Seagoing Cowboy meets German relatives, December 1946

His father’s protests nearly kept 17-year-old Gerald Liepert from the experience of a lifetime. When Gerald asked his parents to sign the form permitting him to accompany livestock to post-World War II Europe, his mother tipped the scales with her quiet response, “Let him learn how other people have to live.”

Gerald was accepted into UNRRA’s seagoing cowboy program and hoped to be able to travel to Germany where two of his mother’s sisters lived. The ship destined for Germany to which he was assigned, however, blew a boiler. With his money running short from sitting out a maritime strike in Newport News, Virginia, Gerald signed on to the next available ship. Late September 1946 found him on his way across the Atlantic on the S.S. Pierre Victory with a load of horses headed for Poland.

Leftover ammunition on Poland battlefield, 1946. Photo credit: Cletus Schrock.

The trip left a vivid imprint on this 17-year-old mind. Gerald tells of being taken to a battlefield by a 12-year-old guide and recalls “partial skeletons in bunkers, a skull inside a helmet, foot bones in rotting socks in fox holes, mortars with ammunition still stacked nearby, etc. . . . heavy stuff for a 17-year-old’s first time away from home.”

On return to Newport News in late October, Gerald learned the next ship to Germany would leave in mid-November. This allowed time for him to travel home to Wisconsin to regroup and gave his mother time to write to her sisters to let them know of Gerald’s pending arrival in Bremen, scheduled for December 2. Gerald had no idea whether he would be able to see his aunts, whom he had never met, as they lived a significant distance from Bremen in Schlangenbad in the American Zone of Germany.

The aftermath of the storm that hit the S. S. Zona Gale, November 1946. Photo credit: Jeff Shoff, courtesy of Heifer International.

Gerald’s ship, the S. S. Zona Gale, met with a fierce storm that washed many of the horses over board and seriously injured two of the cattlemen. This necessitatied a medical emergency stop in England, delaying arrival in Bremen by three days. In the meantime, Gerald’s Aunt Elsa Dauer and Aunt Hanni Graupner were making the arduous trip by train through the American, French, and British Zones at a time when the trains that were still running were cold and overcrowded, food was scarce and available only through ration cards or the Black Market, and lodging was hard to find. They went first to Bremerhaven where they learned the ship was delayed. After much difficulty in obtaining information, they traveled on by boat up the Weser River to Bremen. There, a kind man at the river pilot station named Mr. Kassel helped them, even to the extent of providing the address and phone number to call his wife should they need a place to sleep.

The two women found their way through the rubble of Bremen to a makeshift “hotel” where they found a “room” within a room divided by bed sheets where they could stay and wait, cold and hungry, until they had news of Gerald, calling Mrs. Kassel every day to see if the ship had arrived.

Back on the Zona Gale, Gerald was working the night watchman shift when the ship took on a German pilot and headed up the Weser River to Bremen. The Second Mate asked him, “Do you know if there is a cattleman named Lippert or Leippert on board?” Gerald said, “I think you are talking about me, Sir!” The Second Mate directed him to the pilot, who handed Gerald an envelope containing the message, “We are here in Bremen expecting you. Contact Lykes Brothers Steamship Agency to find out how you can reach us. Tante Else.” Exciting news, to be sure!

When the ship docked at 7 a.m., Gerald and his friend Delmar headed immediately for the Lykes Brothers office, only to find it didn’t open until 9. They returned to the ship, where Mr. Kassel was looking for Gerald. “I have a Frau Dauer and a Fräulein Graupner waiting at my home to see you,” he said. After obtaining their shore passes, Gerald and Delmar accompanied Mr. Kassel via tram in below zero weather to the apartment complex where he lived. Gerald was grateful for the turtleneck sweater he had bought from the ship’s store on his first trip and his fur-lined gloves.

After their first meeting, the Aunts asked Gerald to go back to Schlangenbad with them to meet the rest of the family. Gerald got the Captain’s permission to leave for a week, but the permission required of the U. S. Army was denied: Gerald had no passport or military ID, only a seaman’s card issued by the U. S. Coast Guard. “While disappointed, at the same time I was relieved,” Gerald says, “because I was anxious about the return trip from Schlangenbad to Bremen alone.”

“After chow the next morning,” says Gerald, “Delmar and I energized the galley crew, who gladly packaged most of the edible leftovers. We also had cigarettes in our socks and every pocket (a valuable Black Market commodity for the Germans). I’m sure that Kassel’s were aware they might receive some of the largess by opening their home to us. Even so, we were grateful, and they easily became our way station.”

Bremen, Germany, 1946. Photo credit: Ivan Meck album, Peggy Reiff Miller collection.

Aunts Elsa and Hanni stayed on for a few days. “On a sightseeing tour of the city of Bremen,” says Gerald, “I do not recall seeing one building intact. We did visit the cathedral and catacombs, (but) sightseeing is not really exciting when it is cold, both indoors and out!”

The day before Aunt Elsa and Aunt Hanni planned to leave, “Delmar and I pulled out all the stops in bringing as much largess off the ship as we could,” says Gerald. “There were nine raw eggs in Delmar’s field jacket pocket, a number 10 can of pineapple, and other assorted goodies contributed by the galley crew. We had already given up most of our warm clothes, keeping only our work clothes and something for the train ride home. How did we get all this stuff off the ship? On an earlier day, the Army gate guard was very cold and I gave him my good set of fur-lined gloves. After that we were never checked. My wool turtleneck sweater went back to Schlangenbad and was still being worn by my cousin Erika when I came back to Germany in 1952 with the U. S. Army.”

And how did Elsa and Hanni get all those goodies through customs when all the passengers were taken off the train to be checked at the French Zone? It seems the customs officials were taking too long to suit the train personnel. Inspections stopped a few persons ahead of the two women. They had lost their seats by the time they got back on the train, but they still had their treasures.

Thanks to Gerald Liepert and his cousin Philip Graupner for their accounts of this story.

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World War II Ships Re-purposed as Livestock Carriers

When the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration (UNRRA) decided to include live cargo in their relief shipments after World War II, they had to scramble to find ships. A number of ships had been fitted to carry mules used for pack animals during the war. After much negotiation with the U. S. War Shipping Administration, UNRRA was able to procure six of these ships, followed by nine more.

WWII mule carrier Zona Gale

The S.S. Zona Gale was one of the first Army mule carriers to serve UNRRA, June 1945. Photo courtesy of Lowell Hoover.

The need for a large number of dairy cows and draft animals in Europe soon became apparent, however; and UNRRA pressed the War Shipping Administration for the conversion of Liberty and Victory ships that transported troops and supplies during the war into additional livestock carriers.

Stalls for Rockland Victory.

Stalls are being built on a New York City pier for the Rockland Victory, November 1945. Photo courtesy of Paul Springer.

Throughout the livestock shipping program, UNNRA had 73 ships in service with the following breakdown:

3 Army cattle ships (S.S. F. J. Luckenbach, S.S. Mexican, S.S. Virginian) (capacity 650-700)

12 Liberty ships (capacity 335-360)

11 Liberty ZEC-2 ships, built with large holds to transport tanks during the war (capacity 800-850)

41 Victory ships, full load (capacity 785-840)

5 Victory ships, deck load (animals on top deck only) (capacity 200)

1 C-4 (S.S. Mt. Whitney) (capacity 1,500)

Henry Dearborn

Liberty ships, like the S.S. Henry Dearborn here, were usually named for a person. Photo courtesy of Arthur Lewis.

Battle Creek Victory

Victory ships, like the Battle Creek Victory, were usually named after a place. Photo courtesy of Wayne Silvius.

The Liberty and Victory ships were built in mass during the war – first the smaller, slower Liberties; then the larger, faster Victories. With good sailing, the Liberty ships required about two months for a livestock trip and carried about 15 seagoing cowboys, the Victory ships took six weeks and required 32 cowboys, and the C-4 Mt. Whitney was over and back in one month with about 80 cowboys on board. So college-age cowboys who wanted to make more than one trip during summer break hoped and prayed to be assigned to a Victory ship, or better yet, the Mt. Whitney.

SS Mt. Whitney

The S.S. Mt. Whitney, the newest and largest of the livestock ships, made her maiden voyage July 28, 1946, from Newport News, VA. Photo courtesy of James Brunk.

The ships used during the war were outfitted with gun decks fore, aft, and at midships. On some of the first livestock trips, the guns were still attached and some cowboys got to help shoot some of the leftover ammunition to dispense of it. Once removed of the guns, the gun decks made a nice observation or meeting area. . .

Coming into Greece.

Cowboys aboard the S.S. Park Victory watch the shores of Greece come closer in March 1946. Photo courtesy of Robert Frantz.

or in the case of a creative cowboy crew, the aft gun deck became a swimming pool on their return trip when they had nothing better to do with their time!

Swimming

Cowboys enjoy a swim returning from Greece on the Jefferson City Victory, summer 1946. Photo courtesy of Roger Ingold.

Seagoing cowboys mingle with returning World War II soldiers

As we have seen in previous posts, several of the early UNRRA livestock ships brought soldiers home from Europe. With their cargos unloaded, space was available for cots to be set up; but having had livestock as cargo, there was some serious cleaning that had to take place! Even though their work was supposed to have been finished after the animals were unloaded, many of the cowboy crews were coerced into helping to scrub the decks. As Byron Royer, supervisor of the Zona Gale cowboys, said,

 We agreed because of the emergency in regard to getting the troops home, to help clean up the ship. . . . It was definitely not a part of our duties. However, we did work all day and got the ship in a shape much as I doubt if it’s been in before.

Their eighty-eight G.I.s boarded the next day.

Gordon Bucher, on the F. J. Luckenbach, recorded in his journal for Sunday, July 22, 1945,

At 3:30 150 soldiers came on board & what a mess. We had to set up our cots in a stable & move our mattresses & stuff. If it means 25 more can come back to the U. S., it’s all right with me.

Most of the early cowboys were from the Church of the Brethren, one of the Historic Peace Churches, and many were conscientious objectors. Having G.I.s on board gave them a unique opportunity to dialogue with the soldiers. The S. S. Virginian crew includes a section about contact with the soldiers in their report of their trip titled “Relief for Greece” that gives a good idea of what these conversations might have been like. I’ll share that report in my next regular post.

On the Zona Gale, the G.I.s were invited to the worship services the cowboys had, and many good friendships were developed between cowboys and soldiers. Byron Royer records their homecoming in his account “A Seagoing Cowboy in Italy”:

     We ate our lunch and when we came out after lunch, we could just see the Coast of Virginia coming into sight. I wish you could have seen the GI’s as we were coming in. Those boys, most of them, had been away for from two to four years and they were one happy lot coming home.

Some were cursing and cracking obscene jokes to cover their true feelings. But most of them were thinking pretty seriously. There were even some who were crying — men who had been through months on the battlefield. I’m very glad they could come home with us.

We pulled into Hampton Roads (?) [sic] which is a sort of a bay which is the entrance into Newport News and Norfolk, Virginia. After a lot of red tape and examinations by the Health Service and Customs, the boat came out to take the GI’s ashore. We hated to say, “Goodbye” to them. You know, it’s surprising how well you learn to know people in a short time like that when you have nothing to do.

The boat had three WAC’s aboard. . . . The Red Cross had doughnuts and a cold drink of some kind for the boys as soon as they checked off and there was a GI band to furnish music for them as they went in.

They pulled away with a lot of yelling and waving and exchange of farewells.

I’ve found no photos as yet of these returning soldiers or of their accounts of coming home on a cattle boat. If anyone has any, I’d love to see them!

Next post: Conversations with the soldiers.

 

A Seagoing Cowboy evaluates his trip to Europe

The last days of June 1945 were a busy time for UNRRA and the Brethren Service Committee. In six days’ time, they had five livestock ships complete with seagoing cowboy crews on their way to Europe – three to Greece and two that docked in Trieste, Italy, with animals for Yugoslavia. The fifth was the Liberty ship Zona Gale with 31-year-old Clarence H. Rosenberger on board.

Crew of the SS Zona Gale

The seagoing cowboy crew of the SS Zona Gale en route to Yugoslavia, July 1945. Clarence Rosenberger is the man on the left leaning against the rail. Photo courtesy of Weldon Klepinger

Clarence was the pastor of the Church of the Brethren in Shelocta, Pennsylvania, at the time. He wrote the following reflection on his trip that appeared in the September 22, 1945, Gospel Messenger, the magazine of the Church of the Brethren.

A “Cowboy” Evaluates the Trip to Europe With Relief Cattle

Our experiences as “the cowboys of the S. S. Zona Gale” is at an end. As I look back I can begin to appreciate what a wonderful opportunity we’ve had.

Primarily, we filled a pressing need by aiding in the moving of relief goods to war-stricken people. Stock tenders are almost impossible to find around a seaport and we spanned the gap. We have the satisfaction of knowing that the stock we cared for is now helping to provide food for hundreds of people.

Some of us whose consciences will not permit us to further the war effort found in this an opportunity to serve Christ, our nation and mankind in a constructive way.

As a result of observation and study, I have gained at least a bit of insight into the physical, economic and political needs of Europe. I have begun to appreciate how much of our good fortune in the United States is due to a combination of circumstances.

We’ve also had the opportunity of knowing intimately hundreds of soldiers and sailors. [The Zona Gale, like the F. J. Luckenbach and the Virginian, picked up soldiers in Naples to bring them home.] We’ve talked with them frankly. We’ve heard their problems, fears and anticipations. We’ve heard of experiences under fire on land and sea. We’ve shared the danger of mine-infested seas.

Finally, we’ve had the opportunity of knowing the joy that comes with setting foot once again on good American soil.

These first trips were a sort of feeling of their way for the Brethren Service Committee as they decided how much of a commitment they wanted to make in servicing UNRRA’s cattle attendant needs. Reflections of the cowboys like this one no doubt helped the B.S.C. sign on for the long haul.

Article used by permission, http://www.brethren.org/messenger.

Next post: The cowboys mingle with soldiers.