Seagoing Cowboy Ralph Witmer returns to Poland after 69 years

Ralph Witmer (right) and his cousin Howard Weaver ride the waves on their seagoing cowboy journey the end of 1946. Photo courtesy of Ralph Witmer.

Ralph Witmer (right) and his cousin Howard Weaver ride the waves on their seagoing cowboy journey the end of 1946. Photo courtesy of Ralph Witmer.

I’m not scheduled for another post until next week, but I just had to share this.

What a joy it was to find a Farm and Dairy article in my Google alerts last week about one of the cowboys I interviewed in 2006 who made a return trip to Poland in November. Ralph Witmer, at age 88, was able to return to Gdansk with his son and grandson and revisit the place where he had delivered livestock on the S. S. Beloit Victory in December of 1946.

Ralph had one of the more challenging trips, as he and four of his fellow cowboys missed their ship home and had some tense times in Poland before finally catching another ship, very near the end of the UNRRA shipping program. You can read the article HERE.

Ralph Witmer and Howard Weaver mill through a bombed-out bunker in Gdansk, 1946. Photo courtesy of Ralph Witmer.

Ralph Witmer and Howard Weaver mill through a bombed-out bunker in Gdansk, 1946. Photo courtesy of Ralph Witmer.

Of particular interest to me in the article is the last picture showing the Witmers and a group of people from the surprise reception given the Americans. When you look at the article, the blond woman in the pink coat in the second row and the brunette to her left are Grace and Magda, respectively, who were my contacts when I visited Poland in 2013. Magda and Grace were so taken with the copies of photos from seagoing cowboy albums I had with me for the purpose of finding the locations in the photos that they arranged for a newspaper article about my collection while I was there.

The October 4, 2013, Polish newspaper Gazeta Trojmiasto carried an article about the seagoing cowboys who had delivered livestock to Gdansk in 1945-1947 and the photos they had taken of post-war Gdansk.

The October 4, 2013, Polish newspaper Gazeta Trojmiasto carried an article about the seagoing cowboys who had delivered livestock to Gdansk in 1945-1947 and the photos the cowboys had taken of post-war Gdansk. Peggy Reiff Miller collection.

The two women are working on plans for a photo exhibition of these post-WWII images of Gdansk and hoping to find the funding to carry it out. So, maybe one day, in the hopefully not too distant future, I’ll be making a post about an exhibition of seagoing cowboy photos in Poland! I’m guessing that Magda and Grace were extremely excited to meet one of these cowboys.

 

The photos taken in Gdansk by seagoing cowboys document the post-war history of the city.

The photos taken in Gdansk by seagoing cowboys, as shown in this October 2013 newspaper,  document the post-war history of the city.  Peggy Reiff Miller collection.

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Thanksgiving at Sea: Two Cowboys, Two Outcomes

Seagoing Cowboys eat well on Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving dinner for the SS William S. Halsted crew. Source: Ray Zook album.

 

Nov. 28, 1946

Thanksgiving day at sea. Time changed again. Saw the most beautiful sunrise I ever saw….We hoist more hay for foredeck and then the dinner. Too much turkey, trimmings, 4 kinds of pie, ice cream & all. Didn’t eat any supper, had my orange, apple & nuts left from dinner & ate a candy bar….

Willard Sellers’ diary entry, SS William S. Halsted on the Atlantic Ocean en route to Poland

 

Nov. 28, 1946

This is Thanksgiving day. Sure feel bad. Can’t eat. Forced myself to eat and then vomited. Feel a little better. Went to bed early. Slept fairly well.”

Ernest Hoover’s diary entry, SS. Beloit Victory, one day out of Newport News en route to Poland

 

Happy Thanksgiving to all my readers! May your dinner sit well with you.

Tomorrow: Two more Cowboy Thanksgiving stories