as well.

In Memorium

Another Fifth Friday has rolled around, and it’s time to remember seagoing cowboys who have recently passed from us.

Birkey, Robert “Bob” N., June 21, 2021, Bremen, Indiana. S. S. Woodstock Victory to Poland, June 7, 1946.

Dugan, William, September 26, 2020, formerly of Loomis, Washington. S. S. Clarksville Victory to Poland, December 2, 1945.

Fancher, John “Jick” T., June 14, 2021, Quincy, Washington. S. S. Clarksville Victory to Poland, December 2, 1945.

Frantz, Kenneth, May 29, 2021, North Manchester, Indiana. S. S. F. J. Luckenbach to Greece, June 22, 1945.

Hershberger, Roman E., July 5, 2021, Goshen, Indiana. S. S. Virginian to Poland, January 4, 1946.

Messner, Raymond Jacob, April 27, 2021, Muhlenberg, Pennsylvania. S. S. Beloit Victory to Czechoslovakia (docking in Bremen, Germany), June 8, 1946; S. S. Woodstock Victory to Poland, July 22, 1946.

Martin, John Richard, March 23, 2021, Harrisonburg, Virginia. S. S. Pass Christian Victory to Israel, November 1949. (Levinson Brothers shipment)

Metzler, Edgar J., May 12, 2021, Goshen, Indiana. S. S. Stephen R. Mallory to Poland, June 20, 1946.

Miller, Thomas H., May 13, 2021, Middlebury, Indiana. S. S. Plymouth Victory to Greece, February 13, 1947.

Schlabach, Theron F., May 13, 2021, Goshen, Indiana. S. S. Columbia Heights Victory to Israel, June 1951. (Levinson Brothers shipment)

Schmidt, Hartzel W., July 1, 2021, North Newton, Kansas. S. S. Morgantown Victory to Yugoslavia (docking in Trieste, Italy), December 2, 1946.

Rest in peace, dear seagoing friends.

 

Heifers and Havoc on the S. S. Humanitas, Part III

This series of posts brings to light the incongruity of Heifer Project animals being donated and shipped to Italy in the spirit of Christian goodwill to help destitute Italians recover from World War II on the one hand and cigarettes for the black market being smuggled into Italy on the same ship on the other. This post picks up the story on the fourth Heifer Project trip of the S. S. Humanitas that departed Baltimore on June 9, 1948.

Loading the S. S. Humanitas in Baltimore. June 1948. Photo courtesy of David Harner.

Like Charles Cutting and Byron Frantz on previous shipments, David Harner felt the ship reducing its speed as it approached the Naples harbor. “No one gave any explanation,” he says. “When I asked Señor Cortali [the radio man], he just shrugged and walked away–standard behavior when he didn’t want to answer a question. By nightfall, the ship was proceeding at a crawl, and finally, when it was completely dark, the ship came to a full stop. Crew members went around the ship making sure that no light escaped from the portholes or companionways. Still no explanation from the officers or crew. Suddenly, out of the dark roared several large, very fast speed boats.”

Harner’s crewmate Jim Moffet picks up the story. “A Jacob’s ladder was thrown over the side of our ship and a man came aboard. The crew of our ship began carrying boxes out of the hold and lowering them over the side into the boat. When it was loaded, another boat came out of the darkness and tied onto the side of us.”

Harner says, “After an hour or so, all of the speed boats had been loaded and they sped away into the darkness. Señor Cortali appeared. ‘You see? Cigarettes. You no tell anybody!’ We had witnessed a major cigarette smuggling operation. Cattle and cigarettes–strange cargo!”

After docking in Naples, Harner traveled up to Carrara, Italy, where the Brethren Service Committee had a project which was often visited by the cowboys on the Italian trips. Harner spent the rest of his summer there helping with the project’s children’s camps.

The cowboys on the next trip of the Humanitas once again experienced the smuggling operation. The outcome of their trip, however, was different from all the rest. Having heard the story from some of the cowboys who visited the project at Carrara, Harner writes it as his own:

“Soon after docking,” he says, “four or five men in suits, accompanied by several carabinieri with automatic weapons slung over their shoulders boarded the ship. They all looked grim. What they wanted was even grimmer. We were all under arrest: cowboys, crew, officers, and civilians…. We were escorted down through a gate and into the city. It wasn’t far before we came to a building with ‘Questura,’ carved into the stonework above the door. This was the Italian [police headquarters]. In a short time, the passengers were all released. In a few minutes more, thanks to the efforts of Señor Cortali, the cowboys were released. The officers and crew were all detained. As it turned out, all the officers and crew, except for Señor Cortali, were imprisoned for smuggling.”

A little embellishment here? Perhaps. But Jim Moffet’s brother Bob was on that shipment that had left Baltimore July 30, 1948. He wrote home on September 2, “The police really did give this ship a going over on the 22nd. They even went through some of our stuff. The captain, 1st mate, 3rd mate, chief engineer, and crew boss are all in jail. From what I hear I guess the police really did beat up the 1st mate. There is a fine of $35,000 that has to be paid by someone….”

A few days later, the Humanitas set sail once again for the US. The Heifer Project made one last shipment to Italy on October 12, 1948. The ship now had a different captain, and the cowboys on that crew reported no nefarious happenings.

The new captain of the the S. S. Humanitas, October 1948. Photo courtesy of Chester Bowman.

Heifers on their way to Italy, October 1948. Photo courtesy of Chester Bowman.

The S. S. Humanitas appears to finally have lived fully up to its name, a Latin word indicating kindness and benevolence.

Looking back 75 years: UNRRA’s first livestock shipment to Poland, Part V—Home in time for Thanksgiving

When the S. S. Virginian left Poland October 10, 1945, the seagoing cowboy crew expected to be home within a couple of weeks. They didn’t anticipate orders for their ship to go on to three ports in Sweden to pick up wood pulp to carry back to the US. With this side trip, the cowboys had the opportunity to visit a country not nearly so war-beaten as Poland.

The Swedish flag represents the warm hospitality received by the seagoing cowboys there. Still shot from film footage of Ken Kortemeier.

On Friday, October 12, in the Gulf of Bothnia between Sweden and Finland, the Virginian docked in the harbor of the little lumbering village of Vallvik. Cowboy Harry Kauffman described it as “the most beautiful spot I have ever seen. It is the beauty of nature – God’s green earth, low mountains covered with evergreen forests with a sprinkling of other trees with yellow and gold foliage – probably larches. The air is so rare and clear one can see for miles and oh what a contrast to the desolation and woe of Poland. It is a wonderful soothing relief in contrasts and relief so great that it nearly upsets one’s emotions. What strange creatures we are anyhow – we see sorrow and suffering until we shed tears and in just a little while again such splendor and beauty and peace that we look through eyes filled with tears and its hard to believe we are on the same earth.” Several of the cowboys echoed these thoughts.

A highlight for eight of the cowboys was finding a church in nearby Ljusne on Sunday in which to worship. “The walk was very invigorating and refreshing,” says R. Everett Petry, “as we followed a bicycle path all the way thru the pines and cedars. Here, as everywhere else, the bicycle was very much in evidence. It is very common to see an entire family out peddling along.”

Bicycles were the major form of transportation in the Swedish villages the seagoing cowboys visited, November 1945. Still shot from film footage of Ken Kortemeier.

Petry described the church, which he estimated would seat about 500, as “not elaborate tho beautiful in its simplicity.” About 100 people came, mostly women. “We were unable to understand anything of what was said at any time, but still we felt that we had truly worshipped with them.” The cowboys were surprised at the end of the service when “an attractive lady (who they learned was the preacher’s wife) asked us in somewhat halting English, ‘Will you please enjoy a cup of coffee and light lunch with us?'”

Over coffee and pastries, “We talked with some who could understand us,” Petry says, “and truly, no one can ever know the wonderful feeling we enjoyed sharing the fellowship with those wonderful people.” The Swedes asked the cowboys to sing some American hymns, applauding after each one. “Finally we were asked to sing our National Anthem for them, which we willingly did, while every one of them very courteously stood, honoring us and our great United States.” Then they sang theirs, “and how that church did ring with their voices.”

On readying to leave, Petry says, “we stumbled onto the fact that they also sing one of our most popular hymns, ‘Nearer My God to Thee,’ so all together, they in their native tongue and we in ours sang that hymn. We felt completely united in something very great and real.” Similar experiences of fellowship awaited the crew in their next stops, yet further north in Fagervik and Bollstabruk.

The Virginian departed Bollstabruk October 23 for the estimated 4,000-mile trip home. “Whoopie,” noted Kauffman in his journal, as eager as all the cowboys to get on their way home. But the ship was slowed down by fog, stalled off the southern tip of Sweden for a bad storm to pass, docked for naught in the Firth of Forth near Edinburgh, Scotland due to missed signals before being sent through mine-infested waters on down to Southampton, England. There, on November 4, they picked up 132 US soldiers even more eager to get home than the cowboys.

US soldiers readying to board the S. S. Virginian in Southampton, England, for their return home, November 3, 1945. Still shot from film footage of Ken Kortemeier.

On November 15, the Virginian finally pulled into an army pier in Brooklyn, New York, where the soldiers were met by a reception boat of WAC’s and a band.

The US Army welcomes the soldiers on the S. S. Virginian home, November 15, 1945.

Soldiers receive a rousing welcome home in Brooklyn, New York, November 15, 1945. Still shot from film footage of Ken Kortemeier.

The cowboys debarked the next day at Pier 21 on Staten Island. It would be a joyful Thanksgiving for all!