Seagoing Cowboy Crew Reunions

Edgar Metzler, Ron Graber, Don White, Owen Gingerich, and Al Meyer reunite this week in Goshen, Indiana.

S. S. Stephen R. Mallory crewmates Edgar Metzler, Ron Graber, Don White, Owen Gingerich, and Al Meyer reunited this week in Goshen, Indiana. Photo credit: Mary Ellen Meyer.

Several seagoing cowboy crews became close-knit units who didn’t want their friendships to end when they walked off their ships. Earlier this week, I had the good fortune to participate in the 70th anniversary reunion of the S. S. Stephen R Mallory crew of Mennonite high school and college students who went to Poland. What a joy to hear them reminisce about their experiences that summer of 1946 which I highlighted in my June 24 post!

Second reunion of the S. S. Stephen R. Mallory crew, 2001. Photo courtesy of Bill Beck.

Second reunion of the S. S. Stephen R. Mallory crew on their 55th anniversary, 2001. Photo courtesy of Bill Beck.

Many of the Mallory cowboys stayed in touch individually through the years, but I learned that it wasn’t until their 50th anniversary that they gathered for their first reunion. Held at Camp Friedenswald in Michigan, their time there brought them together in a bond that has grown stronger through the years. They have met regularly since that first time.

 

 

Crew members of the S. S. Rock Springs Victory, 1997. Photo courtesy of Lowell Hoover.

Crew members of the S. S. Rock Springs Victory, 1997. Photo courtesy of Lowell Hoover.

The S. S. Rock Springs Victory crew of March 12, 1947, to Ethiopia also reunited for the first time for their 50th anniversary, meeting at the Heifer Ranch in Perryville, Arkansas, as theirs was a Heifer Project shipment through UNRRA.

 

 

 

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Plans laid on the ship come to fruition. Courtesy of Hugh Ehrman.

Members of the Clarksville Victory crew gather in Kokomo, Indiana, for a five-year reunion.

Morgantown Victory five-year reunion. Photo courtesy of Hugh Ehrman.

For the S. S. Morgantown Victory crew of December 11, 1945, the bond was so strong on their return from Poland that they planned for a five-year reunion which was held in Kokomo, Indiana. They continued to meet through the years, with their last reunion, to my knowlege, in 2007.

Families joined in the reunions, making friends of many cowboy chidlren. Photo courtesy of J. O. Yoder.

Families joined in the reunions, making friends of many cowboy children. Photo courtesy of J. O. Yoder.

Clarksville Victory crew, 2007. Photo courtesy of J. O. Yoder.

Clarksville Victory crew, 2005, at Camp Alexander Mack. Photo courtesy of J. O. Yoder.

 

 

The Clarksville Victory crew left the U.S. a day after the Morgantown Victory, and the two ships were in port in Poland at the same time. This crew also has gathered frequently through the years, most recently, I believe, in 2005.

It’s been a privilege to be part of some of these later reunions. Thank you, seagoing cowboys, for your many stories!

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A Seagoing Cowboy Christmas

The following is an excerpt from an article titled “Cowboys at Christmas” that I wrote for Heifer International’s World Ark magazine.

Thirty-two cowboys back at sea,

Getting homesick as they could be,

Spent Christmas Day out on the deep,

And dreamt of home while fast asleep.

So wrote twenty-three-year old Willard Bontrager in “An Ode to Thirty-two Cowboys,” a poem he presented to his crew at their Christmas program on the SS Morgantown Victory December 25, 1946….

Morgantown Victory crew, 1946

Willard Bontrager’s crew on the SS Morgantown Victory delivered horses to Yugoslavia. Photo courtesy of Hartzel Schmidt

About 7,000 men of all ages, religions, colors, and walks of life responded to the call for “seagoing cowboys” during the years 1945 and 1946. A number of these cowboys found themselves away from home over the holidays, many for the first time. As Bontrager’s ode suggests, this affected some more than others.

Cowboy Al Guyer of the SS Mexican had already been to Poland in 1945. There he had seen and smelled the rubble of war and experienced the hospitality of grateful Heifer Project recipients in the village of Suchy Dab. That Christmas Eve found him on his way home off the coast of Norway, where the SS Mexican was sitting out a storm. “I hunkered down on the side of the ship where the wind was not blowing and I was so homesick,” Guyer said. “I could look out and see that shore of rocks and waves, imagining being thrown on the rocks.”

SS Mexican crew, December 1945

The seagoing cowboys of the SS Mexican delivered heifers and horses to Poland in December 1945. Photo courtesy of Clarence Reeser

But the storm didn’t stop the festivities Christmas Day. Guyer’s shipmate Calvert Petre noted in his journal, “[J]ust when they had the tables set for the feast they sent word down to watch the tables. No one took them serious enough and when the storm hit us broadside, what a roll!!! It slid oranges, apples, candy, plates, and boys all on a pile….” They reset the tables and soon were digging into a duck dinner with all the trimmings.

Each cowboy crew had its own personality, as did their Christmas celebrations. To read more of their Christmas stories, the full article can be accessed online at this link: http://www.heifer.org/join-the-conversation/magazine/2014/holiday/cowboys-at-christmas.html

That’s it for 2014! I wish all my readers a safe and happy New Year’s Eve and abundant blessings in the New Year!

Next post: January 9, 2015